Black Coaches Need to Pick the Right Jobs

Jason WhitlockCorrespondent INovember 6, 2008

From afar, the premature dismissal of Kansas State football coach Ron Prince appears to be a tale of a black coach cut down before receiving a fair opportunity in a backwoods environment.


From ground zero, the fall of Prince is a cautionary tale, revealing the perils of a talented, charismatic, immature coach crashing and burning in a dysfunctional, athletic-department environment that could in no way nurture his development.

There is reason for outrage today. With Prince joining Tyrone Willingham in the unemployment line at the end of this month, Division I college football will have just four African-American head coaches, a shameful statistic.

But allow me to ask a difficult question. What role do we (black people) play in keeping the number low?

The question is not asked to dismiss or diminish the role of America's still-existent racial inequality. The question is asked to challenge us to consider ways of combating it other than pointless whining.

That is the lesson of Barack Obama.

Life and America are equally unfair. That reality does not have to define your existence or level of success. Our 44th president was abandoned by his father, left to be raised by his grandparents, grappled with a dual racial identity, had his patriotism questioned by hypocrites and still managed to win the hearts and minds of a diverse cross section of America.

He did it by focusing on Barack Obama, not on how the Sean Hannity crowd feels about Barack Obama.

Some black people don't like my perspective because I'm too fixated on "us" rather than "them." My initial reaction is to question "our" behavior rather than "theirs," which often leads me to criticize Chad Johnson's buffoonery, etc.

I do it because I recognize America's imperfections while fully understanding our capitalistic democracy is superior to all other forms of economy/government and provides amazing opportunities for people willing to seek first to fix themselves.

I'm rambling. Ron Prince's experience at Kansas State is an example of what is limiting black college football coaches. A talented coach with limitless potential took a job that he wasn't ready for at a place that wasn't ready for him.

White football coaches make the exact same mistake. But their history in America is far different than ours so their strategy/path can be different and they have far more margin for error. Again, life is not fair.

Black football coaches must target and pursue the right jobs.

College football needs its version of John Thompson. Big John and what he built at Georgetown in the 1980s are the reason schools are unafraid to hand their basketball programs over to black men. Thompson inherited an off-the-radar, 3-23 basketball program and built a powerhouse in his own image in a city that could handle Big Black John.

Ron Prince replaced a beloved, vibrant, still-living-in-Manhattan (Kan.) legend, Bill Snyder. Following a legend is never a good thing. A black, devout intellectual, arrogant, first-time head coach replacing a reclusive, humble white coach in a rural area is a recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately that was only the beginning of Prince's problems at Kansas State.

He had no competent administrative guidance. There was no one there to tell him when he was screwing up. Snyder worked alone and without interference.

Prince carries himself like the smartest man on campus, and he very well might be. But his brand of book intelligence has little traction at a school for future farmers. He talked over everyone's head. He promised to be bold and daring and take on any team anywhere at a place where Snyder promised little beyond hard work and delivered nine to 10 victories a season.

Prince ran off his assistant coaches with abusive, humiliating treatment. He once punished his assistants by making them run stadium stairs. He treated his players worse. After this season's loss to Louisville, he reportedly put his players through a strenuous conditioning session when they arrived back on campus at 3 a.m.

Ron Prince needed help. He needed a strong A.D., someone able to explain to him where he was and what that meant, someone willing to help him see that you can't be Bobby Knight in the new millennium, especially when you're not backed by a truckload of national and conference titles.

I promise you Ron Prince could be a successful head coach. He was rushed to a BCS school and the wrong BCS job.

Given time to develop as a head coach off-Broadway, things very well might have turned out differently for Ron Prince.

Take a look at Turner Gill at Buffalo. He's in his third season in the Mid-American Conference. His career record is 11-21 but his reputation is impeccable. He was the MAC coach of the year in 2007 after guiding the Bulls to a 5-7 record. Buffalo is 4-4 this year and has a shot at representing the East in the MAC title game.

Gill is taking the proper path to coaching greatness. He is likely to get a BCS job in the next two to three years. When he gets it, he'll be ready.

Top-flight black BCS assistant coaches should be targeting mid-major head-coaching jobs. The MAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West and Conference USA are good proving grounds for future BCS coaches. Gill and Houston's Kevin Sumlin hold non-BCS jobs.

Many black assistant coaches limit their opportunities because they're too shortsighted. They're unwilling to pursue a MAC or I-AA job because the pay might be less than being a position coach at a BCS school.

No risk, no reward.

Brady Hoke, who is white, took a pay cut when he left Michigan to lead his alma mater, Ball State, the 17th-ranked team in the country. Even after a raise following a 2007 bowl season, he is still paid poorly ($240,000) by even MAC standards, has no coaching offices and the school's administration recently suggested in an Indianapolis Star story that it has no interest in properly supporting his success.

But six seasons into his tenure, he's developed into the perfect BCS candidate and positioned himself (if he chooses) to bolt from a university that doesn't appreciate or comprehend what he's accomplished.

Playing the coaching game is not nearly enough. Playing the coaching game properly is the only thing that will lead to significant progress for black college coaches.

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