A Few MInutes With……

By Anthony Harris
Updated: December 2, 2004

NEW YORK — And then there were just two.

The sudden firing of Notre Dame football coach Tyrone Willingham further reduced the number of Division I-A coaches of color.

Floyd Keith, the Executive Director of the Black Coaches Association, was kind enough to give me a few moments of his time during a very busy day.

Mr. Keith has been at the post since 2002, and has implemented a system of giving colleges and universities, that have openings at head coach, report cards along with biographical sketches of eligible Black coaches, as a way of raising awareness about the hiring practices.

The most recent grading system, covering the 2003 off-season and just released in mid-October, ironically gave 17 of the 28 institutions of higher learning (that were looking for new coaches) grades of A or B.

Cornell finished at the top of the class despite not hiring a coach of color, and seven other programs, including Mississippi State (which hired Sylvester Croom) also got A’s.

Apparently, from all indications, actually hiring coaches of color at top college football programs is not a priority on many college campuses today.

Perhaps it may be time for the CONSCIOUS African American athlete to step in.

Q: I know you made a statement earlier today, can I get your thoughts on the firing of Tyrone Willingham at Notre Dame

A: Well, first of all the Black Coaches Association is extremely disappointed in learning of Tyrone’s termination particularly during the third year of a five-year contract. In 2002 we really respected the appointment and decision that Father Molloy and Kevin White made, but we do have some concerns about the termination of his contract prior to its extent and we were looking at an individual of Tyrone’s stature and character and in light of the recent losses of coach Samuel (New Mexico State) and coach Fitz Hill from San Jose State respectively we see an alarming message that is sent to African Americans that are dreaming about coaching football on the collegiate level. The numbers are already paltry when it goes down from five to two – reducing it by almost sixty per cent – one has to put the magnifying glass and say well what direction is this going.

Q: What do these firings say to the number of African American football players at Division I programs. Chris Leak (sophomore quarterback from the University of Florida) made some comments a while back saying that this is something we, as athletes, have to consider

A: I think any social conscious parent and athlete –and I think it is going to become more prevalent – are going to have to ask the question if we continue not to demand that there be fair representation in the choices of coaches by African American athletes then the cycle is never going to change and one of the things that I think we’re proud about is that we have an instrument of accountability with the report card, helping families and parents that do look at diversity as a factor in the choice of their secondary education that they can weigh and measure that as part of a component to their decision and before it wasn’t there and I think now with our hiring report card it is, and I hope that this will awaken the consciousness of our Black athletes to be sensitive to this and to start saying listen we’ve got to seriously look at places and why should we play where we can’t coach.

Q: What’s next for the BCA. I know you’re not happy but…

A: We’re trying to deal with the entrance part of it; they get more of an opportunity to deal with that. The other issue about terminations becomes a double-edged sword. In this country, particularly on the collegiate level, (laughs) it’s not about education today unfortunately, it’s not about that it’s about wins and losses and then if you don’t win soon enough all the rules go by the way side. What we have to deal with is that we just want opportunities, we want to have opportunities to ride the horse, we’d like to be the jockey now if your horse is slow then that’s the luck of the draw or part of what you buy into, but we’d just like to have more opportunities to be out there so that if it comes to the point where a decision that has to be made then it is not as significant because you have more than one at an institution that has a chance to win.

Q: I know earlier you even spoke of some form of boycott

A: We’re going to look and see how many more people have opportunities to be employed, and if we can’t get that then we have to look and see what avenues we are going to use and we’ve never taken that off the table and we won’t. Legal action and what course and shape it takes is something that’s always in our discussions. We’re trying to do it the right way. We’re trying to open the doors the right way. We’re trying to work with universities and systems to be inclusive and if they come short of that then we’ve got to probably jack it up a notch, so we’re going to have to see where it goes.

Q: Do you think the NCAA is only giving the BCA lip service

A: See you got to take this back and say who is the NCAA. The NCAA is three different people. It is the athletes. The institutions and then there’s the executive branch of the NCAA that only does what the institutions tell them. Our deal is with the individual institutions. You can’t say NCAA in general, and the individual institutions are the reason why we have the report card.