Turner Gill: Stay in Buffalo! Charlie Strong: Go to the NFL!

Gerald BallCorrespondent IDecember 13, 2008

Charlie Strong

One of the top defensive coordinators in the country for the past 10 years. An outstanding football mind, great recruiter, and whose defenses have played a huge role in getting Florida to the national title game for the second time in four years.

And the previous three Florida defensive coordinators in a row all became head coaches, making being Florida's defensive coordinator a pipeline of sorts. And what has that gotten Charlie Strong? 1) Minnesota turned him down for Tim Brewster. 2) Not one single school has contacted Florida for permission to interview Strong. Not a single one.


Turner Gill

A big time quarterback in Nebraska. QB coach for two national championship QBs and a Heisman Trophy winner. As a recruiter, he was able to get some of the better recruits in Texas to see spending four years in Lincoln as a good idea.

Was repeatedly passed over at Nebraska for the offensive coordinator position, and was actually demoted from QB coach to WR coach. Made the terrible career move of turning down the Oklahoma offensive coordinator job for Bob Stoops.

Applied to be head coach at several schools, including mid-majors and even a I-AA school, was turned down. Gets frustrated, leaves Nebraska for the NFL, and is ultimately hired by Buffalo, the worst program in Division I-A and worst than quite a few Division I-AA and Division II programs.

Wins the MAC in three years and turns Drew Willy, who had absolutely no profile as a high school recruit, into an NFL prospect. Oh yes, and Gill also serves as Buffalo's offensive coordinator.

That came in handy, because when defenses had adjusted to the offense largely centered around Willy, and Buffalo lost a couple of games, Gill changed the offense to start running the ball out of the I-formation with one of his talented recruits (how many West Coast offense coaches are willing to resort to that?) to save the season.

Another of Gill's recruits happens to be a WR whose only other offer was to a I-AA school. He is one of the leading WRs in the MAC as an underclassman.

What did that get Gill? Passed up for the Nebraska job in favor of Bo Pelini, so beloved by the Nebraska faithful based on his being their defensive coordinator for ONE SEASON. Which makes no less than five times that Nebraska passed Gill up for head coach or offensive coordinator.

And now, passed up for the Syracuse job in favor of a fellow that is an offensive coordinator who does not even call plays for the New Orleans Saints (who will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row) and has not been involved in college football since 1994.

Also now, passed up for the Auburn job in favor of Gene Chizik. Now, the Chizik hire is actually not a particularly bad one, but it renders the criticisms of Gill (he lacks enough experience as a head coach, he has a losing record, he is not a big name) that the "anyone but Gill" contingent at Auburn (and yes it did exist!) kept raising.

Also, why try their best to pry away Will Muschamp, Jimbo Fisher, and finally hire Gene Chizik without even interviewing Charlie Strong? It obviously cannot be based on winning five games in two years at Iowa State; if Chizik was hired it was because of his coordinator experience.

But Strong is obviously more experienced and accomplished as a coordinator at South Carolina and Florida, and could help Auburn compete for players in both states.

So the top assistant in the SEC can't even get hired at Minnesota. The coach who turned in the most incredible and shocking turnaround job since Bill Snyder at Kansas State (and keep in mind, it took Snyder a lot longer than three years!) gets passed up for one guy with no head coaching experience at two jobs and a guy whose head coaching experience was actually a negative at the third.

And did Tennessee even consider Gill or Strong before hiring Lane Kiffin, whose credentials were even less than those of Pelini, Chizik, or Marrone? If they did, it wasn't very long. And this year is not an aberration. Quite the contrary, it has been going on for a long time, and you see the result.

So the way I see it, Gill, Strong, and other top black college assistants have three choices. All of them are based on the heavy probability, based on current and past events, that no matter what your individual merits, you are never going to be a head coach at a major program that has the resources and support to compete.

As a matter of fact, there is no evidence that you have such a shut at a leading mid-major, because Utah turned down Turner Gill, too!

1. Be content to be an assistant at a major school for the rest of your career, and continue to use your coaching and recruiting talents to contribute to the success of lesser experienced and qualified head coaches who keep getting the jobs that you deserve.

2. Be content to fill lesser opportunities at schools that lack the resources to compete for anything except occasional bowl eligibility.

3. Go to the NFL, where you can make more money for less work and also have a much greater chance of becoming a head coach. That is true: a black man is much more likely to become head coach of the Dallas Cowboys than the Texas Longhorns (or even Texas A&M); of the New York Giants than of Syracuse (who hypocritically changed their name from Orangemen to Orange because of meaningless political correctness, but won't take a real stand and do the right thing when it counts); of the Pittsburgh Steelers than of Pitt.

Turner Gill, you obviously love the college game and the chance to mold young men. Do so by staying at Buffalo, the place that gave you a chance to be a head coach when your own alma mater wouldn't let you be offensive coordinator (which again, you are doing a much better job of being for Buffalo than the ineffective coordinators that Frank Solich hired over you).

Do not go to Iowa State or any of these other schools where you have no shot at being a champion. Stay at Buffalo, where you have already proven that you can be a winner, and in five years laugh at how Buffalo will be a better program than Syracuse.

It won't pay you as much money, of course, but someone with your Christian beliefs already knows that Jesus Christ told the rich young ruler, something about it being easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle.

You don't have to be part of the insanity where guys like Les Miles and Nick Saban are being paid obscene amounts of money by the same state governments that won't even make the effort to hire qualified administrators for their public schools.

Charlie Strong, go to the NFL. First off, your rival coordinator at the University of Georgia who frustrated your best efforts when you were at South Carolina and Florida, Brian VanGorder, chose that route and is an NFL defensive coordinator already.

VanGorder is white, of course, but it shows how the NFL, due to it being run like a corporation rather than these college football factories that get fat off taxpayer dollars and booster contributions, is much closer to being a meritocracy that has long abandoned the good old boy network.

VanGorder will be an NFL head coach (or a college one based largely on his NFL experience) at a major program must faster than you will become a college coach at a major program.

Second, Mike Tomlin. Heard of him, Charlie Strong? Head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers at age 34. When he was hired, everyone said that it was a bad affirmative action hire by an aging liberal owner, coming at the worst possible time for a team that was aging and rebuilding.

Ken Whisenhunt, who had been a Steeler's assistant for years, deserved that job, people said. Well, while Whisenhunt has certainly proved his worth by taking the Arizona Cardinals to the playoffs, Tomlin has survived massive free agent defections, injuries to key players, and the aging and declining production of other key players to take the Steelers to the playoffs for the second year in a row.

And no one can possibly accuse Tomlin of being a caretaker. He has made tangible changes on both sides of the ball to the Bill Cowher system that he inherited: playing more 4-3 defense and trying to open up the offense. Tomlin is 13 years your junior, Charlie Strong. That could be you. That SHOULD be you!

Now Strong and Gill, what everyone wants is for you guys to be the next coach at programs that have very little potential, the bottom feeders that in their best years will finish with .500 conference records. Again, there are already rumblings of how great it would be for Turner Gill to take the Iowa State job, and you can expect Strong to be added to those names, too.

Nonsense, I say. The only thing such a thing would accomplish would be to say that we have another black coach in a BCS conference, and that would relieve pressure on big time college football for another year when in reality nothing has changed.

A black man will still be much more likely to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company (Richard Parsons of Time Warner), governor of a major state (David Paterson, New York), or even general manager of the New York Yankees (Bob Watson) and New York Giants (Jerry Reese) championship teams than head football coach at a college program that deems itself capable of contending for conference or national titles.

A massive building or rebuilding job? Yes. A job at a sideways nominal I-A program? Yes. But a program that can see itself playing in the Orange Bowl within three years? Not a chance.

So Charlie Strong, go to the NFL. Turner Gill, stay at Buffalo. And as for the other top black college assistant coaches (or those aspiring to be), consider the 1., 2. and 3. above and start planning your career choices wisely. Keep in mind: big time college football has no reason to change their ways.

There are tons of qualified white coaches out there that can win titles. They are guaranteed the best athletes by virtue of location and facilities. They are guaranteed funding streams thanks to tax money (for the public schools, huge endowments for the few private big time football schools) and obscenely wealthy boosters and alumni. So why bother?

They also have no reason to change their ways so long as they can keep hiring GUYS LIKE YOU. Guys like you who serve as the experienced, capable coordinators to help the head coaches succeed. (For instance, it was Charlie Strong's defense that made Urban Meyer's running the read option with Chris Leak SEEM like a success.)

And guys like you who recruit elite athletes that otherwise would NEVER CONSIDER most of these programs. As long as you continue being great recruiters and coordinators for programs that will never hire you as head coaches, well then why hire you as a head coach?

To borrow a proverbial cliche whose application is usually entirely different, why buy the cow when you are getting the milk for free?

And what is absolutely worst is this humiliating interview process that these major schools put black coaches through. Now when it is a guy that they really want, they don't interview them. They just step up, make the offer, and open up the checkbooks. So, when you see major schools interviewing black candidates, truthfully they have no intention of hiring them. It is only for PR purposes.

And that is why Charlie Strong has not been interviewed this year. After the humiliation of being passed up by lesser qualified candidates, and after the fact that he has been interviewed so many times without having been hired in the past being used as an excuse for not hiring him (yes, its true!).

Strong let it be known that he was sick of being the affirmative action interview and that only serious inquiries, people actually considering hiring him, would be fielded.

You see the result. And yes, Gill has been through the same thing. Nebraska was going to hire Bo Pelini from day one. Syracuse was going to open up the checkbooks for Lane Kiffin, but when Tennessee beat them to the punch was doing their best to get Skip Holtz in the entire time they brought Gill in for his "first and second interview", and only when the Holtz negotiations fell through, they immediately rolled out Marrone almost out of the blew.

And while Auburn was "interviewing" Gill, they were actually offering the job to former Auburn assistants.

At least Mike Locksley didn't have to go through this nonsense. When he saw that Syracuse was only using him for PC purposes, he jumped on the New Mexico job. Of course, Locksley was probably aware of the "hiring process" that his former boss's employer, Illinois, put several top black college and NFL assistants through.

Illinois decided to hire Ron Zook immediately after Florida fired him. But, because the state of Illinois has affirmative action regulations that must be adhered to before any hire can be "officially" made, Illinois had to go through the motions of interviewing several black coaches, who were urged to comply because if they played along in this game, if they made a good impression on the Illinois officials it could be used to get them jobs elsewhere. So, how's that working out? Just what I thought.

Keep in mind: This situation exists only because the better black college assistants participate. With their merit and hard work, they contribute to the success of the very winning programs that do not need to hire them as head coaches.

And by interviewing for big time jobs that have no actual interest in hiring them, they allow them to pretend that they were strongly considered but lost out to guys who were more qualified or had more ties to the program, and that "next time" they will get the job for sure. And by taking the jobs that no one else really wants, they keep the heat off the big time programs.

So, what has to happen is that coaches like Strong and Gill need to stop keeping the nonsense going. Stop participating in sham interviews. Stop taking bad jobs. And as soon as you are able, leave for the NFL so you can stop contributing to the success o the big time college programs that will never hire you.

This isn't a boycott. This isn't civil disobedience. I am actually rather conservative and agree with freedom of association and contract. I think that these programs have the right to hire whoever they choose without being coerced by laws or pressured by activists.

I also think that a person is better off being hired into a situation where he is wanted. So, I guess that in feeling this way, I would make a very poor civil rights activist.

However, we also must acknowledge that times have changed. The 1950s have long passed, and with it the practice of forcing blacks onto people who would rather not be bothered with them. In times past, forcing people to change was required in order for blacks to have any opportunity at all.

In these times, if one door is closed because certain people don't want to change, other doors are available.

For Gill, staying at Buffalo is a great opportunity. (A lot of that is due to Gill himself, of course, but that is neither here nor there.) The MAC as currently constituted is not very competitive (mostly a bunch of Ohio and Michigan directional schools that aren't much better than I-AA programs cannibalizing each other for Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and now new Big East members Cincinnati and Louisville leftovers), and there are comparatively few I-A football programs in the northeast (Syracuse, Buffalo, Rutgers, UConn, Pitt, Temple, Penn State would be about it).

Gill could actually make Buffalo into one of the leading mid-majors like Utah, TCU, or Boise in 10 years. In other words, it is everything that the New Mexico State job that ruined the coaching career of Gill's Nebraska protege Tony Samuel (the defensive line coach who build the great fronts for those '90s Nebraska title teams) ISN'T.

(By contrast the New Mexico situation that Mike Locksley is walking into isn't that bad for a 38-year-old coordinator who has only produced one winning season, especially if Locksley fully commits to a version of the read option that is rarely seen out west.)

For the other top black assistants in the college game, the door available is the NFL. They should take it. Not to force social change. After all, having one of the 50 desirable head-coaching jobs is not the sort of change worth fighting for, nothing resembling the fights for education, jobs, voting rights, integration and housing of decades past.

Truthfully, the Black Coaches Association should not even exist, because their mission is so narrow and provides no benefits to anyone other than those in their own little circle. Sort of the equivalent of how feminists who are already wealthy and privileged like Martha Burke make a huge deal of trying to force all male country clubs to admit them.

Instead, they should head for the NFL because it is in their own personal best interests and offers them the best opportunity for advancement. And if a mass exodus of said assistants to the NFL causes the college game to see how bad they need their talents and forces a change to take place, then that is good, too.

But that is not the reason why the Charlie Strongs of the world to leave. Instead, the reason should be that they are going to a place where they have a much better chance of being a head coach.


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