Bucking The Same Old Trends

By Teddy Feinberg
Updated: January 7, 2009

LAS CRUCES — A black athletics director. Minority coaches in both football and men’s basketball. A diverse sports department. Yes, things are unique at New Mexico State University.

DeWayne Walker became the just seventh black head coach in Division-I college football when he was introduced as the new man in charge of the NMSU Aggies last week.

Of the seven schools with minority football coaches, only four have a black men’s basketball coach too. Just three have black coaches in both football and men’s basketball along with a black athletics director.

NMSU is one of those three, with Walker, hoops coach Marvin Menzies and Athletics Director McKinley Boston.

The others are Eastern Michigan’s trifecta of football coach Ron English, basketball coach Charles E. Ramsey and Athletics Director Derrick Gragg and the trio of Turner Gill (football), Reggie Witherspoon (basketball) and Warde Manuel (athletics director) at the University at Buffalo.

The lack of black head coaches in college football has been a point of contention throughout the nation.

To have three key cogs in an athletics department sets NMSU apart.

“It’s something I’m proud of,” said Sam Bone, president of the New Mexico State Conference of the NAACP. “I first got here 50 years ago. To see how far we’ve come, it’s quite remarkable.”

Boston said he looks for open-minded people who are willing to work with others from different backgrounds when considering candidates for his athletics department.

“Part of our strategic plan is to identify values,” he said. “One of those values is a commitment to diversity. A lot of people talk about it. It’s easy to talk about it, much more of a challenge to live by it. We look to evaluate it over a broad scheme, from race, to gender to sexuality. We look to be open.”

A month ago, the University of New Mexico hired Mike Locksley, who is black, to take over the Lobo football team. With the hire of Walker, New Mexico becomes the first state in the union to have two minority football coaches at its premier universities.

“I think that’s really neat,” said NMSU track and field coach Orin Richburg, who is black. “Look at the state. That says something about where we live.”

NMSU football fan and co-host of Las Cruces’ TitleTown sports radio talk show Brian Cox, who is white, said he was excited about the Walker hire and the face of the athletics department.

“It gives people an opportunity to come here that might not necessarily get a chance somewhere else,” Cox said. “They might not get an opportunity at a major university, for the wrong reasons. Well, here, they are coming for the right reasons. And we get a better coach because of it.”

Aggie assistant baseball coach Gary Ward, who is white, believes the diverse landscape of NMSU is positive.

“If you look around, our society is remarkable,” Ward said. “In many places, the world is like a United Nations. Obviously, not everywhere, in isolated places it might not be. But in cultured places with different outlets, there are different people. I think the situation here today is reflective of that.”

The reality is that with the few opportunities that minority coaches get, the pressure to perform for those few who do get a chance will always be great.

“We are one of few, and I think that both DeWayne and I are obligated to do the very best that we can in our positions to get opportunities for other African-Americans at other universities,” said Menzies following his team’s contest against the UNM Lobos.

Minority football coaches who have been hired this offseason — Walker, Locksley, Mike Haywood at Miami of Ohio and Eastern Michigan’s English — enherit programs that have been down and out recently. Turning around such teams will be a huge challenge for each candidate.

“I embrace it,” Walker said of being on the short list of black coaches in college football. “It is what it is, and the numbers don’t lie. I feel I have the responsibility as a minority head coach to do a great job and possibly open doors for other minority coaches to step in and perform. I don’t look at it as a negative.”

Walker believes that the one thing that matters is the bottom line. That is, wins and losses. “We’re gonna win some games here,” Walker said during his press conference at the Fulton Center. “We’re gonna win some games.”