Turner Gill Needs to Find Program That Fits Him

Jason WhitlockCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2008

My critics accuse me of being a deliberate contrarian. It is not true. I simply see the world differently.

That probably explains why I see Tommy Tuberville as the lone victim in the Gene Chizik-Turner Gill-Charles Barkley controversy surrounding Auburn football.

Tuberville — not Gill — is the injured party. Tuberville — not Gill — has 110 career victories and a 7-3 record vs. Alabama. Tuberville — not Gill — is the accomplished, experienced, decorated, proven head coach who got run out of a job so that Auburn could hire a man riding a 10-game losing streak at Iowa State.

If his name was Tommy Obama and his father was an irresponsible Kenyan, there would be blood filling the streets of Alabama this week.

Instead, somehow we've surmised that Auburn officials reenacted Mississippi Burning on Turner Gill, the thanks-but-no-thanks candidate.

OK, now that I have your attention, buckle up. We're going to travel deep into the college football-black coaches maze. It's an important topic, an issue that should be addressed with a level of sophistication and honesty that a Hall of Fame basketball player and rabble-rouser can't muster.

Turner Gill, the black head football coach at Buffalo, is one of the most promising coaches in the game. He has a chance to be a superstar. Auburn wasn't the right "fit" for Gill.


One Gatorade shower doesn't qualify Turner Gill to take over a major program. But it should help him find the right job when the time comes to leave Buffalo. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

That word — "fit" — is frustrating to people outside the college football world. They don't understand the uniqueness of each college football environment.

They think college football isn't much different from the NFL, where the teams are all generally located in major cities, recruiting is a nonfactor, the style of play is pretty uniform and kissing the rear of a wealthy booster means lunch with Jerry Jones.

Head-coaching diversity is easier to achieve in the NFL because the clubs operate in diverse communities and the playing field is level. The "fit" in the NFL is all the same. It's a two-question test: 1. Can you be a consistent leader of young men? 2. Do you know the game?

There are far more variables in the collegiate game: 1. Can you connect with the high school coaches in the area? 2. Can you schmooze boosters? 3. Do you have the connections to put together a coaching staff appropriate for a particular conference or region? 4. Are you good at projecting and developing talent? 5. Do you have the discipline and passion to recruit?

The list is endless.

Turner Gill, a former quarterback at Nebraska and a native of Fort Worth, Texas, failed the fit test at Auburn, and that statement has nothing to do with his race. Gill likely would've destroyed a bright coaching future by winning the job at Auburn.

Auburn officials now surely regret doing the right thing and giving Gill an interview. For their trouble, they've been labeled as bigoted and unfair by a prominent, well-meaning alumnus.

Gill, based on Buffalo's rapid improvement during his three-year tenure, is qualified to interview for any college job in the country. It's easy to understand why Auburn's search committee wanted to meet Gill. There was an outside chance that he would blow them away during a face-to-face session.

Unlike pro football, and pro and college basketball, you don't really land college football jobs with your resume. It'll get you in the door, but you secure the job with the delivery of your game plan. You have to express an exceptional understanding of what it takes to win at a particular university and inside a particular conference.

The game plan at Auburn is different from the one at Syracuse and the one at Washington and the one at Boise State. Geography, academic requirements, restrictions on salary pools for assistants and coaches could all impact how a head coach constructs his staff.

Gene Chizik, a former defensive coordinator at Auburn, surely outshined Gill during the interview process.

OK, is my point that racism plays no role in the embarrassing number of black Division I football coaches?

That is not my point at all. Of course racism plays a role. But so do many other things, including things that we (African-Americans) control.

We're not going about correcting this problem in a strategic fashion ... unless you consider screaming "racism!" in a crowded room a strategy.


John Thompson became a college hoops coaching legend at Georgetown and opened the doors for plenty of other black coaches with his success.(Gary Newkirk/ALLSPORT / Getty Images)

Oh, it's great TV, and it ensures that Auburn will think long and hard before inviting another brother to campus to talk football. But it's not getting us any closer to producing the John Thompson of college football.

Big John created equal opportunity in college basketball coaching. The program he built at Georgetown opened minds across the country and made it possible for a school like Arkansas to welcome Nolan Richardson as its coach.

College football needs a Big John Thompson, a coach who was the right "fit" at Georgetown when "fit" mattered in hoops. Big John, like his contemporary, Temple's John Chaney, was the perfect coach to build a program at a predominately white school located in a chocolate city. No one in D.C. cared that Big John scowled, played an all-black lineup and recruited kids who needed his tough-love approach.

Big John fit. He took over a 3-23 program and turned it into a powerhouse. He won the national championship in 1984, becoming the first black coach to do so and a symbol of black excellence.

A year after his championship, Arkansas hired Nolan Richardson, the first black hoops coach in the SEC, the Big John of the south. Nolan recruited wonderfully, advanced to three Final Fours and won a championship.

Hoya Paranoia begat 40 minutes of hell, Big John spawned Big Nolan. Because of those two giants, black college basketball coaches are commonplace in the best conferences.

Do you know who the most successful black college football coach is/was?

UCLA's Karl Dorrell, the man with a sparkling 35-27 record in five years, the man pink-slipped after consecutive disappointing seasons.

Tyrone Willingham has the most victories — 76 to go along with 88 losses and one tie.

Dennis Green went 26-63 at Northwestern and Stanford. Sylvester Croom finished up at 21-38 at Mississippi State.

The complaint is black coaches get bad jobs. Do you think John Thompson took over a traditional power? Or do you think John Thompson found a job at a place where he could build a powerhouse?

We're not being strategic. Dorrell, a UCLA alumnus, is the only black coach who landed somewhere he truly fit. The problem is he got there before he was truly ready for the responsibility. Ron Prince, relieved of duties at Kansas State, could still turn out to be a great head coach. Arrogance and inexperience cost him at K-State.

Turner Gill is not ready for the BCS. He's had one winning season in three as a head coach. His signature victory — an upset of Ball State in the MAC championship — came on a night when his opponent gave the game away with turnovers.

I watch MAC football. I played in the conference and enjoy it on TV. Most of the people flapping their gums about Turner Gill have never watched him coach a game. They've seen the Ball State highlights of Buffalo defenders picking up fumbles and running them in for scores.

There was no coaching masterpiece. Skin color and a 15-22 record don't qualify you to coach in the SEC.

Let me repeat: Turner Gill has all the necessary ingredients to be a coaching star. He could be the black Urban Meyer if we allow Gill to develop.

Urban Meyer introduced an offensive system (the spread), molded two mid-major programs (Bowling Green and Utah) into squads that routinely whipped BCS schools and then jumped to Florida and the SEC.

Gill's dream destination after next season should be TCU, which is located in his hometown. Oh, Gill would be a great fit at several Big 12 schools, too, particularly Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. Gill would've been a nice choice at Syracuse this offseason.

But he doesn't need to be rushed into the BCS. He shouldn't haphazardly seek every job that is available. If the Black Coaches Association would really like to see Gill succeed, someone should be in the ear of decision-makers at TCU preaching to them about Gill. Gary Patterson won't be at TCU much longer.

And friends of Gill need to help him and his coaching staff understand they weren't the victims of some sort of racial injustice this offseason. It's hard to coach when you're carrying a cross.

The Bulls have a bowl game to play in, and next season they must prove their three overtime victories weren't some sort of once-in-a-generation football fluke.

Barkley put a bull's-eye on Gill's chest. Every coach in the MAC will be gunning to take down the media golden child and BCS coach of the future.

I'm glad Barkley has the courage to use his clout and platform to participate in the hiring process at Auburn. He's engaged, and that's good. Too many black athletes lose contact with their universities when their playing careers wrap up. They forfeit their opportunity to influence the process.

But we have to open our eyes and recognize that unfairness can be extremely colorblind. I've spent the past six years deeply involved with former Ball State football coach Brady Hoke (new coach at San Diego State) and his staff. I was fortunate to participate in the hiring process, and I spent this past fall helplessly trying to prevent the Ball State school president from running him off to a "bad" job.

I learned a lot. Competition/athletics are ruled by objective results. Administrators on college campuses are ruled by politics and ego. Anybody, regardless of color, can get screwed when a group of ego-driven politicians decide what to do about a coach who threatens their influence.

It took quite a bit of effort to run Hoke away from our shared alma mater. If nothing else, Ball State's school president is dogged when it comes to athletics incompetence and negligence. Adding to a legend that already included hiring an AD with a resume far shadier than George O'Leary's and writing Ronny Thompson a $200,000 apology for dirtying the school's reputation with half-baked accusations of Klan-like racism, Jo Ann Gora ran off her most successful coach with hidden-from-the-public-but-easy-to-recognize indifference and disdain.

The school earned back-to-back bowl bids for the first time in history, and she responded with back-to-back refusals to upgrade the salaries of some of the lowest-paid assistants in the MAC.

Her motive? She, her husband and her athletic director, who recently received an online diploma, reached the conclusion that the loud-mouthed, glory-seeking offensive coordinator was the primary reason the team won 12 straight this season. Pushing Hoke to San Diego gave her the perfect opportunity to elevate the OC to head coach with the promise of more money for the assistants.

This game is dirty and indiscriminately unfair.

Buffalo, after an 8-5 season, just promised to make Gill one of the highest-paid coaches in the MAC and upgrade the salaries of all of his assistants.

Yes, there is a disadvantage to being a black candidate or a black head coach. But race does not singularly define any of these issues.

As best I can tell, Miami's Randy Shannon, Houston's Kevin Sumlin and Buffalo's Gill are in situations where they can have success and/or advance. We need to assist them where they're at and identify locations where they can be successful again.

Once one of these guys reaches the mountain top opportunities for other black coaches will follow quickly.

You can e-mail Jason Whitlock at ballstate0@aol.com.

This article originally published on FOXSports.com.

Read more of Jason's columns here.


    Auburn Lands 2019 4-Star ATH Jashawn Sheffield

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Auburn Lands 2019 4-Star ATH Jashawn Sheffield

    SDS Staff
    via Saturday Down South

    Florida State Lands 2019 4-Star DE Curtis Fann

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Florida State Lands 2019 4-Star DE Curtis Fann

    Tallahassee Democrat
    via Tallahassee Democrat

    Stidham Discusses His Return from Shoulder Injury

    Auburn Football logo
    Auburn Football

    Stidham Discusses His Return from Shoulder Injury

    Adam Spencer
    via Saturday Down South

    Stidham Reveals His Pro Player Comp

    Auburn Football logo
    Auburn Football

    Stidham Reveals His Pro Player Comp

    Adam Spencer
    via Saturday Down South