By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]

Howard University football coach Ron Prince has been placed on administrative leave, while he is under an internal investigation regarding verbal abuse and intimidation of players.  Director of Football Operations Aaron Kelton is serving as the interim coach until further notice, according to a University statement.

The investigation began after the allegations were first reported by the Black college sports website HBCU Gameday in October. The website was contacted by representatives of Howard football players, who accused Prince of being verbally abusive and intimidating to them.  Some parents accused Prince of sending players home without treatment for injuries and that there was an “atmosphere of intimidation” because they were being threatened by the loss of scholarships.

Meanwhile, the onfield product disintegrated from its hopes of being a contender in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference into a season that has become one of the worst in school history. At the start of the season, Howard was picked fourth by the MEAC coaches and sports information directors.  Since the season kicked off, the Bison have given up more than 50 points five times including a 79-0 loss to the University of Maryland and the record is 1-9 after five consecutive losses. 

Howard University football coach Ron Prince (center) is on administrative leave, as an internal investigation of verbal abuse and intimidation of players continues. (Courtesy Photo)

Problems first became noticeable once Howard opened their home schedule against Bethune Cookman on Sept. 29, when starting quarterback and national player of the year candidate Caylin Newton was mysteriously absent from the lineup.  Newton, brother of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, announced to the team he would be leaving the program less than 24 hours before kickoff.

Newton would later explain on Twitter, “coming to Howard was the best decision I ever made in my life,” but he would be leaving the program after finishing the requirements for his bachelor’s degree with two years of eligibility left to play and would make himself available for other schools through the NCAA transfer portal.  Seventeen Bison players have reportedly left the program through entering the portal after Prince’s arrival last December.

While there has been no evidence of any physical confrontations between Prince and his players, sources privately told the AFRO they’ve heard intimidating language that went beyond addressing their onfield performance and he “lost” the team with those constant threats.  Players were privately recording tirades by Prince on their phones and supposedly made them available to the university along with the letter that went public. There are also questions about why it took so long for Howard to make this decision given there has been no additional information provided since what was originally released.

A group of former players are believed to have forced the hand of the administration to remove Prince after supposedly hearing the recordings and after a column was published on ESPN’s Undefeated website.  People who are close to the program also don’t believe Howard administrators weren’t diligent in the vetting process, which would have been exposed the coach’s past issues with players at both the college and pro level.  Another source with connections to the program told the AFRO that Howard officials met with Prince once without truly evaluating his track record and decided to hire him after meeting him Atlanta. 

He had been an offensive analyst at the University of Michigan and worked in the NFL with the Detroit Lions before coming to Howard. Prince had also worked as the offensive coordinator at Rutgers and the head coach at Kansas State from 2006 to 2008. According to NFL beat reporters in Detroit, Prince’s style was referred to as “grating” by several members of the Lions offensive line, who didn’t respond to what has been referred to as an “abrasive” style before he was fired. 

An NFL source, speaking privately, also told the AFRO that it wasn’t surprising the situation at Howard didn’t work because he wasn’t well-regarded for the work he did in Detroit last year due to his rigid style. The source also said he wasn’t surprised the relationship didn’t work with Newton because Prince would never change his offense to suit his best player.