GREENSBORO — Sam Washington wasn’t certain exactly when his mentor Rod Broadway planned to retire as football coach at NC A&T. He just knew that when it happened, he’d be prepared to take over.
So when that day actually arrived last January, only a few weeks after Broadway led the Aggies to an undefeated season and Historically Black Colleges and Universities national championship, the pieces were all in place for a smooth transition.
“I started going to head coaches’ meetings about two to three years ago,” Washington said. “People didn’t understand why I was present. Then I started sitting down and watching film and being able to observe both sides of the ball. What are you looking for? Where should your eyes be? Those are the things that prepared me for this moment.”
The 58-year-old Washington began working with Broadway at Grambling in 2007. Four years later, they moved to A&T together, where they quickly transformed a program that went 1-10 the year before their arrival into a perennial Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion.
Washington served as defensive coordinator and secondary coach before being promoted to associate head coach and emerging as Broadway’s heir apparent. The two remain close, talking frequently on the phone — although rarely about football and almost never about the current roster or the upcoming season.
Now that Washington has officially been handed the reins of the program, little has changed on the practice field as the Aggies prepare for their nationally televised season opener at Jacksonville State in less than two weeks.
The message is the same. The delivery is just a little bit louder than it was under the soft-spoken Broadway.
“They’re two different personalities, but it’s the same flow,” senior quarterback Lamar Raynard said. “Coach Broadway is a little more laidback and observant. Coach Washington is more hands-on. He brings a lot of juice to practice and that’s what we like. Other than that, everything is pretty much the same.”
For the players, perhaps. But for Washington, there are several major adjustments to the way he goes about his day-to-day business.
The biggest is that Broadway and his larger-than-life presence among the players are nowhere to be found. He’s now the man in charge, rather than just the “policeman” that handles the disciplinary issues. And instead of concentrating on just defense like he used to, Washington now has responsibilities on both sides of the ball as well as special teams.
“He still loves the defense,” senior strong safety Jamaal Darden said. “But when the offense makes a good play at practice, he has to say ‘good job,’ just because he’s the head coach now.”
The Aggies are also breaking in a new offensive coordinator this season, with Chip Hester having left to start up the football program at Barton. Like Washington, Hester’s replacement Chris Barnette was also promoted from within, providing the program with a sense of familiarity despite all the changes.
Besides the continuity and culture Broadway helped build at A&T, the now-former coach left behind a veteran roster that includes eight returning starters on defense and All-MEAC playmakers Raynard, running back Marquell Cartwright and wide receiver Elijah Bell on offense.
Though their presence may or may not have influenced Broadway’s decision to walk away after seven seasons, a 59-22 record, three MEAC championships, two Celebration Bowls, two HBCU titles and two players drafted by the NFL, it certainly put his successor in a much better position to succeed as he adjusts to his new role.
“That’s everything,” Washington said of the abundance of returning talent on this year’s roster. “I think it would have been almost impossible had it not been (for so many experienced players), at least the starting quarterback. That’s where it begins. I’m so tickled pink, happy, all of those adjectives, that I have him.”
Raynard is 25-0 as the Aggies’ starting quarterback and is coming off a 2017 season in which he passed for 2,932 yards and 27 touchdowns on his way to earning MEAC Player of the Year honors.
Though he is the catalyst on an offense bolstered by the addition of 6-foot-5, 320-pound Kansas State transfer Breontae Matthews on the line, the strength of this year’s team figures to be a defense that has led the conference the past three years and ranked No. 4 nationally among FCS programs in 2017.
“Every year here we’ve gotten better,” senior strong safety Jamaal Darden said. “That’s just the culture around here now. Coach Broadway started it, now Coach Wash is trying to keep it going.”