Turner Gill Opening Doors for Black Coaches

Gerald BallCorrespondent IDecember 25, 2008

Right now, we are seeing the ridiculous media generated story line that Turner Gill is a victim of discrimination by Auburn University. Total nonsense.

The truth is that of the three high profile jobs that Turner Gill interviewed for, Auburn University was A) the worst fit between Gill and institution and B) the only one where he actually had a shot at getting the job. Gill was a much better fit for both Nebraska and Syracuse, and Gill had no shot at either job. 

Instead, let us look at something that is both true AND positive. Despite what you have heard, the pace of black hiring of coaches at the I-A level has picked up this year. The rub: it is at the mid-major level. Because there have been no black hires at the major level, we presume that no progress is being made. But the truth is that three blacks getting hired at the I-A level in a single year is almost unprecedented and also a very good thing. 

What about the lack of progress at the top level, at the BCS conferences or even the traditionally stronger mid-majors? My answer: what about it? As Jason Whitlock correctly points out, black coaches have not accomplished squat at the big time programs.

Best record: Karl Dorrell. Biggest accomplishment: Tyrone Willingham winning the Pac-10 with an 8-4 record. Biggest victory: Bobby Williams and Michigan State over Florida and Steve Spurrier in the Citrus Bowl. Anybody want to hire Dorrell, Willingham, or Williams as their head coaches right now? Didn't think so. 

Now this lack of success is not the fault of the black coaches that have not gotten the opportunity. It IS, however, the fault of the black coaches that were. And do not peddle the nonsense about "it should be about qualifications not race" because one of the best arguments for Turner Gill and Auburn was the belief that Gill's race would help him recruit against Nick Saban and the rest of the SEC.

So, race matters when it is a positive, but when it is a negative we should be colorblind? That is inconsistent. 

But if this is the case, then why are blacks getting jobs at the mid-major level? I am certain that it is in no small part because of Turner Gill and Buffalo. Gill showed last year that winning was possible at Buffalo by going 5-7 at a program that had been 10-69 since moving to I-A, and this year won the MAC. So the result of Gill's success at the mid-major level? Three blacks getting hired at that level this year. 

Now some people are claiming that Gill's accomplishments at Buffalo are being overstated. Well, talk to the people who are in the best position to know: Buffalo's MAC competition. Those folks know how bad Buffalo used to be. The result: two of the three black head coaching hires were in the MAC.

As a matter of fact, see this quote regarding Mike Haywood gaining the Miami of Ohio job: I think one thing that helped Mike land the job was Turner Gill. So I am not alone in this thinking. MAC people looked at what Gill did in winning the conference at Buffalo, and recognized that he could have accomplished the same feat at their school. It really was just that simple.

And if Kevin Sumlin and Mike Locksley have similar success at Houston and New Mexico, then it will lead to more black hires in Conference USA and the Mountain West. On the contrary, if they fail, then it will have the same depressing effect on black hires that the failure of Bobby Williams did for the Big 10 and the failures of Bob Simmons and John Blake had for the Big 12. 

So, not that he needs any added pressure after going 5-7 and 7-5 his first two seasons and being clearly outcoached and/or totally failing to motivate his team at times (ending both his first seasons with not only losing streaks but streaks of blowout losses was particularly bad) there really is a lot riding on Randy Shannon succeeding in Miami.

If he succeeds, there will almost certainly be a black coach among the next wave of ACC coaching hires. But if he doesn't, well it will be difficult to make the case that there should be, as Shannon was by far the most promising black head coaching prospect in that conference.

But back to Turner Gill, he is not alone with regard to his success opening up doors. Consider Charlie Strong. Ten years ago, Strong was the first and only black coordinator in the SEC.

Now, half of the SEC schools either have or have had black coordinators. That number would be higher had Rodney Garner accepted the LSU defensive coordinator job last year, and may yet rise depending on who Auburn and LSU chooses to fill their positions. 

So, it is past time to stop viewing Turner Gill as a racial victim. Instead, Gill is a leader, a trailblazer. Just as he opened up opportunities for black quarterbacks at big time programs a generation ago, Gill is opening up opportunities for black coordinators (as he is Buffalo's offensive coordinator in addition to head coach) and head coaches. That is a thing regarding Gill's accomplishments to be glad about rather than sad or angry about.