The unprofessional termination process used against Earl Holmes in 2015, which a number of “Rattlers” still claim isn’t a big deal, was almost as much of a national embarrassment as the incompetent firing of Billy Joe in 2005.
Joe was the head football coach at FAMU for 11 seasons from 1994 to 2005. He led the Rattlers to an 86-46 record that included four Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles and seven postseason appearances. His players included Holmes, who went on to play in the National Football League for ten years.
The Westside Gazette printed the following story in 2006 about Joe’s firing at FAMU and the legal battled that took place after it:
“Florida A&M University has agreed to pay fired football coach Billy Joe $135,000 to settle a lawsuit after the NCAA cleared him of recruiting and eligibility violations. The university's Board of Trustees accepted the settlement worth a year's salary at a closed-door meeting Thursday. ‘All I was seeking was justice,’ Joe said. "I did not want to denigrate or wrong FAMU because I love the institution.’“Joe said his lawyers had told him he could have gotten up to $500,000 if the case had gone to trial. He said he planned to donate some of the money to the university's athletic programs. The university fired Joe in June 2005, but the NCAA later found no evidence he had committed any infractions. The NCAA, though, did put Florida A&M on probation for four years after the school admitted 196 rule violations in all 15 men's and women's sports from 1998 through 2005. Joe, 66, stayed while the school worked on a move to NCAA Div. IA football in 2003. The hasty decision to upgrade from I-AA status caused Joe to lose some key players while suffering through a 2-9 2004 season, the worst record in his 11-year tenure. After several administrative changes at the school and its athletic program that Joe thought put him on safe footing, he was abruptly fired in May 2005.”
But despite the wrongful treatment he received from FAMU Interim President Castell V. Bryant back in 2005, Joe remained a class act.
“FAMU did nothing to me,” Joe told the Orlando Sentinel in 2007. “It was a few people at FAMU, and I don't consider those people FAMU.”
Holmes, Joe’s former player, was hired as the head football coach at FAMU in 2013. Over his nearly two seasons as head coach, Holmes amassed a record of six wins and 16 losses. Holmes’ firing in 2014 came at a time when the team was showing steady improvement, having won two out of its last three contests and with the Homecoming game just four days away.
Joe called what happened to Holmes “unfortunate.”
“A few weeks ago there were some rumblings about Earl being released and that never came to fruition, and most folks thought the assumption would be he’d finish the year and then be assessed,” Joe told the Tallahassee Democrat in 2014 after the firing of Holmes was announced. “I guess that was not to be. It’s unfortunate, but I guess that was not to be.”
Holmes is now suing to receive the pay he was set to earn for the more than two years that remained on his four-year contract.
Billy Joe and Earl Holmes both deserved better than what they got from the FAMU officials who terminated them. The Rattlers who are serious about turning the football program around must work to create more accountability at the level of the senior FAMU administration.