Mickey Joseph’s two collegiate head coaching jobs couldn’t be much more different.
His first was at Langston, an NAIA school in an Oklahoma town of the same name. It’s a historically Black college, the only one in the state. He was an assistant for the Lions for multiple years, then took over at head coach after the previous one stepped down to teach full time. He inherited a relatively steady program, which hadn’t had a losing season in years.
Now, 10 years later, he takes his second head coaching job — an interim position — at a Power Five university. He’s Nebraska’s only Black head coach ever in any of its varsity sports. He was a Huskers assistant too prior to taking the head coach spot, but was hired earlier this year and only spent three games in the role. This coaching change was made out of necessity.
Joseph is tasked with trying to bring the team to .500 for the first time since 2016, all while the Huskers search nationally for the next head coach.
His two-year stint as Langston’s head coach won’t stand out to many, due to the NAIA classification and a 13-7 record which is on par with what the program has done before and after his time. But looking beyond the numbers, his impact can be easily seen.
That started in 2008, when he came to the Lions as an assistant coach. In that first year he met and built a relationship with Quinton Morgan, a graduate assistant at the time.
Morgan is now the head coach of Langston, and has been since the middle of the 2015 season. His tenure has been successful, to say the least. The Lions parted ways with coach Dwone Sanders after a 2-3 start to the 2015 campaign, then Morgan took over to lead the team to wins in the next five games. He currently holds a 49-14 record as head coach and multiple conference titles.
He’ll have the chance to earn his 50th win tomorrow against Wayland Baptist University. Morgan said a lot of what has allowed him to approach such a number is what he gained from his time with Joseph.
“I learned a lot from him, learned how to be a coach, basically, to be totally honest with you,” Morgan said. “He was that mentor that I looked up to. I got the opportunity to observe a man of a different type of drive, professionalism, his influence on others, so I got the opportunity to really see it all in 2008, 2009.”
The two, both from the New Orleans area, didn’t take long to connect. As a student at the time, Morgan knew he could go to Joseph — who he refers to as “uncle Mick” — for guidance, resources or just a talk.
“He was my outlet and he listened,” he said. “And he not only just listened, but he helped cultivate the person I am as a coach today.”
That relationship paid off further when Joseph became head coach in 2011. He chose Morgan to take on an assistant role coaching defensive backs.
While the team had a 6-4 record in 2010, Morgan said the team wasn’t in the best place mentally when Joseph came in. That changed in the 2011 season.
“He took over a group of kids that had kind of like, got down and out because of the things that were going on throughout the season, we weren’t being successful,” Morgan said. “And he took them and we went to new heights.”
That year started with a splash. The Lions scheduled Arkansas Pine-Bluff for their season opener, an FCS team featuring offensive lineman Terron Armstead, now a multi-time NFL Pro Bowl selection and player for the Miami Dolphins.
Regardless, Langston won 19-12 in Little Rock, forcing three interceptions and returning a fumble for a touchdown.
The Lions turned around and beat Tuskegee, a Division II team, on the road the next week.
Calvin Miller was the team’s defensive line coach, and pointed out the numerous higher-level teams Joseph coached against in his time. When it came to big opponents, the former Nebraska quarterback remained locked in and paid great attention to detail, according to Miller.
“The mindset of games, it should be a mindset that you can, that you will prevail,” he said. “And those are some of those attributes that I like about him, and I think those attributes are what took him forward.”
Langston finished the year 7-3, finishing the year tied for the top spot in the conference standings but having lost to the other team, Southern Nazarene, in the last game of the season.
After the Lions went 6-4 the next season, Joseph departed, finding his next role as the assistant head coach, wide receivers coach and special teams coordinator at Alcorn State.
Morgan praised Joseph’s organization and recruiting ability, but more than anything, emphasized his ability to get athletes to buy in.
“He has that type of personality that you know, kids will love him, they’re going to buy into it,” Morgan said. “If everybody else buys into it, he’s going to be successful. There’s no doubt in my mind. He’s that good of a coach.”
Miller had similar praises of the head coach, saying he was a hard worker and he had a consistent personality.
“He didn’t seem to let too many things get him down,” Miller said. “There’s the positives and the negatives, but he was always upbeat. His charisma was contagious.”
This carried beyond just football. Arguably the biggest turnaround Joseph was involved with didn’t even come in the sport, although it happened in the same year at the same university.
That title goes to the 2011 Lions softball team, which Morgan served as the head coach on with Joseph as his assistant.
With the previous head coach resigning at an inopportune time, the school chose Morgan in the interim due to his experience with baseball, he said. He then took Joseph on to be his assistant.
In the two years prior to 2011, Langston’s softball team lists records of 0-23 and 2-44-4. In 2011, that improved to 14-22. While that was the only year the two coached the team, Langston had a winning record in three of the next four seasons.
While Morgan at least had experience as a baseball player, Joseph was completely new to things. Still, Morgan said he succeeded.
“He’s trying to figure it out, and it didn’t take him long,” Morgan said. “It just shows how quick he can adapt. And same thing, you know, we made sure that everything our team had was organized to a T. We motivated them to play good ball.”
Joseph has another chance for a turnaround on his hands at Nebraska. There’s no guarantee he’ll be the head coach past this season, given the interim tag, but the final nine games provide an opportunity to prove himself.
Morgan and Miller both have faith that the former HBCU head coach was a good pick for the Huskers, and that he’ll shine in the role.
“He’s gonna do a good job,” Morgan said. “I know he is, I have that feeling because like I said, he’s gonna put his heart into it.”