Syracuse, N.Y. — A whole new collection of college football players will get to grow up knowing that “the hay is never in the barn.”
Former Syracuse running back Jerome Smith has accepted a job as a running backs coach with Morgan State University, his first job a college coach. He’ll coach on the staff of former SU running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley.
Smith played his first three seasons at Syracuse under Wheatley, who left with former head coach Doug Marrone to join the Buffalo Bills in 2013. During his sophomore season under Wheatley, Smith rushed for 1,171 yards in 2012, the last time a Syracuse running back rushed for 1,000 yards in a season.
“He was a guy that was very hungry,” Wheatley said. “He was relentless, enthusiastic and stubborn. But stubborn in a good way. He wanted to be the guy and he was came in every day trying to prove he was ready. He had that saying, ‘The hay is never in the barn,’ and he’d say it all the time.”
Smith spent four years at Syracuse, leaving after completing his redshirt junior season, when he rushed for 12 touchdowns. He went undrafted in 2014. He played one game in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons.
Known for his dependability and rugged style, Smith worked with young football players in Delaware as a trainer and at an area prep school.
Wheatley said that he keeps in touch with his former players through text messages and he follows them on social media. Smith frequently posts videos of his workouts with young players on Facebook, and Wheatley recognizes many of the drills they worked on together. Smith had put his own personal twist on some of them.
Morgan State hired Wheatley as head coach in February after he had been fired by the Jacksonville Jaguars, taking the fall for Leonard Fournette’s regression in his second NFL season.
Morgan State has been a difficult place to win historically, and the Bears compete in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which is generally one of the lowest-resource conferences in FCS football. The league is made up of historically black colleges and universities. Morgan State went 4-7 last year under interim coach Ernest T. Jones.
Wheatley opted to take the head coaching position when it was offered, in part, because he knows how infrequently those opportunities come for black coaches. Last year, only 14 of 130 FBS head coaches were black, according to USA Today. Only three of the NFL’s 32 head coaches are black.
“To be honest with you, African-American coaches don’t get a lot of looks and opportunities,” Wheatley said. “You look at the pro level, at a guy like (Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator) Eric Bieniemy. He’s done a great job. People still say it’s Andy Reid’s offense. You have to create your opportunity.”
When Wheatley was hired, he said he looked back proudly on a pair of SU running backs who he believed would go a good fit at Morgan State. Wheatley said he thought about both Antwon Bailey and Smith, with Smith being the better financial fit. Bailey is currently a coach and physical education teacher at Sidwell Friends School in Washington D.C.
“I had a great relationship with all those guys,” Wheatley sad. “We all stayed in touch. I told them all they’d be good as coaches someday because they accepted coaching and worked hard. Guys just need opportunities and we have to create the lane to have that. (Jerome) has done a great job helping young guys develop.”