This week’s feature is with former Savannah State football coach Frank Ellis Jr.
Ellis is the son of the late Frank Ellis, Sr. and Catherine Hill Ellis. His father worked at Union Camp while his mother was a homemaker.
At age 74, Ellis still looks to be in shape. “I walk, swim and do some light weight lifting,” he says.
Other than Bill Davis, Ellis, along with John Myles, have won more football games than any other Savannah State football coach with 33 victories.
In Ellis’ nine years as head coach of the Tigers, from 1977-85, he was able to recruit some very talented players such as Cecil Newton, Tim Walker, Ken Dawson and Casey Grigley to name a few.
Newton and Walker were All-Americans, Dawson was the first player from Savannah State picked in the NFL Draft and Grigley was the first modern day Savannah State player to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.
When it came to getting players, Ellis did his own recruiting.
“There were times when I taught class and hopped in my car and drove to Atlanta to recruit and then drive back to Savannah because I had to be back to teacha8a.m.class”.
Two of the biggest wins in the program came under Ellis when his Tigers shut out Central Florida 44-0 in 1980 and defeated Millersville 17-14, one of the top teams in Division II in 1982.
He resigned as head coach after the 1985 season but remained as a campus instructor.
He served as athletics director at Savannah State for two years (1994- 96) and retired as a associate professor in 2001.
Being a former athlete and coach he still had that itch to teach so he spent a few years helping out at Bible Baptist as well as doing individual workouts with a few local athletes.
These days, Ellis keeps busy serving as the pastor of Second Bryan Baptist Church in Savannah. In February 2019, he will be celebrating his 12th anniversary as the pastor of the congregation.
When asked what led him into the ministry, he replied “I really believe all the hardship and adversities I went through as a coach prepared me for what I am doing.”
Although he now resides in Rincon, Ellis grew up in east Savannah until his family moved to the west-side. That might explain why Ellis attended Sol C. Johnson High and his siblings went to Tompkins. “I was born in Yamacraw in my parents home on the 500 block on York Street.”
Ellis lettered at four sports at Johnson High (football, basketball, baseball and track). In 1961, his senior season, he passed for 1,400 yards. He served as team captain for three of the four sports he played from his sophomore to senior year. He was named to the All City Team in 1962.
After graduating from Johnson, Ellis continued his athletic career at Savannah State where he was a two-sport athlete in football and basketball. He was captain of the football team and played multiple positions (quarterback, halfback, defensive back and kickoff and punt return specialist). In his first college game, Ellis returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown. He was named to the 1966 All-Southeastern Athletic Conference Team. He was also captain of the basketball team and led the team in scoring as a junior, averaging 14.8 points a game.
Ellis earned his undergraduate degree from Savannah State in 1966. He taught and coached for one year at his high school alma mater before being drafted into the military. During his two years in the United States Army, he remained involved in athletics by playing with the military basketball and baseball teams.
He received a early discharge from the military so that he could start graduate school. He also taught school at Tompkins Elementary.
He joined the Savannah State faculty as an instructor in 1970 and served as an assistant football coach for the Tigers from 1969-76. He was also the head swimming coach.
Ellis was inducted into the Greater Savannah Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994, Southern Intercollegiate
Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995, the Johnson High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012 and in 2017 was honored as a Living Legend by 21st Century/ Next Level Sports.
Calling it a “special place”, Ellis enjoyed his time as a undergraduate at Savannah State. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was a glorious time.”
While in college, Ellis became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. “There were 11 of us but 16 started. We crossed over on November 22, 1963. I remember that day vividly because that was the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.”
Although he has been retired for a while, Ellis still keeps in tough with his former students, players and assistants. “It allows me to see how they are doing and also check on their parents.”