ATLANTA — Tuskegee University AD Reginald Ruffin showed up at SIAC Media Day on Wednesday like he does every year. But this year he didn’t take the platform as head coach as he did for so many years at Miles College and last year at Tuskegee.
This year he sat at the table and cheered on Tuskegee University legend and new head coach Aaron James as he made his way to the podium for the first time.
Ruffin admitted it felt a little odd, but he seems confident in his decision to elevate the former Golden Tigers quarterback to head coach at his alma mater.
“It’s been tough, but any time you get an opportunity, (to have) Aaron James becoming the leader of the head of the football program — Tuskegee alum, Tuskegee grad. All world quarterback. Won a lot of accolades as a quarterback. Was a winner. Been with me so long as at Miles College as my offensive coordinator/ position coach — then elevate him up into a position of being a head coach — man, that means the world to me,” Ruffin told HBCU Gameday.
James was named “coach in waiting” prior to the 2022 season as Ruffin made his last dance, but he said it still doesn’t quite feel real yet.
Aaron James, Tuskegee University
Aaron James is now the head of Tuskegee University football.
“Everything hasn’t soaked in yet,” James told HBCU Gameday at media day. “I guess when game day — opening game day…I guess the jitters and all of that will come into play.”
James was a star quarterback for Tuskegee from 1998 through 2001. During that time he compiled an impressive record of 42-5 as a starter — something he mentioned during his time at the podium. He has the most wins of any signal-caller in school history. He won three SIAC championships during his career, led the Golden Tigers to a 12-0 season and HBCU National Championship in 2000.
He spent last season as the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, helping the team go 8-3 overall and make an appearance in the SIAC Championship Game. But James knows — better than most — that expectations are always high for the Golden Tigers.
“We are the winningest HBCU in the nation, so that’s a plus as well,” James said. “We’ve just got to come out this year and just add on to the 707 wins.”
Reginald Ruffin, Tuskegee University
Reginald Ruffin worked the room at SIAC Media Day.
Even though he is the face of the football program, James finds himself in the familiar position of working with and for Reginald Ruffin. It’s something that he’s used to and comfortable with.
“I mean, his office is like four doors down from me,” James said. “So his door is always open, and if I have any questions or if he sees anything, he pulls me to the side and we’ve conversate on everything. But he’s always been helpful. So I appreciate him.”
Besides his coaching insights, Ruffin has helped James and Co. by working to secure facility upgrades to help the program stay relevant and ahead of the curve.
“We’ve got a great leader in Dr. (Charlotte) Morris and our administration and the board of trustees,” Ruffin said. “The most important thing is giving our students the best experience. And for me, Tuskegee is the standard. Tuskegee is the brand. And so as the leader in the athletic department, I need to make sure that we are building our facilities, and our programs, our scholarships, gender equity and all of that that we’re doing and trying to just give our kids the best experience because we understand that is what it’s about.”
Because of the efforts of Ruffin, the players that James coaches will play on turf instead of the grass which he played on. And they’ll likely get a chance to play under the lights at Cleve L. Abbott Memorial Stadium, something he was never able to do.
“It helps us tremendously. Even in recruiting. It’s way overdue,” James said of the rapid changes taking place at Tuskegee University. “AD Ruffin came in and put his stamp on it and got us a new facility, field turf and everything and a Jumbotron. Now we’re working on getting some lights on in the stadium. So I mean, he came in, hit the ground running, and he’s got everything under his feet right now. And I’m just blessed to have him as my AD.”