The NFL Has It Right, But The NCAA Is Dragging Its Feet

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: February 9, 2007

NCAACALIFORNIA — Feb. 4, 2007 went down in history as the National Football League witnessed the first two African American head coaches dueling it out for the Super Bowl XLI Trophy.

Unfortunately the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) cannot boost of such event. Minority Division I-A college coaches will not even come close to raising the Sears Trophy, symbol of the BCS National Championship, and it’s not because they are no qualified and talented coaches found.

The simple threat of an anti discrimination suit with a push from the late Johnnie Cochran in 2003 forced the NFL to start a diversity program while the NCAA continues to drag its collective feet.

The NFL increased its black coaching ranks to five this month with the Pittsburgh Steelers hiring Mike Tomlin from the Minnesota Vikings. Ten years ago, this would have never happened.

The NCAA should take a page from the NFL rule book and instill a Rooney Rule hiring new college head coaches. Currently there are 217 Division I-A schools with only five minority head coaches.

That is less then one per cent. What a tragedy. The NFL has 30 teams with five African American Head Coaches, a much better percentage and a work still in progress.

The NCAA continues to stall or even reverse its hiring practices of minority candidates. What happened to former Notre Dame’s Tyrone Willingham three years ago was not an accident and this action should not be tolerated.

This could be corrected with a similar NCAA Rooney Rule — each team must interview at least one minority for each head coaching job. Coach Willingham took a struggling Fighting Irish team, a mediocre football team that did not have a winning record for some time, and turned the Notre Dame football program around and made them bowl eligible, only to be fired for no clear reason.

The request to terminate Willingham came from the Notre Dame Alumni Association, not the Athletic Director, not the players, nor the president of the school.

The Alumni stated that Willingham was an outsider and could not win the “big” game. It was never stated, but the race factor also played a part in this case. The School relented and hired a UND Alumni, Charlie Weis.

This year, the Fighting Irish got blown out in a bowl game this January. They lost to the University of Southern California and the University of Michigan big games, but nobody in the Alumni Association complained.

The Question remains: WHY? Weis and Willingham have the same record after three years. This double standard continues to plague the NCAA.

Most alumni associations have no idea what qualifications are needed to be a college or professional football coach and should never have power to hire or fire a coach.

This is not the first time this has happened nor will it be the last. This action is the “good ol’ boy network” working in full force. This is institutional racism in action, and the NCAA continues to turn its back.

We are all seeing the power of the alumni association and it can manipulate its college sports programs. Twenty years ago the NFL had the same problem with owners.

The owners would hire men that they knew, not many NFL owners knew African Americans. Art Rooney (Pittsburgh Steelers Owner) and the Pollard Committee created a vision for the future.

This simple rule opened the door for men that would not have been considered to at least have a chance to interview for a coaching job. This year’s Super Bowl is a good case for the Rooney Rule.

The Cowboys interviewed Ron Rivera, Mike Singletary, and Norm Chow. All are men of color: Rivera, a Latino; Chow, an Asian, and Singletary, an African Americans were also interviewed for the Pittsburgh job as part of the new liberal NFL in progress.

The NFL stipulation has changed the dynamics of head coaching searches throughout the league. It has also been hailed as a success in diversifying the NFL sideline.

The Rule received an early test when the Detroit Lions hired Steve Mariucci in 2003 without interviewing any other candidates for their head coaching job.

I wrote an extensive article about this event. The NFL responded by slapping the Lions with a $200,000 fine. The San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys also tried to circumvent this resented rule and were likewise fined by the NFL.

Now almost every team interviews at least one minority for each head coaching opening. The National Football League still legally cannot force teams to interview minority, but it can make their lives miserable with fines and sanctions.

Coach Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals impressed the staff, who hired him the next day. This would not have happened without the Rooney Rule. Lewis would still be an assistant coach somewhere in the NFL.

Herm Edwards (Chiefs) and ony Dungy (Colts) agreed that the rule works. Dungy stated, “There are probably only 15 (minority) assistant coaches back when we were playing (1980’s), and we are talking about one minority coach for each team. Some teams even had zero.”

Dungy became a head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996. Both coaches stated that you have to become a coordinator before receiving the head coaching job. Everybody has to pay their (coaching) dues.

The NCAA refuses to understand this fact. Dr. Lapchick stated that the Rooney Rule had been such a success that he has pushed the NCAA to adopt something similar for its member schools.

The NCAA must understand that these schools or colleges still do not have to hire minorities but they must open their doors to the interview process as does the NFL.

The NCAA must shutout the Alumni Association and their power broker tactics. They must begin a new chapter in college football. President Miles Brand has to stop bowing to BIG SCHOOLS Alumni Associations and start the real process of hiring the best head football coaches available.

The NFL took 17 years from the first modern day African American Head Coach Art Shell (Oakland Raiders), to this year’s dream of two African American head coaches in the Super Bowl.

The Question still remains, how many years it will take for a Black college head coach to raise the NCAA Football Sears Championship Cup. It will be much, much, longer without a college style Rooney Rule.