Florida A&M University (FAMU) mourns the loss of historian and former dean Leedell Neyland, Ph.D., and former director of athletics Ken Riley, who both passed last weekend.
“It was a tough weekend for Rattlers,” said President Larry Robinson, Ph.D. “In Dr. Neyland and Ken Riley, the University has lost two outstanding sons, who both exemplified FAMU’s motto, “Excellence with Caring” throughout their lives,” Robinson added.
Neyland, a World War II veteran, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and retired provost and professor emeritus, is credited with compiling and chronicling the university’s history in “Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University: A Centennial History (1887-1987).”
Robinson added, “Dr. Neyland was a highly regarded historian, administrator and community servant.”
Neyland also co-authored with former School of Business and Industry associate professor Annette Singleton Jackson the book, “The Florida A&M University School of Business and Industry: SBI, The Sybil Collins Mobley Years.”
He was living in Las Vegas and was 98 years old.
Former Director of Athletics Ken Riley was a four-year starting quarterback for legendary FAMU head coach Alonzo “Jake” Gaither and a Rhodes Scholar nominee. He went on to be selected in the sixth round as the 135th pick by the Cincinnati Bengals during the 1969 NFL Draft where he played for 15 years (1969-1983) as a defensive back. Riley recorded 65 interceptions in his career, which was the fourth-most in NFL history at the time of his retirement and is currently fifth on that list.
While he is fifth on the NFL All-Time interceptions list, he remains the only player in the top five not enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame.
“Riley was an outstanding student at FAMU and decided not to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship after he was drafted by the NFL. He was a great person as well.”
In 1986, Riley took over the head coaching duties at his alma mater, Florida A&M. While at FAMU from 1986-93, Riley compiled a 48-39-2 record, with two Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) championships and a pair of MEAC Coach of the Year honors. Riley, who was inducted into the FAMU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1977, served as the Florida A&M athletics director from 1993-2004, before retiring in Bartow, Fla. where he died early Sunday morning at the age of 72.
Riley’s contributions to the sports world beyond FAMU were widely celebration. ESPN offered the following:
Former Cincinnati Bengals standout Ken Riley, who was later a head coach and athletic director at his alma mater Florida A&M, died Sunday, the university announced. He was 72.
Riley played 15 seasons for the Bengals as a defensive back, with 65 career interceptions for 596 yards and five touchdowns -- all franchise records. The interceptions rank fifth in NFL history. He also recovered 18 fumbles.
Before his NFL career, Riley was a four-year starter at quarterback for the Rattlers.
"FAMU athletics and the entire Rattler Nation is deeply saddened of the passing of former FAMU football player, head coach, athletics director and NFL great Ken Riley,"
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athletic director Kortne Gosha said in a statement. "We wish his family our deepest condolences."
Riley, who was black, was chosen in the sixth round of the 1969 NFL draft by the Bengals, who under coach Paul Brown decided to convert him to cornerback. At the time, black starting quarterbacks in the NFL were all but unheard of. Riley retired in 1983.
"When he came here, Kenny and Lemar Parrish had never played cornerback, and they're the two best we've ever had. And we've had a lot of good ones," Bengals owner Mike Brown said in a statement. "We put him over there for a decade and a half and we didn't have to worry about it. Kenny was quick to the point of the ball as a great interceptor and he was an excellent tackler, even though he wasn't a very big man.
"I'm going to miss him. He was a good guy and a solid man. We send our condolences to his family."
Ken Riley remains in the top five in NFL history with his 65 career interceptions. Clifton Riley spent two seasons as an assistant with the Green Bay Packers before taking over as coach at Florida A&M, where he went 48-39-2 from 1986 to 1993. He won two Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles and was a two-time MEAC Coach of the Year.
He never made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame but is in the Florida A&M and Black College Football halls of fame and was one of 33 players named to the Florida High School Association All-Century Team. He played in high school at Union Academy in Bartow, Florida.
"I woke up this morning with a heavy heart as I learned of the passing of FAMU and NFL great Ken Riley," Simmons said in a statement. "Coach Riley was one of the first to welcome me to the 'FAMULY' and having him speak to our team before our first Orange and Green game is definitely at the top of my list of unforgettable moments as head coach here at FAMU."
FAMU News, ESPN and The Associated Press contributed to this report.