Inside My Head

(insert witty tagline here so people will think I’m cool)

I Know Why There Are So Few Minority Head Football Coaches!

Posted by Kevin on November 29, 2007

The short answer: because they weren’t the right man for the job.

The long answer: how much time do you have?

Sure, there is an overwhelming disparity in the skin color of head football coaches in the NCAA and NFL alike, but let’s not get all crazy and throw race around like the White Man is holding you down because of your skin color. That’s bullshit and you know it.

In case you haven’t heard the whining, there are only six minority head coaches among the 119 Division 1-A schools and six minority head coaches in the NFL. Why?

I’ll grant you the fact that minority coaches have been looked over at times when they should have at least been given chances to interview for jobs, but as unfair as that is, it is just as unreasonable to say that these same coaches should just be handed jobs they aren’t necessarily qualified for. Or sometimes the timing just isn’t right to give a minority with no head coaching experience a shot.

Texas A&M is a good example of this. The Aggies have a history of being a winning program. They have high expectations and want to compete for a conference title year in and year out in the very tough Big 12 Conference. Now, that’s not to say that a minority coach with no head coaching experience couldn’t come into College Station and win right away, but surely you can agree that the odds of that happening are slim. When R.C. Slocum was fired in 2002, A&M wanted someone with head coaching experience who could come in and get A&M back to winning right away. They hired Dennis Franchione and paid him an awful lot of money to do it. In five seasons, Franchione’s teams never finished better than 3rd in their conference division and only went to two bowl games (this year’s 7-5 team will be coached by an interim coach in their bowl game). Now A&M is once again faced with hiring a new coach to come in and clean up Franchione’s mess and get the program back to its winning ways. Their is unrest among the fanbase and the people with the fat wallets. After Franchione tanked on them, do you honestly expect that they’d now give the job to anyone without head coaching experience? They circled the wagons and looked within the A&M family to find someone who knows the school, who knows the tradition, who they believe has the ability to restore the program. Mike Sherman fits all of that. If that’s what they were looking for, then interviewing a minority coach for a position he knows he wouldn’t be hired for would be nothing more than a token interview. Do you really want that?

I find it unrealistic to expect some of these big name schools who have long histories of winning to hire someone without a proven winning track record. When you bitch and moan about minority coaches not being given the chance to interview at a school like A&M, please also consider the number of White Man assistants out there that far outnumber your minority assistants and would have also loved a shot to interview for the A&M job. Don’t you think they feel overlooked as well?

Now…. with all of that said, I do firmly believe there are minority coaches out there worthy of being given a shot at head coaching positions. I just think you have to be realistic about it. A problem of disparity like this does not get worked out overnight. It takes time. And it takes the willingness to start somewhere below the most elite jobs available.

Many people like to point out that Tyrone Willingham, one of your six minority head coaches in NCAA 1-A, was “unceremoniously dumped” by Notre Dame after three years. Unceremoniously dumped…. what, did you want them to throw him a party for failing to win at Notre Dame? Sure, he won 10 games his first season, but followed that with overachieving 5-7 and 6-5 records. At Notre Dame. The same Notre Dame that expects to play bowl games in January each and every season. The same Notre Dame that expects to contend for a national championship each and every year. The same Notre Dame that is so elitist and full of itself that they demand (and somehow get) special treatment for everything they do. They left the Collegiate Football Association and landed their very own TV deal with NBC to broadcast every single home game. They are also the only program, college or pro, to have all of their football games nationally broadcast via radio. They are also the only college program with their very own BCS clause. So, did you really expect Notre Dame to put up with losing? Let’s not forget Willingham is also still a head coach. Just not at precious Notre Dame.

Of the 14 head coaching positions that have come open in recent weeks in Division 1-A, three have already been filled. I’ve already gone over the A&M case. Ole Miss did interview minority coaches the last time they had a vacancy before hiring the recently fired Ed Orgeron. After being burned so badly by that hire, I don’t think you can fault them for jumping on the chance to hire Houston Nutt. I do not know anything about the Baylor hire. That leaves 11 head coaching slots still open. Of those 11, the jobs I can see realistically giving a shot to a minority coach with little or no head coaching experience are: Colorado State, Duke, Houston, Northern Illinois, SMU, Southern Miss, and Washington State. No way Arkansas, Georgia Tech or Nebraska go with an unproven coach which means you’re highly unlikely to see a minority at the helm. It’s just not going to happen. Now, of the other schools that are available, none are names that really jump out at you as elite coaching jobs but they are potential opportunities to get that elusive experience to allow a minority coach to move up at a later time.

So what is it going to take to get minority coaches a fair shot at more head coaching jobs? I think it all starts with the interview process. When a head coaching job comes open, fans, alumni, and boosters want it filled immediately. The longer a job stays open, the longer your entire program goes with no direction. Athletic directors and school presidents always have a list of criteria they want from their new head coach, and they almost always have a short list of candidates who they are interested in. I’m sure those lists rarely include minority coaches. I think we could go a long way toward having more minority head coaches by implementing a rule similar to the NFL’s Rooney Rule.

The Rooney Rule was spearheaded by Pittsburgh Steelers owner, and the chairman of the league’s diversity committee, Dan Rooney. The rule requires that NFL teams interview at least one minority candidate for their head coaching job when it is available. Failing to comply results in a fine, such as the $200,000 fine levied against the Detroit Lions in 2003 for failing to interview a minority for their head coaching job.

There’s no reason why the NCAA could not adopt a similar rule as long as colleges and universities are not forced to hire a minority coach for the sake of keeping a quota or some such nonsense. Give these coaches face time with the guys that hire and fire coaches even if you’re already certain of who you want to hire. Even if you don’t hire them, you’re giving them opportunity. Occasionally you’ll find one of these guys will knock your socks off and change your mind about who you hire. Sooner or later you’ll find a diamond in the rough. After some time, more opportunities will become available because there will be more minorities in the ranks. It’s evolution. It works. It just takes time. And patience.

But let’s also keep in mind that no program likes to lose. Coaches get hired and fired each and every year. A minority coach given a shot may not pan out and will have to be fired to make room for the next guy to get a shot. If he wins, great. If he doesn’t, please don’t pull this racial bullshit if his replacement is white. College football programs want to win. The color of the man’s skin at the helm is irrelevant. Yes, it really is that simple.

Finally, I’d like to point to my own backyard for my take on minority coaches.

Mississippi State enjoyed unprecedented football success in the 13 years that Jackie Sherrill was our coach. In the forever-many years of football before Sherrill arrived on campus State had been to six bowl games. Sherrill took us to six more in just 13 seasons. But in 2001 everything changed. The wheels came off the program and we couldn’t win a game. In the shadow of looming NCAA sanctions, Sherrill bailed after the 2003 season leaving the program a total wreck.

Enter Sylvester Croom. Croom has quite the resume for football experience but zero head coaching experience. He was an All-American at Alabama for perhaps the greatest college football coach ever and later served on Bear Bryant‘s staff. While serving as an Alabama assistant coach, Croom’s teams participated in 10 bowl games and won two national championships. He moved to the professional ranks as running backs coach for Tampa Bay, San Diego, and Green Bay. He spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions. His pedigree speaks for itself. He’s played and coached for championship teams. He just hadn’t been the head man before.

Mississippi State was all but forced to hire Croom; you’ll never convince me otherwise. He was rumored to be a finalist for the Alabama job a year before when they hired Mike Shula. The NAACP and the Two Revs (Jesse and Al) were going to make damn sure a minority finally get hired to break the color barrier as the first minority head football coach in the SEC. Having already suffered through three losing seasons and facing NCAA sanctions, State was in no position to pull the “but we want to hire a proven winner” card. So they interview Croom, and he blew them away.

It all goes back to just giving these guys a fair interview. Had Croom interviewed and given Larry Templeton no reason to believe he could do anything with the program then I think State could have had solid reasoning for not hiring him. But Croom had a plan for turning the program around and winning again. He also didn’t blow smoke up anyone’s ass saying State would be winning national championships anytime soon. He said he had a plan. He knew his plan would work. He also said his plan would take time and patience. Four long years, and many more defeats, later, Croom has State playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2000. And he did it the right way. He did it his way. He did it by getting rid of bad attitudes and bad character. He brought in kids with perhaps lesser talent but with good attitudes, good character, and good work ethics. And now he’s starting to win games. His way.

I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong about Croom, and if ever given the chance I’ll tell the man myself I was wrong.

It all goes back to the interview process. Give minority coaches an honest chance to interview for more jobs and the rest will work itself out naturally.

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