MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Donald Hill-Eley didn’t just listen to his players when they pointed to the challenges of juggling academics and football amid Morgan State’s struggles with the NCAA’s Academic Progress rate.
He has embraced the challenges himself, leading by example off the field as well.
Now coach at Alabama State, Eley went back to school in 2013 at Morgan State to pursue a doctorate in higher education and administration. He’s hoping to finish that work in December, a rare feat for a head coach in a profession that often demands marathon days of practice, meetings and film study.
“I was like, you know what? I’m going back to school as well,” Eley said. “Once we finish practice, we eat and shower. You go to class, I go to class.
“And that continued for about two years and then when I looked up I had completed all the course work for the doctorate. Now, it’s just finding the time to finish the dissertation.”
He hopes to do that and go through a review in December, not long after also finishing his first full season as the Hornets’ head coach. Eley is studying the factors behind football players choosing to attend historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Research included sending 43-item questionnaires to the teams at Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State, Norfolk State and Hampton.
Perhaps the most prominent coach/PhD: Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, who had a doctorate in educational psychology.
Alabama State players say it makes a difference to see their coach practicing what he preaches.
“Some people like to preach and they don’t show you,” offensive lineman Tytus Howard said. “But he’s actually showing you, ‘Hey man I’m taking advantage of this myself.'”
Eley squeezes in work on his dissertation when he can, whether it’s early in the morning, late at night or at his office desk when his schedule permits.
It helps that wife Kelley, a middle school teacher, is also in the late stages of doctoral work. They’re each other’s editor and sounding board.
Kelley Eley said young athletes have taken note of the fact that her coaching husband prioritizes education not just football and that “he sees being a continual learner as a path to success.”