Coach Alvin "Cat" Colman

head shot of Coach Alvin Coleman

Alvin C."Cat" Coleman was born on May 14, 1913, in Ofahoma, Mississippi, to Sidney and Sophia Coleman, the thirteenth child, of two educators; his father served as principal and his mother as a teacher in the small rural community where they lived. The Colemans instilled in all their children, as well as others in the small Negro rural community of Ofahoma Leake County Mississippi, the importance of a formal education. Following the encouragement of his parents and the examples set by his brothers and sisters, Alvin "Cat" Coleman completed his early education in Mississippi, graduating from Alcorn State with a B.S. degree in Biology and a Master's degree in Zoology from the University of Michigan.

After college Colman began his career as a teacher and coach in Mississippi where he was tremendously successful in both endeavors. However, his career as a teacher/coach was interrupted by the United States entry into World War II. After the war, "Cat" returned to his career as teacher and coach, starting anew in Beggs, Oklahoma at Beggs High School where he started the first football team. In the summer of 1946, he went to Jackson, Mississippi, to teach zoology and biology in the science department at Jackson State College.   Also, his experience as a coach made him and excellent acquisition to the staff as his first project was to scout Alcorn, State and with that scouting report Jackson State beat their rival for the first time in a "storied history." As a result he was asked to become a fulltime coach.

In 1953 John A. Merritt became head football coach at Jackson State College and "Cat" made plans to leave and pursue his PhD degree.   However, President Reddix convinced him to stay and assist the new coach in getting acclimated. In 1955 Joe Gilliam, Sr., joined the coaching staff at Jackson State College. In 1961 the Jackson State College coaching trio posted their first win of the SWAC conference, failing that year to beat FAMU in the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami, Florida. The very next year in 1962, they beat Tennessee A&I State College at their Thanksgiving Day Homecoming game, and went on to win both the SWAC and the Orange Blossom Classic.

As a result of their success in 1962, Dr. Walter S. Davis, President of Tennessee A & I State College, became interested in recruiting the Jackson State College trio of Merritt, Colman, and Gilliam to take over the school's floundering football program, which had only won one game during the 1962 season.   By the beginning of the next year, Dr. Davis had succeeded in persuading the trio of Merritt, Coleman, and Gilliam to leave Jackson State College and lead the Tennessee State College football program. The solid coaching trio's inaugural year witnessed a fantastic 6-3 season and the defeat of FAMU which served as the catalyst for the dynasty that was to follow.

Thus, "The "Big John Era" in Tennessee State football was ushered in with a solid coaching trio that became a dominate force to be reckoned with for twenty years (1963 – 1983). Coach Coleman "engineered a new offense, with pass-happy talented quarterbacks." "He recruited agile wide receivers and speedy ends." This produced a dynamic lethal offensive team, "using a pro-type T, with multiple sets, and a wide open style of play". Coleman was dubbed "The Dean of Offense" by his colleagues and players for his ingenuity and offensive strategy. Tennessee State glory days witnessed many players being sent to the National Football League (NFL). Homecoming 1980 paid tribute to "The Dean of Offense" by selecting him to be honored at the homecoming game.

Upon the passing of Coach Coleman, renowned Nashville Tennessean senior sports writer, David Climer, who described Tennessee State's passing attack as "an aerial show," wrote:

"Coleman was ahead of his time. He had an uncanny ability to get his Xs into mismatches with your Os. To Coleman, football was science with a chinstrap. He based his passing game on mathematical progressions and physics. Maybe he didn't write the book on the passing game but, he corrected the manuscript." (Climer, David, Tennessean, 1997).

Coach Alvin "Cat" Colman passed away on November 6, 1997, at the age of 84. Tennessean senior columnist Dwight Lewis, at that time, wrote; "The motivation to do right: That made Coleman a hero" (Lewis, Dwight, Tennessean, 1997). Lewis wrote that "before a game, Cat motivated his players to do their best.  He'd tell them before a game that you don't want to let yourself down; secondly you don't want to let your parents down.  But most importantly, you don't want to let the God who made you and gave you the talent down." Nobel Prize winning physicist, Albert Einstein phrased it this way: "Religion without science is blind. Science without religion is lame".  Lewis finally added; "... {Cat} was simply a genius when it came to designing plays."

webpage contact:
Alumni Relations and Annual Giving