Willie Totten spent one season as the quarterbacks coach at Albany State before leaving for a similar job at Alabama A&M. (Herald file photo)
ALBANY — After spending less than a year as Albany State’s quarterback coach, Willie Totten is headed back to the Division I ranks.
The former Mississippi Valley State head coach accepted a job recently as the QB coach and passing game coordinator at Alabama A&M, the next step for the legendary football figure who is hoping to work his way back up to a head coaching job.
“That’s my route,” Totten said. “I have been a head coach, and I know what it takes to be a head coach. I think that’s the route I am taking, and going back to Division I gives me an opportunity to really grow and learn more football.”
Totten left his mark on the ASU program in the six months he was with the Rams, helping to mold first-year quarterback Frank Rivers into one of the best at his position in the SIAC. ASU head coach Mike White said Totten’s short stay made a huge difference on the program.
“Frank and all of us are better for having him for the time we did have him,” White said. “He had that insight being a quarterback himself. When things were going bad, I could hear him telling Frank that both the quarterback and the head coach either get too much credit or it’s their fault. I just thought he did a great job with Frank when things were not going Frank’s way and how he had the calm voice.”
The 2013 season in Albany might have just been a blip on the radar for the Hall of Fame coach, but he said it was full of moments and relationships he will never forget.
“There was no doubt that Albany State was an opportunity for me to really share some great moments with a great coaching staff,” Totten said. “I think coach White is terrific. I think he is one of the greatest coaches I have been around because he has been in the game for so long and loves Albany State. I learned a lot from him when I was there.
“Being a former head coach and coming in and coaching with coach White, I learned some things from him that I will continue to carry with me. I thank him for giving me the opportunity to get back in coaching.”
Totten had been away from football after stepping down as head coach at MVSU in 2009. His legacy at MVSU dates back to the early 1980s when he was quarterback for the Delta Devils and set more than 50 Division 1-AA passing records with the help of Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice. The duo became known as the “The Satellite Express” and excelled under the spread offense, and eventually the MVSU football stadium was named Rice-Totten Field after the pair.
Totten, who was selected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005, had brief stints in the NFL, CFL and AFL before taking up coaching. He became the head coach at MVSU in 2002 and held the position for eight years before stepping down to take an administrative role at the university.
Last summer, however, he returned to the field and helped the Rams win the SIAC championship in one of the greatest turnaround seasons in the program’s history.
“Just being able to be a part of the legacy at Albany State was something special,” he said. “I had heard about Albany State before I got there, and to go and be a part of a great legacy is something that will always be special to me.”
He turned out to be valuable at ASU for more than just his knowledge of the passing game and made a significant impact on the Rams’ special teams.
“He really opened my eyes to a lot of different things about the game that I didn’t know he had when I hired him. He did a great job with our punter (Ryan Latner),” White said. “All of us on the staff saw Ryan completely change when coach Totten started working with him. That was kind of the hidden secret in our last game against Fort Valley. Fort Valley had beaten a couple of teams with some punt blocks, but we saw a difference in Ryan getting the ball out quickly.”
Totten is part of a new regime at Alabama A&M that will be led by former Nevada assistant coach James Spady, who was the brain behind the Wolf Pack’s dynamic Pistol offense — an up-tempo offensive scheme that will be instilled at A&M next season.
“That’s an offense I have always wanted to know more about,” Totten said. “(Spady) wants me seriously involved with the passing game and the quarterback and to really understand the Pistol. I am excited about running that and also bringing my own style in.”
Totten was a finalist this winter for the head coaching job at Coahoma Community College in Mississippi but instead decided to join the Alabama A&M staff in what he hopes is the next step on his journey back to a head coaching position.
“I would have had a really good chance (at Coahoma), but I decided to go with the A&M route and follow that,” he said. “I think I will have a better shot from Division I to move up.”