College Football: It's Not Just Racism, It's Cronyism

Mike JonesCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2008

The fallacy of racism, sexism or any "ism" where you discriminate because someone looks or thinks a certain way, is that it always comes back to bite you in the behind.

The last ones to catch up are usually put in such a horrible position, that their prejudices have no rationality at all, so they have to give them up.

The Washington Redskins' racist owner, George Marshall, learned this the hard way when his all-white team was single-handedly pummeled by the Cleveland Browns'...more specifically, Jim Brown.

Shirley Povich, the Washington Post legend, quipped, "Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday."

In the SEC, look no further than its greatest coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant, who was not allowed to recruit blacks until USC running back Sam Cunningham demonstrated the need for integration by running for 150 yards and three scores in a 42-21 romp over the Crimson Tide in 1970.

Sooner or later, holding a group back means you're holding yourself back.

One would think that anyone watching Bryant lose that day would clearly understand that skill is skill, no matter the color the person employing it.

The recent hires of Gene Chizik and other head coaches over more qualified candidates like Buffalo's HC Turner Gill and Florida's DC Charlie Strong is not a clear indicator of the type of racism that Bryant had to work under or Marshall championed.

Today's bigotry is a diluted kind, where you make up all sorts of arguments to NOT hire someone. You talk about their one year as an assistant at your school (like Nebraska did when they chose Bo Pelini over Gill who had over a decade of NU recruiting experience to go with his alumni credentials). Or you talk about how important it is to have an alum run the program (see Syracuse and Notre Dame).

But you never state the obvious: it's tough to justify a minority coach to a predominantly-white alumni booster group. Just as it was tough to give them basic civil rights in the 50's and 60's or recruit them in the 60's and 70's, seeing minorities in positions of power makes certain alumni uneasy.

Now let's be clear, it's not a conscious, KKK-type of discrimination. It's one where you spent your entire life raised, taught and led by people who more or less, look just like you. You work only with people who look like you, you date people who look just like the people your friends/family date, etc.

So when someone who doesn't look like you comes up and says they can work with you or lead you, it's slightly understandable to be uncomfortable with such a choice.

This isn't to say that every black HC is a genius. I'm from Minnesota and I know Dennis Green wasn't a genius.

But Tony Dungy was. And it took a long time for NFL teams to take him seriously despite his smothering defensive schemes. Only when Tampa Bay felt like they couldn't go any lower, did they reach out to Dungy instead of recycling the Sam Wyches of the NFL.

The problem is that the task of conducting a merit-based search for a high profile HC job is far more difficult in college than the NFL. Fans might hate your choice and they might go away, but that just affects the ownership's revenue streams.

College presidents and AD's fear that the loss of $$$ will cripple their other teams' revenue streams or their college endowments.

So they will always go for the safe, least risky choice over the potentially best one. Remember, this is a sport that doesn't believe in a playoff system.

And it's not just a recent phenomenon or just limited to blacks. Norm Chow was the architect behind BYU's brilliant offense which account for one national championship and a Heisman QB.

He went on to turn USC's offense into one of the most dangerous offenses in the history of the sport. Yet, his assistants (Steve Sarkasian and Lane Kiffin) have had more head coaching opportunities than Chow.

Sooner or later, a minority will become a great HC. I mean a USC/Florida/Oklahoma sort where you dominate your conference in recruiting and playing and every blue-chipper wants to play for you.

It might not be Gill, Strong, or one of the current minority HC's, but one will come. And he'll make every school which passed him by look foolish, not because they went with someone else, but because his skill as a coach was so blatant, that there could have been no other reason to pass on him except save for " uncomfortableness."

The irony of the Auburn choice was that Gill was widely supported by the fanbase, who felt like they needed an offensive coach to turn around a program which hasn't produced any offense despite being the alma mater of Jason Campbell, Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams and others.

It wasn't even like he has never been a HC. Hell, he took one of the worst programs in CFB and turned it into a bowl team which beat an undefeated Ball State for a MAC crown (kind of like Nick Saban and Urban Meyer).

Imagine what he could do with greater resources. A clear majority of alumni and fans believed Turner Gill would have been the right choice.

Instead, Auburn made the white one. Live by your shortcomings. Die by them too.