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Florida A&M to enlist search firm to help fill coaching vacancy amid turmoil

Tiffani-Dawn Sykes, FAMU’s vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics, says the goal is to announce hire by national signing day

More than two weeks after former Florida A&M University coach Willie Simmons left to become running backs coach at Duke University, the Rattlers football program learned it will have to wait a little longer before a coach is named.

During a board of trustees meeting on Tuesday afternoon, Tiffani-Dawn Sykes, Florida A&M vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics, announced she will use a search firm to decide on the next coach. She said the goal is to announce a head coach by national signing day, which is on Feb. 7.

University president Larry Robinson passed a motion to establish a search committee with the leaders of Florida A&M support organizations, including FAMU National Alumni Association president Curtis Johnson, to ensure transparency during the hiring process.

A source from the athletic department estimates the search firm will cost around $50,000 to complete the hiring process.

The decision comes just a week after the alumni association passed votes of no confidence in Sykes and Fort Valley State coach Shawn Gibbs, Sykes’ top candidate for the coaching position.

Here are the names of some candidates still in play for the position and those who are out of the running.

Still in play

James Colzie III

Current interim head football coach James Colzie III is the top candidate for an internal hire to replace Simmons. Colzie joined the Florida A&M coaching staff in 2022 and is heavily endorsed by the current players on the Rattlers’ roster. Colzie told the Tallahassee Democrat he has had conversations with Sykes about the position. Rattlers quarterback Junior Muratovic, tight end Jeremiah Pruitte, and offensive lineman Jalen Goss advocated for Colzie during the board of trustees meeting on Tuesday.

Billy Rolle

The alumni association recommended Billy Rolle, a former Florida A&M player and a member of the Florida A&M Sports Hall of Fame, as a potential candidate. Rolle, a well-known and accomplished high school coach in Miami, was brought in as a special assistant/nickelbacks coach for the Rattlers in 2018.

Out of the running

Shawn Gibbs

Gibbs was the initial front-runner for the head coaching position a week ago, but Fort Valley State announced on Monday that he would remain at his current position with the school.

To be determined

Ryan Smith

According to Football Scoop, Florida A&M co-defensive coordinator Ryan Smith, who helped the Rattlers finish the season as the No. 2 ranked defense in the FCS, has accepted the defensive coordinator position at Murray State University. However, Smith has not yet confirmed the move. Smith joined Simmons’ coaching staff in 2018 and gradually worked his way up from linebackers coach.

Mia Berry is the senior HBCU writer for Andscape and covers everything from sports to student-led protests. She is a Detroit native (What up Doe!), long-suffering Detroit sports fan and Notre Dame alumna who randomly shouts, "Go Irish."