Lack Of Black Coaches A Disgrace

By Johnette Howard
Updated: December 14, 2005

INDIANA—It’s about time everyone pay attention to college football’s greatest and longest-running disgrace.

Did you know that of the 119 schools that play Division I-A football, only four head coaches – Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom, UCLA’s Karl Dorrell, Washington’s Tyrone Willingham and just-hired Kansas State coach Ron Prince – are black?

In Division I-AA, the numbers are even worse. Indiana State’s Lou West and Columbia’s Norries Wilson, hired Sunday, are the only black head coach at a predominantly white schools.

How can an outrage like this still be happening?

No excuse – none – seems good enough.

If you examine the comparatively short window of time that black athletes have been allowed to compete in major sports, plenty have figured out the games they play.

Lenny Wilkens is the all-time NBA leader in victories for a coach. Grambling coach Eddie Robinson used to own the NCAA football wins record. Clarence “Bighouse” Gaines is fifth on the NCAA basketball all-time wins list.

Even the NFL shames the NCAA. The 32-team NFL has six black head coaches, and three of them – Chicago’s Lovie Smith, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis and Indianapolis’ Tony Dungy – are presiding over division leaders.

Yet we’re still seeing university presidents and athletic directors continue to shut minorities out of head coaching and management positions within college football.

“The excuses we still hear are, ‘There’s not enough people out there,’ ‘The pool is weak,’ ‘They don’t have enough experience,’ ‘They’ve never been a head coach,’ ” says Eugene Marshall Jr., deputy athletic director at the United States Military Academy at West Point and the president of the board of directors of the Black Coaches Association.

“What it really comes down to is their funding people and alumni,” Marshall said. “Will their fundraisers back these people (of color)? And in some cases, they won’t.”

Funny, but people used to say the same things about white soldiers and black soldiers not being able to serve side by side, or that white players wouldn’t follow a black quarterback.

For the past two years, the Black Coaches Association has issued an annual minority hiring report card for college football’s top two divisions. Once again, the hiring trend this year was appalling.

More than half of the 30 schools who changed football coaches in 2004 earned grades ranging from an “F” to a “C.” The University of Utah refused to participate in the BCA study and got an “F.”

Incredibly, so did San Jose State, former home of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two black athletes famous for their unforgettable black-gloved salute at the 1968 Olympics. San Jose State had a black head coach, Fitz Hill, from 2001-04.

“That San Jose State would get an ‘F’ is unbelievable, just unbelievable to me, because I went to school there then, I knew Tommie Smith, I knew all of those guys!” Jets Coach Herman Edwards said. “You look now and think, ‘What happened?’ ”

The BCA isn’t demanding that minorities be hired for every college head coaching position. Much like the NFL’s minority hiring policy, the BCA asks that minorities be considered as head coaching candidates, that they be included on the search committees that hire them.

But the biggest difference between the NCAA and NFL is significant: The NFL’s rule has teeth. The Lions were fined $250,000 when general manager Matt Millen ignored the league’s directives and hired Steve Mariucci.

The NCAA and its activist president, Myles Brand – though “very supportive” of the BCA, says Marshall – hasn’t gone as far as the NFL yet. But the NCAA should.

The NCAA already takes back bowl money and scholarships when athletic programs violate NCAA rules. The same should hold for minority hiring.

“This is 2005,” Edwards said.

Time’s up.