JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Most first-year football coaches get a chance to implement their playbook and philosophy with the understanding that it might take a year or two before the winning begins.
Jackson State’s Harold Jackson won’t have that luxury.
The 68-year-old Jackson, who was hired to replace Rick Comegy, will be expected to win immediately. Comegy was surprisingly fired after leading Jackson State to back-to-back Southwestern Athletic Conference championship games — though the Tigers lost each time.
Jackson will be expected to have the Tigers among the league’s elite again. But the veteran coach isn’t worried about pressure, saying “the only thing I can do is have our guys go out and play mistake-free football. We’ll be fine.”
Sophomore quarterback LaMontiez Ivy returns after missing most of last season with an ankle injury.
Here are five things to watch for Jackson State this season:
IVY’S THE MAN: Quarterback LaMontiez Ivy was expected to have a large role in the offense last season, but an ankle injury ended his year prematurely. Now he’s back, and the 6-foot-3, 230-pound sophomore is expected to be a quality dual-threat for the offense.
JACKSON GETS THE REINS: Jackson State surprised just about everyone by firing Rick Comegy after a successful eight-year tenure that included four trips to the SWAC championship game. The Tigers surprised their fans again by picking 68-year-old Harold Jackson as the new coach. Jackson played for the Tigers in the 1960s and had a lengthy NFL career, but he’s never been a head coach.
EARLY TESTS: Jackson State will be expected to win quickly and two early games will test the Tigers’ new regime. JSU hosts Florida A&M in the home opener on Aug. 30 and then faces Tennessee State on Sept. 13 at the Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis, Tennessee.
IMPROVING THE DEFENSE: Jackson State’s defense struggled during the most important games last season, giving up 48 points against Alcorn State and 34 in the SWAC championship against Southern University. Several players return, including sophomore defensive end Javancy Jones, who had 14 tackles for a loss last season.
HELPING GRIFFIN: Jackson State struggled to force turnovers in the passing game last season with just four interceptions. Safety Ryan Griffin returns after grabbing three of those interceptions and the Tigers hope an influx of new talent can lead to more big plays.