There were only two realistic options available to young men coming of age in Oakboro during the during the late 1960s and early ’70s.
As far as Rod Broadway was concerned, only one of them was worth considering.
“In my day, you either had to play football and go to college or you had to go to work at the mill,” he said, referring to the primary employer in town, Stanly Knitting Mills. “And I didn’t want any part of the mill.”
Fortunately for Broadway, he was big enough and strong enough to earn a spot on the West Stanly High football team. And he was talented enough as a defensive lineman to earn a scholarship to North Carolina.
Broadway went on to play four seasons for the Tar Heels, garnering All-ACC honors as a senior on a team that won a conference championship and played in the Liberty Bowl. More importantly, he earned his degree, ensuring that he wouldn’t have to go back home to a life of manual labor.
Unlike many of his teammates, though, he never gave a thought of pursuing a career in the NFL. Instead, he jumped right into the profession that has been his passion almost as long as he’d been playing the game.
“I started out wanting to be a coach when I was in the sixth grade,” Broadway said. “I guess I’m one lucky guy to have an opportunity to live my dream.”
While luck might have helped him get started in coaching, it’s had little to do with the success he’s achieved since. Broadway has compiled a 127-45 record in 15 seasons as a head coach at NC Central, Grambling and NC A&T.
Earlier this month in Atlanta, the 62-year-old added an exclamation point to an already impressive resume by leading his Aggies to a 21-14 Celebration Bowl victory against Grambling to complete the first undefeated season in the history of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and clinch his fifth Historically Black Colleges and Universities national championship.
It’s an accomplishment made all the more impressive by the fact that A&T went 1-10 the season before Broadway arrived in 2011, had recently endured a 27-game losing streak and was under NCAA sanctions for its subpar academic performance.
“Coach Broadway,” Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs said, “he’s one of the pillars of black college football.”
And yet, despite his impressive record and a coaching pedigree that includes stops at East Carolina, Florida, Duke and his alma mater UNC, Broadway is barely even an afterthought in mainstream football circles.
“I would love to have had the opportunity (to coach at an FBS school),” he said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt we could be successful and we could win, because we’ve won every place we’ve ever been. We’ve just never had the chance.
“When you see so many guys that are not even .500 continue to get jobs, it’s mind-boggling sometimes. Black coaches are like the black quarterbacks of the ’70s. It’s the same mindset and we have to get out of it because there are some mighty good coaches out there that can coach anywhere.”
As disappointing as the situation might be, Broadway isn’t wasting any time worrying about things he can’t control.
Besides, he’s gotten more from football than he ever dreamed possible, including a college degree, a personal refuge after his first wife, Dianne, died in 2004 and a vehicle to return home to North Carolina to be closer to his family.
He’s especially proud of the contribution he has made to the rich tradition of HBCU football and the impact he has had on the lives of young men like himself who might not otherwise have a chance better themselves.
“A&T was really my only choice,” said sophomore defensive end Darryl Johnson, a first-team All-MEAC selection from Savannah, Ga., who fell off the recruiting radar after suffering an injury during his senior year in high school. “I didn’t have any offers at all before signing day. I’m just glad coach Broadway looked at me and found me. I really don’t know where I would be today without A&T.”
Johnson’s story is more the rule than the exception.
Among Broadway’s most notable success stories is Tarik Cohen, an undersized running back from Bunn who helped A&T to the 2015 Celebration Bowl title and is now a key member of the NFL’s Chicago Bears.
“That’s the beauty of this thing,” Broadway said. “When you take kids that wouldn’t have had an opportunity to go to college if it wasn’t for football and watch them grow and develop into outstanding young men.”
According to A&T athletic director Earl Hilton III, Broadway’s dedication to his players is a much more important element to his success than his impressive won-loss record he has amassed.
“Before he executed the first X or O for North Carolina A&T, we saw the type of integrity and high expectations he was willing to put in place for the program to move forward in a positive direction,” Hilton said. “When you have a coach who is willing to hold people accountable no matter who they are, you know one of your high-profile sports is in good hands. Coach Broadway is a champion because he works extremely hard, and he does things the right way.”
This year’s team was his best one yet, led by 12 first-team all-conference selections including quarterback Lamar Raynard and NFL prospect offensive tackle Brandon Parker.
Broadway said he saw championship potential in his Aggies from the opening day of preseason camp, but to go undefeated — including a road win against FBS opponent Charlotte — exceeded even his highest expectations.
With Raynard, leading rusher Marquell Cartwright, top receiver Elijah Bell, interceptions leader Mac McCain and others all scheduled to return, A&T stands a chance of being just as good next season.
The only question is whether their coach will be back to lead them.
With this being the final year of a contract that paid him $299,290 this season, Broadway said he’ll sit down with athletic director Earl Hilton III sometime after the start of the new year to discuss his future at the school.
He said he’s still undecided whether he’ll sign a new deal to stay on as coach or retire and go out on top. It’s a decision that might hinge on the size of A&T’s offer.
From the sound of things, he isn’t ready to go anywhere just yet.
“I don’t know where the finish line is right now. It’s definitely not in sight,” Broadway said. “I’m anxious about the future — where we’re going, what we’re doing and how we’re doing things. It’s an exciting time.”