Ranting On The 50 Yard Line: Black Coaches Aren’t Getting Opportunities To Succeed in College

David Shaw coached Stanford to a Rose Bowl victory in 2012. The first by a black head coach

We have definitely gained much progress from 1979, the year Wichita St. hired Willie Jeffries away from South Carolina St. to become its head coach. By accepting the job he became the black head coach at the Division 1-A FBS level. In 1994, there were just four African-American head coaches at the FBS level. The names changed, but the numbers didn’t and in 2002 there were still just four and in the following six years only increased the total to five in 2008.

Of the 126 football programs at the FBS level of college football, only 11 of these programs are led by black coaches or a mere 8.7%. Read that line again.

In 2013, 13 of them had black coaches. That was down from 15 in 2012 and an all-time high of 17 in 2011.

These jobs hadn’t always been pretty. When Jefferies took the Wichita St. job he knew that he was taking a job in an environment that really didn’t produce football recruits. And if it did, they wouldn’t want to come to school at Wichita St., which was the smallest of the 1A schools in Kansas. “The word was out about Wichita State and how hard it was to recruit,” he said. “The school was I-A, it was a major school, but basketball was the key sport.” 22 years ago, Penn State assistant coach Ron Dickerson accepted the head coaching job at Temple University, a job he would later realize “was probably his demise”.

‘‘I said, ’Ron, black coaches have got to get good jobs. They can’t turn bad jobs around all the time,’’’ Paterno told Altoona Mirror (keep this quote in mind as you keep reading)

Ron Dickerson, Temple Head Coach 1993-97

Personally, I understand why Dickerson took the job despite the wishes of Paterno. Speaking as a black man in general, we don’t get very many opportunities to be great. And in the case of becoming a head coach at Division 1 level, the opportunities are slim to none. Paterno didn’t want him taking a job he wouldn’t he didn’t think he would be successful at, and that was not meant in a disrespectful way either. If you think about Temple football in 2014, nothing comes to mind right? That’s for a reason. This is a historically bad program, or at least it has been since Wayne Hardin left in 1980. Following his depature in ’80 and right before the arrival of Dickerson in 1992, the football program had managed just two winning seasons. They had went 0-11 in 1986 and they were coming off a 1-10 season right before his arrival. Dickerson says the University never followed through on their promises to help him strengthen the football program.

In what feels like a breakthrough in some ways, Tyrone Willingham was hired as Notre Dame’s HC in 2001, the first black man to be hired in school history. This wasn’t his first head coaching gig, he was actually coming off of a season at Stanford in which his Cardinals went 9-3, made it to the Jeep Seattle Bowl (they lost) and finished ranked 17th in the nation. But unfortunately, Willingham only got a chance to compile a 21-15 record in 3 years before he was fired. He was replaced by Charlie Weiss, who after 3 seasons had a record of 22-15 (Willingham was fired before his bowl in 2004 so he didn’t get the chance to coach that). Weiss would go on to coach two more seasons in which he coached the Fighting Irish to a 13-12 record before being fired. It’s not often a black man gets one opportunity to be a head coach, let alone 3, but Willingham still managed to get another job. This time as the University of Washington’s head coach. His success didn’t translate this time, going 11-37 in 4 seasons before ultimately being fired.

But why is it that the majority of black coaches don’t get second chances? And I literally mean black coaches in general, why is it that collectively we rarely do (and that rarely is RARE). Since 1979m 28 black head coaches have been fired or forced to resign, and in each of those cases the successor was white. In no way, shape or form and I concluding that athletic directors have some sort of secret pact to hold all brothers down. But what I am saying is the opportunities for us to succeed are noticeably dissimilar to our white counterparts. Check example B:

Colorado terminated the contract of Jon Embree after posting a 4-21 record two seasons into his five year contract. The firing surprised him especially since the Mike Bohn, former Colorado AD, told him the week before he would return for his third season. “He said he didn’t feel the trajectory of the program was going in the right direction,” Embree said. “I said, ‘What direction was it going when I got hired?’ “. Embree replaced Dan Hawkins, who Bohn hired and would eventually fire after five consecutive losing seasons. At the time he was playing one of the youngest teams in the nation, having only 8 seniors on the team and starting 1 of them. Common sense would be you give your coach a chance to turn things around you know? Give him a chance to recruit his own players and develop them. I’m not excusing the 4-21 record, but Colorado football hasn’t been much of anything in the last decade. Anybody who thought it would be an overnight job doesn’t understand football on any level.

Exit interview tears

“You know we don’t get opportunities. At the end of the day, you get fired and that’s it, right, wrong or indifferent. (Former Notre Dame coach) Tyrone Willingham was the only one who got fired and got hired again. We get bad jobs and no time to fix it.”

His firing even confused Bill McCartney, the all-time winningest coach in Colorado history: “Honestly, I believe it’s because I’m Caucasian. I believe black men have less opportunity, shorter time if you will,” McCartney said. “It’s just like, Dan Hawkins got five full years. Why not give Jon Embree five years? You signed him to a five-year contract.

“Men of color have a more difficult road to tread. It didn’t happen to me. Why should it happen to a black man?”

Although there are only 11 black head coaches, I am ecstatic that they include some of the premiere college football programs Texas A&M (Kevin Sumlin), Stanford (David Shaw), Penn State (James Franklin) and Texas (Charlie Strong). Not in the least bit am I satisfied, but I love the progress. I’m not expecting a 50/50 split (because then opportunities would be denied to other person of color. Trust me, their are coaches of other minorities out there waiting for their big chance), but tell me why their can’t be 30 black head coaches? Hell, tell me why we can’t even have 50? I am 21 years old. I’m not sure if I want to become a college football coach, but I would hope that maybe 7-10 years from now there will be more available opportunities for me to accomplish what I call a “lowkey” dream.

While at Vanderbilt, Franklin coached 3 seasons (24-15) including taking Vandy to 3 straight bowl games (2-1) it’s first 9 win season since 1915, back to back 9 win seasons for the first time in school history and for the first time, finish the season ranked in back to back years

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s up to the NCAA to help give black coaches the chance to at least be given an opportunity to be put into a position to succeed, but oh wait! Because the NCAA is a non-profit organization and the members are voluntary, they can’t influence campus hiring practices.  (I’m not going to express my feelings about the NCAA right now. I’ll save that for a later date.”


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