By JEFF HARVEY
for the Princeton Times
BLUEFIELD — A pioneering coach of the Bluefield State College football program was recently honored by one of the biggest coaching organizations in the world.
Harry R. “Big Jeff” Jefferson, best known for his coaching career at Bluefield State College, was named the American Football Coaches Association’s recipient of the 2010 Trailblazer Award. The award was presented posthumously at the AFCA President’s Kickoff Luncheon on Jan. 10 at the 2011 AFCA Convention in Dallas. Jefferson passed away in 1966.
“It’s both gratifying and humbling to learn that Coach Harry Jefferson will be honored as the 2010 AFCA Trailblazer Award recipient,” Jim Nelson, assistant to the president and media relations director at Bluefield State College, said. “Coach Jeff defied the odds to direct Bluefield State College to back-to-back national black collegiate football championships in the 1920s and became commissioner of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA). His legacy as a coach and a leader continues to be evident today, decades removed from his time on the sidelines. We are extremely grateful that he has been selected to receive this tremendous honor.”
After completing his education at both West Virginia State University and Ohio University, Jefferson began his coaching career at Wilberforce University. In 1925, he was hired at Bluefield State College and helped to build a winning football program at the relatively small school. Bluefield usually didn’t have more than 100 male students at a time, so Jefferson’s teams were often less than 30 men.
Small enrollment and limited access to athletic facilities didn’t deter Jefferson from coaching his team to victory. With a 21-game winning streak, Bluefield had back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1927 and 1928, culminating in two Black College national championships. During those seasons, the Bluefield “Big Blues” handed Howard their first loss in three years and defeated Morristown College 129-0 with 1,215 yards of total offense.
Jefferson left Bluefield in 1930 to coach at North Carolina A&T College, but returned to Bluefield two years later to coach the Big Blues to a season record of 8-0-1. In 1934, Jefferson made the move to Virginia State University. Under his leadership, Virginia State were CIAA champions in 1936, 1938, 1939 and 1945, and won a Black College national championship in 1936 with a 7-0-2 overall record. His next stop was Hampton University in 1949 where he coached until 1957, finishing with an overall mark of 32-41-3.
In addition to coaching, Jefferson exercised his leadership as Athletic Director at Bluefield State, North Carolina A&T and Hampton. While at Virginia State, he served as Dean of Men, Supervisor of Student Employment, Chairman of Guidance Committee, and a member of the Executive Council.
In addition to receiving the 2010 Trailblazer Award, Jefferson was awarded a citation to the NAIA Hall of Fame in 1961. He served as commissioner of the CIAA from 1961 to 1965, was inducted into the Virginia State Hall of Fame in 1980, and was the first chairman and charter member of the National Athletic Steering Committee.
In a book titled “Trailblazers: From Black Colleges to the NFL,” Jefferson’s coaching success is attributed to “the men he molded and helped to go into coaching careers of their own.” It goes on to say: “Coach Jefferson was truly a trailblazer in Black College Athletics, but more than that, he was a trailblazer in helping young men to become productive and useful citizens. By bringing national attention to small schools, Coach Jefferson also brought attention to the skill of black athletes.”
The AFCA was founded in 1922 and currently has more than 11,000 members around the world, ranging from the high school level to the professional ranks. According to its constitution, the AFCA was formed, in part, to “maintain the highest possible standards in football and in the coaching profession” and to “provide a forum for the discussion and study of all matters pertaining to football.”
The AFCA Trailblazer Award was created to honor early leaders in the football coaching profession who coached at historically black colleges and universities. Past Trailblazer Award winners include Charles Williams of Hampton (2004), Cleve Abbott of Tuskegee (2005), Arnett Mumford of Southern (2006), Billy Nicks of Prairie View A&M University (2007), Alonzo “Jake” Gaither of Florida A&M University (2008), and Fred “Pops” Long, former head coach at Wiley College (2009). The award is given each year to a person that coached in a particular decade ranging from 1920-1970. Jefferson represents the decade from 1930 to 1939.