Sending A Message

By Jon Solomon
Updated: November 22, 2009

Buffalo's Turner Gill

Buffalo's Turner Gill

ALABAMA — Sam Sachs, a former Portland State football player with a degree in black studies, was frustrated with his alma mater in 2007. He didn’t like that Portland State quickly hired Jerry Glanville, who is white, instead of conducting a slower, more inclusive search.

“I didn’t want to sit back and do nothing,” Sachs said. “I even called a lawyer and said, ‘Can I sue the NCAA?’ They said, ‘No, because you’re not a coach and you’re not black, so you don’t have a dog in the fight.’”

So Sachs, an activist in Portland, got political. In a process that took only five months, he helped get the state legislature to pass Oregon House Bill 3118, which is shaping a national debate on hiring practices in college athletics.

The bill, which goes into effect Jan. 1, requires public colleges and universities in Oregon to interview at least one minority in coaching searches in all sports as well searches for athletics directors. Universities are protected from a lawsuit if they make an effort to seek minority candidates but no qualified candidates apply.

There’s no penalty for not abiding by the new law. That wasn’t the point. And frankly, Sachs said, putting punitive measures into the bill probably would have killed it.

“The refreshing thing I found is a lot of schools in Oregon were already doing this anyway, but we believed the bill was important to have as a reminder,” Sachs said.

There are too many minority players in college football for there to be so few minority head coaches. The sport’s at nine minority head coaches out of 120 Division I-A teams, and only one in a Bowl Championship Series conference.

The NFL is catching up with more minorities head coaches since the Rooney Rule was established in 2003 requiring teams to interview minority candidates. Since instituting the rule, the percentage of minority head coaches jumped from six percent to 22 percent.

Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, two black men, recently coached against each other in the Super Bowl. Another black coach, Mike Tomlin, won the Super Bowl last season.

Progress in college football has been painfully slow. No one knows that more than Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who is black, and whose resume has cried out for a head coaching job for several seasons.

“Is it anything other than institutional racism in the hiring practice?” Sachs said. “I mean, what else does the guy have to do? I think a lot of people don’t want to face the facts. I believe presidents look at minority candidates and say, ‘This is not someone I can sell to the boosters and not someone who could be the face of our university.’ Why that is, I don’t know.”

Sachs doesn’t want blacks to be hired simply because they’re black.

He wants minorities to have a greater opportunity in the selection process than they’re getting now.

The NCAA says it can’t create a Rooney Rule like the NFL, which Sachs doesn’t believe. So instead, he’s taking his message state by state. He hopes five to 10 state legislatures will pass similar bills next year, including the possibility of one in Alabama.

Sachs’ advice to Alabama is to be open-minded about a bill. Many people told Sachs not to waste his time with Republican legislatures.

But he found that after giving them information and forming relationships that most people believe the bill is the right thing to do.

Sachs got coaches on board. Mike Bellotti, Oregon athletics director and former football coach, said interviewing minorities is a priority for him. Oregon State football coach Mike Riley went as far as to tell Sachs the bill should include assistants, too.

“If Oregon, probably the whitest state in the country, can pass this bill, other states should have a look at it and say, ‘Why can’t we?’” Sachs said. “You can. It’s just a matter of doing it. I think until the NCAA or other schools step up, this is the best route for change.”

Remember that Glanville hiring by Portland State that got Sachs so worked up in the first place? Glanville resigned last week with a 9-24 record. Even though the new Oregon law isn’t in effect yet, Portland State said it plans to interview a minority candidate.

One state has heard Sachs’ message. Will others?