Photo: Jimmy Raye with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Jimmy Raye's pioneering football career spans a half-century as quarterback at Michigan State, an NFL assistant coach, offensive coordinator and NFL Senior Advisor. The 2015 season is Raye’s 39th in the league and second as an advisor to NFL Vice President of Operations Troy Vincent.
Raye began his coaching career at Michigan in 1971 and moved on to the NFL in 1977 after San Francisco 49ers head coach Ken Meyer heard him speak at a clinic. At the time, there were only three other black assistant coaches in the NFL.
Six years later Raye broke ground as one of the NFL’s first black coordinators in 1983 with the Los Angeles Rams under John Robinson. Eric Dickerson ran for an NFL record of 2,105 yards with Raye serving as the offensive coordinator in 1984.
Raye subsequently was widely considered a prime candidate as the NFL’s first black head coach when the media speculated in the 1980s. He wasn’t offered an opportunity, but he remained an influential coaching figure. Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, the first black coach to win a Super Bowl title, considered Raye a mentor and said he thought of Raye as he accepted the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the 2006 season.
Dungy wrote the Foreword to the book "Raye of Light," the story of the Michigan State Underground Railroad’s leading role in the integration of college football under progressive head coach Duffy Daugherty.
Raye was the South’s first black quarterback to win a national title as the Spartans’ starter in 1966, when Michigan State and Notre Dame played to a controversial 10-10 tie in the “Game of the Century.” Raye was recruited out of Fayetteville, N.C., in the segregated South. Among his teammates on the Underground Railroad were College Football Hall of Famers Bubba Smith, George Webster, Gene Washington and Clinton Jones.
Tyrone Willingham, a former head coach at Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington that serves on the College Football Playoff committee, also considers Raye a mentor. Raye recruited Willingham out of Jacksonville, N.C., and coached him at Michigan State in the 1970s.
Raye’s son, Jimmy Raye III, is vice-president of football operations with the Indianapolis Colts.