ACC’s Black Coaches Living The Dream

By Dr. Debby Stroman, Ph.D.
Updated: February 13, 2008

NORTH CAROLINA — The color of sports in the coaching ranks of the tradition-rich Atlantic Coast Conference, although it seems an unlikely fairy tale, has garnered little attention or commentary.

For the second consecutive year, seven African-Americans are leading the charge of the men’s basketball programs at Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, N.C. State, and Virginia.

With Sidney Lowe taking the helm last season for the Wolfpack, the league now boasts persons of color as head coaches at more than half of the 12 member institutions.

Al Skinner (Boston College, 1997), Paul Hewitt (Georgia Tech, 2000), Leonard Hamilton (Florida State, 2002), Oliver Purnell (Clemson, 2003), Frank Haith (Miami, 2004), and Dave Leitao (Virginia, 2005) reflect the courageous and bold actions of institutional and athletic leadership at these prominent universities.

As the country highlights the achievements of black Americans this month, possibly no more powerful statement in sports is the lack of reaction to this particular athletic happening. This situation occurred not from protest, sit-ins, boycotts or strike.

Leaders simply chose to survey the coaching pool to identify and hire the best person for the job. And not just any job, for ACC basketball competition is fierce and not for the faint of heart.

Every game is under a microscope, and all schools offer great facilities, academics, financial support and rabid fans. Not surprisingly, these highly qualified and unique men were selected not because of the color of their skin but their ability to coach young men to success on and off the court.

This display of diversity in higher education is an inspiring tribute and representation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a society whereby all races can co-exist harmoniously.

No longer are black coaches hired solely as “closers” — the recruiting specialists to snag the urban player on signing day.

Their ability to effectively manage and direct athletic policy in their respective programs helps reduce the invidious remarks from those unwilling to accept the neoteric sport leader.

Black coaches are now respected as game tacticians, recruiting strategists, and program administrators. White coaches now sit by their side as assistants providing valuable feedback on player and program development.

Today, the black coach is now judged on his ability to win, graduate students, and represent his university. In 2007, the ACC leadership identified the critical factors of success in a pioneering leadership examination.

The research focused on the insights of the athletic directors, conference commissioners and faculty athletic representatives in terms of how best to develop and maintain league success.

One of the essential reasons identified as to why the league continues to enjoy profitability is its ability to allow its leaders to lead. The empowerment of those in leadership to do their jobs without fear of micromanagement or pressure to make hasty decisions has allowed the ACC leadership to operate in an environment free of misguided efforts to mandate sociological change.

The seven black ACC coaches are a product of this unique leadership setting.

As the second half of the competitive ACC season kicks into full gear, it would behoove us all to pause and consider the historical moment in which we live today.

A black man is a serious contender for the U.S. presidency and another is the chairman of the board of America’s largest media conglomerate — Time Warner.

The positive role models for youth are present in politics, business and sports. With the spotlight now on the minority athlete shooting 3’s (not weapons), handing out dimes (assists), and providing America an outlet from our daily grind this winter season, let’s applaud and celebrate the ACC black coaches who serve as their mentors and teachers.

Hopefully, this monumental change in the racial makeup of intercollegiate sports serves as motivation to other leaders seeking to do the right thing and make King’s dream a reality.