Alonzo "Jake" Gaither Named 2008 AFCA Trailblazer Recipient
Alonzo “Jake” Gaither, Florida A&M University (FAMU) coaching legend, has been named the American Football Coaches Association’s (AFCA) recipient of the 2008 Trailblazer Award. The award will be presented posthumously to Gaither at the AFCA Kickoff Luncheon on Monday, January 12 at the 2009 AFCA convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
The AFCA Trailblazer Award was created to honor early leaders in the football coaching profession who coached at historically black colleges and universities. Past Trailblazer Award winners include Charles Williams of Hampton (2004), Cleve Abbott of Tuskegee (2005), Arnett Mumford of Southern (2006) and Billy Nicks of Prairie View A&M University (2007). The award is given each year to a person that coached in a particular decade ranging from 1920-1970. This year’s winner coached from 1960-1970.
“Since I’ve been here, I have really found out how much of a giant of a man he really was,” Florida A&M head coach Joe Taylor said. “There are parks, buildings and streets named after him. We send out a video that names him one of the great Floridians that ever lived in the state.”
Gaither coached at the high school and junior college levels in North Carolina and Virginia from 1927-1937. In 1937, Coach Gaither was named head basketball coach at FAMU and led the team to the 1942 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) basketball title. In addition to serving as head basketball coach, he also served as an assistant football coach from 1937-1942. After the 1942 basketball season, Gaither was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. The resulting surgery and recovery kept him out of coaching until 1945.
In 1945, Gaither took over as head football coach at FAMU. He held that position for 25 seasons, compiling a record of 203-36-4. This constituted a winning percentage of .844, and ranks him eighth all-time amongst college football coaches. He won 22 SIAC Conference titles along with six Black College National Championships. Gaither retired from coaching in 1969 and served as Athletic Director and Chair of Health and Physical Education at FAMU until his retirement in 1973.
The number of honors and awards compiled by Gaither are numerous. In 1961, Coach Gaither was named the AFCA College Division Coach of the Year. In 1975, he won the Walter Camp Foundation Award. He is a member of the Florida Sports, FAMU Sports, National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA), Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and SIAC Halls of Fame. Gaither was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975.
The 2008 Trailblazer award is actually Gaither’s third honor from the AFCA. In addition to the 1961 AFCA College Division Coach of the Year Award, in 1975 he was awarded the AFCA’s Amos Alonzo Stagg Award. Gather was also as an honorary member of the AFCA Board of Trustees for 22 years, serving from 1972-1993.
“Jake was a true student of the game, he was well ahead of his time,” former Alcorn State University and Southern University head coach and athletic director Marino Casem said. “Whenever I was in Florida, anywhere near Tallahassee, whether I was recruiting, vacationing or on business, I made a point to go to Jake Gaither’s house, sit at his feet and absorb knowledge from the master. I was always humbled in the presence of Jake Gaither.”