Black Coaches in The NCAA: Race Matters and Coaching Hires

Michael CollinsAnalyst INovember 30, 2008

Take Eugene Smith. 

Smith, Ohio State University’s Athletic Director, runs the largest athletic department budget by revenue$104.7 millionand the tenth most valuable college football team as ranked by Forbes.  He is past president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), past president of the Division 1-A Athletic Directors Association, served on the NCAA Management Council and the NCAA Executive Committee. 

Gene Smith was honored in 2008 with the John L. Toner Award, presented annually to the director of athletics “who has demonstrated superior administrative abilities and shown outstanding dedication to college athletics and particularly college football.”  An extraordinarily accomplished administrator, he has also been the first African-American for most of these positions and awards.  Black Enterprise Magazine named Smith as one of the “50 Most Powerful African Americans in College Sports”. 

Three factors contributed to Gene Smith’s successpreparation, the opportunity to succeed and performance.   These factors are all considerations he must weigh before hiring a new coach for any of the thirty-six Ohio State programs.  

Minority Hiring

By now, we are well aware of the miserable statistics for minority coaching in college football.  Dr. Richard Lapchick’s study, “The Buck Stops Here”, highlighted the fact that there were only six black coaches in the FBS Division prior to Tyrone Willingham’s firing and Ron Prince’s and Sylvester Crum’s resignations. 

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Willingham, who coached the only winless team in the FBS division and is the elected president of the American Football Coaches Association, feels "Obviously, it should be a great concern to all of us because there's a pool of resources in our country that's not being tapped.  We've battled this for some time. At no time has that number been where it should be.” according to the Seattle Times.   

Success in Athletics

Eugene Smith began his preparation for success at Notre Dame on a football scholarship, obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1977.  He was part of the Irish’s national championship team in 1973 and, on graduation, became part of Dan Devine’s staff that coached the Irish to the 1977 national championship. 

He left Notre Dame in 1981 to accept a marketing position with IBM.  He returned to college athletics as assistant athletic director at Eastern Michigan and became athletic director there in 1986.  In 1993 he accepted the opportunity to become athletic director at Iowa State University. 

In 2000 he moved to Arizona State to become their athletic director.  His performance in each of these positions and on the numerous NCAA committees led him to success at Ohio State.

Coaching opportunities and success in performance often follows a similar path of preparationFCS or non-BCS schools to higher levels of BCS teams.  Kevin Sumlin went from Offensive Coordinator at Oklahoma last year to head coach at Houston this year.  Turner Gill is finding success in his first head coaching opportunity at Buffalo. 

Promoting or hiring coaches before they are prepared in order to give them the opportunity to succeed is a recipe for disaster.  Even with preparation and given the opportunity, first-time coaches can fail.   

Jason Whitlock’s article on Ron Prince, “Black Coaches Need to Pick the Right Jobs”, points out some of the difficulties, mistakes and need for support that the former Virginia Offensive Coordinator encountered in his first head coaching position at Kansas State.  

One of the criticisms of Charlie Weis’s performance is that he has been unprepared because he lacked head coaching experience prior to Notre Dame’s.    

The Black Coaches Statistics Analyzed

Lapchick’s study used by the Black Coaches Association (BCA) notes 54.1 percent of football student athletes and 33 percent of assistant football coaches are minorities .  The discrepancy to me is in the relative lack of coordinators compared to a 33 percent of minority assistant coaches pool. 

Only 13.3 percent (34) of FBS offensive and defensive coordinators are African-American.  A further look beyond the coordinator statistics is more alarming.  While one is a designated head coach in waiting, thirteen coordinators have two years or less experience in that position.  Another six have not demonstrated success with records that put their teams at the bottom of their conferences in their respective categories.   

That leaves only nine (3.5 percent) FBS black coordinators have strong enough records to be considered for head coaching positions.  While a handful of FCS head coaches, some ex-FBS coaches and some NFL coaches may enlarge this, this is not a deep pool of resources.   

College Coaching Hiring

Some pundits have advocated the Rooney Rule used in the NFL requiring teams to interview a minority candidate.  The NCAA has pointed out it has no authority over its member institutions to enact such a rule. 

Some institutions prefer someone who has put their time in or is a known commodity.  The BCA report card graded Mississippi, West Virginia and Dayton with F's last year for not interviewing any black candidates.  Mississippi quickly focused on Houston Nutt, who had resigned from Arkansas. 

West Virginia and Dayton hired long-time assistant coaches for the positions, Bill Stewart and Rick Chamberlin, respectively.  Long-time Miami defensive coordinator, Randy Shannon, is finding success rebuilding the Hurricanes.  Kentucky has designated offensive coordinator Joker Phillips, who is African-American, as its Head Coach in Waiting.  However, conferences could pass such a Rooney rule requirement for its member institutions.  Would the SEC universities, for instance, be willing to pass such a rule?

With seventy-six FBS coaching vacancies in the last four yearsor an average of nineteen per year, with a Rooney rule, those nine strong African-American candidates would be making a lot of head coaching interviews.  Only forty-two of the seventy-six FBS coaching vacancies over four years were BCS conference head coaching opportunities, averaging 1.66 candidates per BCS conference per year.  The BCA report also noted that almost one-third of the coaching candidates last year were minorities.

If three or four qualified African-Americans from the talented nine coordinators rose to the ranks of head coach each year, the experience level of black potential coordinators in the supply line would quickly dwindle without being replenished. 

Wouldn’t it be wiser to pass a Rooney rule for the choice of coordinators?  That would draw on the resources of the 33 percent of minority assistant coaches, deepening the talent pool and providing more preparation and experience to optimize a coach’s chances for success.

African-American Coordinators 

The nine black coordinators I identified who have all the qualifications for the right positions now, in no particular order, are:

o Charlie Strong, University of Florida, six years, Defensive Coordinator (DC); 3 yrs DC at South Carolina; Defense has ranked 3rd, 7th, 2nd, 4th and 6th in his last five years,  Excellent recruiter of Florida talent.  Two post-graduate degrees.

-- Hired, Louisville Cardinals Head Coach, December 9, 2009.

o Mike Locksley, University of Illinois, Champaign. Three years Offensive Coordinator (OC), 2,3,9th in Big 10 last three years, excellent recruiter of D.C. talent. 

-- Hired, New Mexico Lobos Head Coach, December 9, 2008. 

o DeWayne Walker, UCLA, DC, three yrs; Defense has ranked 6th, 3rd, 2nd in past three years in conference.  Position coach in the NFL.  He has an excellent recruiting record of Southern California talent. 

-- Hired, New Mexico State Aggies Head Coach, December 30, 2008.    

o Don Treadwell, Michigan State, OC, 2nd yr; OC with Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati for three years, OC Ball State one year, OC at MSU for three years

o Ron English, University of Louisville, DC, 1st yr at Louisville, two years DC at Michigan, NFL position coaching experience.  In  his first year, he improved Louisville’s defense  by 100 yards and is No. 4 in Big East.  At Michigan, his defenses ranked 3rd and 2nd in the conference. 

--Hired, Eastern Michigan Eagles Head Coach, December 22, 2008.

o Jay Novell, Oklahoma University, 1st year. Co-OC; one-year UCLA OC; three years OC at Nebraska.  Novell’s results have been mixed.  Oklahoma’s offense is 1st in the conference.  At UCLA, his offense ranked 9th.  At Nebraska, his offenses ranked 3rd, 11th, 8th.

o Ruffin McNeill, Texas Tech University, Ass’t Head Coach (DC), 5th yr, and ST & LB coach; Defense has ranked 3rd, 5th, 4th, 5th, and 6th in last five years against conference opponents.  

--Hired, East Carolina Pirates Head Coach, January 21, 2010

o Calvin Magee, University of Michigan, OC, 1st year at Michigan; four years at  West Virginia where the Mountaineers ranked 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 2nd in their conference.  

o Michael Haywood, University of Notre Dame, 4th yr OC, Running back coach at Texas and LSU of NFL RBs Cedric Benson, LaBrandon Toefield, Domanick Davis, Kevin Faulk, Rondell Mealey and Cecil Collins.  Haywood played football for Notre Dame for four years.  

-- Hired Miami (O) Redhawks Head Coach, December 23, 2008.                                                                                                         

Who Offers Opportunities? 

Three FBS programs afforded opportunities to two black coordinators in 2008Charlie Weis’s Notre Dame, Sylvester Croom’s Mississippi State, and Rich Brook’s Kentucky.  Al Groh’s Virginia has sent coordinators Ron Prince to Kansas State and Mike London to Richmond in head coaching positions in the past.  Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma sent Kevin Sumlin to Houston last year and has current OC Jay Novell. 

Performance is any Athletic Director’s primary consideration since their jobs may depend on their choice.  Of the eleven African-American ADs, Eugene Smith. Ohio State, Mike Garrett, USC, Damon Evans, Georgia, Craig Littlepage, Virginia, and Warde Manuel, Buffalo may be quite satisfied with their head coach’s performance. 

Derrick Gragg, Eastern Michigan, and Daryl Gross, Syracuse, are already searching for coaches.  Keith Tribble, U. of Central Florida, and McKinley Boston, Jr, New Mexico State, have coaches in the fifth year of their contracts. 

Coaching Candidates

Notre Dame’s DC Corwin Brown and long-time Michigan RB coach, Fred Jackson are two of three final candidates at EMU.  Locksley, ND’s Haywood and Gill have been spoken of as candidates for Syracuse.  San Diego State is considering Dennis Green, former SDSU assistant coach Ron English and DeWayne Walker.  

Already this year twelve head coaching positions are still open.  Bill Snyder is returning to Kansas State.  Expect more coaching openings in the MAC, the WAC and replacement openings for head coaches who move on.  Two Missouri coordinators are expected to fill two of those coaching vacancies. 

Dave Christensen, who coached at Washington and Idaho State, is rumored to have accepted the Wyoming head coach position.  Matt Eberflus, who grew up in Toledo, played football for four years and coached there for nine years, is expected to take that head coaching position.  Lane Kiffen may have taken the Tennessee position.  Dabo Swinney, interim head coach and on Rivals best recruiters rankings three out of his four years, has taken the Clemson position.   

Success Stories

Croom, Shannon, Prince and Gill have all included African-Americans in their coaching staffs including their coordinators, effectively creating hiring trees for black coaches to obtain valuable experience.  Willingham, regrettably, stands out as a head coach who never had a black coordinator, ironically never tapping that “valuable resource”. 

More success stories like Eugene Smiths are waiting to be written.  Notre Dame’s Graduation Success Rate for African-American football players is 93%.   It has been estimated that over thirty percent of those football players at Notre Dame graduate with a business degree.  Those players pursue roads beyond athletics, too. 

Take Alan Page, Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court, former All-Pro Minnesota Viking, graduate of Notre Dame’s 1966 class and member of the Irish’s '66 National Championship team….  

Isn't successful performance all about preparation and opportunity?