Tyrone Willingham Shows Why Affirmative Action Does Not Work In Football

Gerald BallCorrespondent IOctober 8, 2008


In response to Willingham's Scorched Earth.

Tyrone Willingham illustrates the biggest problem with affirmative action in college football: it results in lesser qualified blacks being advanced ahead of more qualified blacks. Were it not for affirmative action and the mentality surrounding it, qualified blacks might have gotten the jobs at Notre Dame, Washington, and Mississippi State instead of people like Tyrone Willingham, Karl Dorrell, Bobby Williams and Sylvester Croom.

The blacks that the affirmative action system generally identifies as future head coaching candidates are generally "company men" like Willingham and Croom; guys that are "resume qualified" (meaning on paper) and have the demeanor and personality that are bland and inoffensive. Well, that describes Joe Bugel. Remember the colossal failure that he was as a head coach? If white coaches that fit this profile never succeed, then black coaches that do will not either.

A successful head coach will either be someone that has an original innovative idea or someone whose driving persona will alienate and threaten people. This actually describes the two most successful black head football coaches: Florida A&M University's Jake Gaither (molded by Woody Hayes, who actually was oddly rather conservative) and Tony Dungy (also oddly somewhat conservative).

Let us take Dungy in particular. The fellow was clearly an innovator and the one who popularized the cover two defense in a league where everyone was trying to emulate the Buddy Ryan/Jimmy Johnson/George Seifert 46 schemes that made players like Deion Sanders and Charles Haley oh so vital to winning a championship.

What was more, Dungy's demeanor, a quiet aloof and uncompromising self-confident intelligence that gave people the creeps. More than a few NFL owners gave Dungy an interview intending to offer him the job, but soon after the interview took on an "anyone but this guy" attitude.

The affirmative action game is all about black men making people like and feel comfortable with them not because of their competence but because of their nonthreatening nature. It is a game that a certain presidential candidate has mastered and successful head football coaches don't play those games.

Why? Because a successful head football coach has to demonstrate that he is better than the guy across from him 75% of the time when the guy across from him is ALSO one of the very best at what he does in the world. The affirmative action game is not about that.

The affirmative action game is about getting the guy that is hiring you to fall so in love with your resume, your recommendations (Bill Walsh effusively praised Willingham), your media status, and "the chance to make history" that they are willing to give you a shot despite knowing full well that you aren't going to be better than 75% of the coaches that you face. Why? Because the basis of being likable and nonthreatening is allowing the guy making the hiring decision to continue to regard himself as your superior. Even if he isn't going to have a brilliant football coach, at least he gets to have an impressive showpiece, a trophy coach if you will, that he can control.

Tony Dungy wouldn't play that game. Dungy refused to hide the fact that he knew more about football than the owners and general managers hiring him and that they would not be able to run the operation behind the scenes. He wouldn't shuck and jive, pick and grin, or slap his knees in the least. So Dungy had to watch the likes of Ray Rhodes and Art Shell get the opportunities instead.

Please recall: Dungy only got a job because everyone else, including not only Jimmy Johnson but also Steve Spurrier, turned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers down, and at a salary that was a fraction of what Johnson and Spurrier received.

The issue is not so much that Tony Dungy may have been discriminated against or that black coaches in general face discrimination. After all, plenty of white head coaches never receive the opportunities that he has had (or for that matter that Tyrone Willingham has squandered).

Discrimination is going to happen in every society and it is not just going to be by race, but by things like class, culture, and who is in what circle of friends and good old boys. By the way, a black man who is not in the right circle will NEVER get a desirable head coaching job at a historically black college, and that is the main reason why no black college has won the I-AA playoffs since 1978.

Instead, when evaluating a black candidate for head coach, unless a president or AD hold them to the same standards as they would a white coach, then that candidate is almost guaranteed to fail. That is why the fellows who always appear on the little list of media tokens, such as that promoted by the Black Coaches Association every year, should generally be avoided.

Guys like that are the ones that have been the longtime assistants, are oh so qualified on paper, are so articulate and well spoken before the media and in interviews, but have no new or original ideas to offer the game and are not particularly driven or bold. Nothing wrong with guys like that, they are great to have—as an ASSISTANT. As a head coach, however, they will produce a winning season or two before everyone figures them out and they ultimately fail.

Again, there are black coaching prospects out there that are very competitive and/or have excellent or innovative approaches to the game. It is a shame that the progress of said coaches is so often impeded by affirmative action candidates whose sole reason for advancement is often their attractively nonthreatening packaging.