The Godfather of the SWAC

Hall of Fame Coach Marino Casem won 7 SWAC Titles and 4 Black National Championships at Alcorn.
Legendary  coaches Marino Casem, Eddie Robinson and W.C. Gordon confer at  SWAC convention.

By Sylvester “Nunnie” Robinson and Coach Joe Redmond

Marino Casem was born in Memphis, Tennessee on June 23, 1934 and died on April 25, 2020 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was 85 at the time of his death. Coach Casem graduated from Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Alcorn College in 1959, and for one brief year in 1963 served as Alabama State’s head football coach, finishing with a 2-8 record. His overall record, however, was an impressive 159-93-8 including stints at Alabama State (1963; 2-8), Alcorn State (1964-1985; 139-70-8) and Southern (1987-88, 1992; 18-15)

Marino Casem, left, with Leslie Frazier at Frazier’s 2017 Induction into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

In 22 seasons at Alcorn State, Casem won seven SWAC conference titles and four black college national championships, including back-to-back titles in 1968 and 1969. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003, and he gave this legendary quote summing up the sport to the Hattiesburg (Mississippi) American in 1983: “In the East, where the Ivy Leaguers are, it’s a cultural experience. In the West, with Stanford and all those people out there, it’s a tourist attraction. In the Midwest, with Nebraska and those folks, it’s a form of cannibalism. But in the South, where we reside, football is a religion and Saturday is a holy day of obligation.”

And the following quote seems to codify his coaching philosophy: “ Hard work, discipline, integrity, fundamentals and more hard work,” Casem said. “We didn’t take any short cuts at Alcorn.”

Coach Joe Redmond knew “ The Godfather “ as he was affectionately called because of his status in the coaching  profession, especially among SWAC members as a no nonsense leader whose preference philosophically was to run the football and pass only when necessary, Coach Redmond recalls as Fisk’s quarterback competing against Coach Casem  who was at Alabama State. Fisk won 25-19. Later as the head coach at Texas Southern and Alcorn respectively, they competed in a game that ironically resulted in the same score – 25-19 – in which Coach Redmond’s teams won. However, he reminded Coach Redmond: Next year I’ll have you between the hedges ( home at Alcorn ) a game Alcorn won easily. Coach Redmond remembers him as sound football coach,  a tremendous role model for his assistant coaches, to whom he displayed great loyalty, a disciplinarian and a great recruiter. When you’re competing against coaches like Eddie Robinson and Jake Gaither, that is an occupational necessity.  He actually won the 1968 Orange Blossom Classic contest against the Rattlers.

Coach Casem also had great credibility with the NCAA hierarchy, serving on rules and selection committees. He was cast in the same mold as John Merritt, Jake Gaither and Eddie Robinson.

Leslie Frazier, who  won a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears, is a former NFL head coach, highly respected, former defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills  and played for Coach Marino at Alcorn,  had this to say about  Coach Casem, “All that success Coach Casem had at Alcorn in the SWAC would have translated in the SEC, the Big 12, the ACC or anywhere else,” Frazier said. “The reason I say that is discipline is the foundation at every level of football, and he was a disciplinarian of the first order. He was also a great teacher, who was compassionate with his players. Those qualities resonate at every level. When the players know you care and you give them structure and you teach, they’ll play for you. That’s a fact.” Rick Cleveland, the highly acclaimed Mississippi sports columnist recorded this quote when queried about coaching in a rather obscure , unremarkable place: “To me, Alcorn was the perfect place to be a football coach,” Casem said. “It was a great place to train an athlete because you didn’t have all the distractions you had other places. Our players focused on football. You had their attention.”

One of the lasting memories is the  1984 classic at Memorial Stadium in Jackson between the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils featuring Jerry Rice and quarterback Willie Totten and the Alcorn Braves, both of whom were undefeated. The Braves came out on top 42-28.

In addition to Leslie Frazier, NFL stars coached by Coach Casem include Jimmy Giles, Leon Garror, and Issac Holt.  In total, more than 60 of his players were drafted or signed as free agents with an NFL team. Coach Casem realized that to have success leading strong people, you had to be innovative, consistent and disciplined.

Finally, he perhaps is not recognized enough for the success he achieved as an athletic director. He hired Pete Richardson as the football coach at Southern. His 17 year career included several conference and Black college football championships along with numerous first place SWAC awards for excellence in all sports. While at Alcorn he saw his basketball program under the legendary Dave Whitney become the first HBCU to win a NIT and NCAA tournament game.  Coach Marino Casem truly was “The Godfather “

P.S. – I often wondered why Houston Markham, who was from my hometown Brookhaven, didn’t accept the job at Southern. You see, he had enjoyed tremendous success at ASU, had played for Coach Casem at Alcorn and apparently the position was his if he chose to accept. For some reason(s) he changed his mind, opening the door for Coach Richardson. The rest as they say is history. Now that both Coach Casem and Coach Markham are resting in God’s heavenly bosom,, we’ll have to wait until we see them again.

About Carma Henry 22108 Articles
Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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