Change we can wait for

Stewart Mandel looks at the scant number of minority head coaches at D-1 schools, sees it dwindling even further at season’s end… and basically says there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

… Unfortunately, the only sure-fire way to increase the number of black coaches is for the current ones to keep winning. That’s an entirely unfair brand of pressure to put on the shoulders of any coach.

So, basically, life’s a bitch, fellas.  Deal with it.

And the fault for this, dear Brutus, lies not with the current crop of decision makers, which Mandel assures us is “progressive” in nature, but with the troglodytes of twenty five years ago.

… their predecessors of 20 to 25 years ago were not, which is right around the time the typical, 40-something head coaching candidate of today would have needed to enter the profession. At that time, black people had little reason to believe a career in coaching would pay off for them, which likely caused a whole bunch of potentially promising coaches to choose another field. Hence, today’s pool remains predominately white.

In other words, it’s nobody’s fault now.  How convenient for everyone.  What’s really interesting about Mandel’s analysis of this is that he dismisses the possibility of college football’s administrators adopting an approach similar to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview – but not necessarily offer the job – minority applicants for a head coaching job.  That’s because any shortcomings lie not with the decision makers, but the applicants.  So while Mandel thinks it’s reasonable to ask a school to be more inclusive in its hiring approach, “…you can’t force a school hire to a black coach if it doesn’t truly believe him to be the best candidate.”

Assuming for the sake of argument that such is always a coldly rational, fairly weighed decision (now there’s a hell of an assumption), it still misses the point.  Mandel rather conveniently doesn’t explain why the NFL has been more successful, at least from a pure percentage standpoint, in hiring minority head coaches than have college football athletic directors (or the Bobby Lowders behind the throne).  Were NFL owners/general managers more enlightened twenty five years ago than their college counterparts?


Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness, Media Punditry/Foibles

18 responses to “Change we can wait for

  1. Kit

    There is definitely some sort of problem. I mean we live in a world where Neil Calloway is a head coach. You mean to tell me UAB couldn’t find ANYONE better than that?

    However, I don’t think the problem lies within a “good ole boy” system or anything like that. I really think the pool is low for major BCS conferences to hire a qualified black candidate.

    Bare with me for one second. Outside of the head coach at Buffalo (who has completely turned the program around and built it from nothing) and Charlie Strong, can anyone name (without looking it up) a black coach proven enough to say “this guy deserves the reigns?”

    Ty Willingham doesn’t win games, Karl Dorrell didn’t win games at UCLA. Sly Croom is a GREAT MAN, but his ability to win games needs more time (and an Offensive Coordinator who isn’t mentally handicapped).

    I hate to agree with Mandel, but he’s right in saying that black coaches have to establish themselves first. Guys like the HC at Buffalo and Charlie Strong deserve their shot and when Brooks at UK steps down, Joker Phillips will be the next in line. However, in order to be considered for a HC job, you either have to be a well established assistant (like Strong or Trooper Taylor), or a head coach at a smaller program with a record of success.

    Seriously, people talk as if there need to be 25-50 black head coaches, but they can’t name 10 of them with enough experience to warrant them being a head coach right now. For instance, I think Rodney Gardner would be a great HC, but he hasn’t even been a DC yet.

    I’m not trying to say that black people shouldn’t be head coaches and I’m not even trying to suggest that there isn’t a problem, because we all know that there is. I do think a rule requiring people to interview a minority coach should be established, but until you have more black head coaches at the DC, OC and smaller school HC levels that show marked success, I just don’t think you’ll see real change.

    I damn sure wish someone would hire Strong away from Florida, though, and FWIW, I think Shannon will turn Miami into a powerhouse in time.

    Also, we don’t have to limit this to blacks. Willie Martinez is a minority and if someone wants to take him off our hands, I’m not saying I’d be heartbroken.


  2. I think the even better comparison is in college hoops. Now, that’s not exactly a rainbow of multiracial diversity either, but it is a lot better than football. But aren’t the same people — the ADs and school presidents — doing the hiring in both sports? So why would one lag behind another?


  3. Marque

    Could it be that there are more pro coaches than college ones (on a percentage basis) because an emphasis on diversity at the pro level pulled up the qualified coaches out of the college ranks at a higher clip than they might have otherwise gotten there if they weren’t minorities? Thus, it “bleached” the college pool of some of its more promising black coaching talent at the very moment that colleges were most prepared to elevate qualified black candidates.

    The same “problem” has plagued higher education, especially graduate education. Upper-tier schools, focused on having a diverse student body, have historically accepted minority applicants with lower test scores and grades than other applicants. Thus, minority students who might have gone to middle-tier schools get pulled up to upper tier schools — why would they turn down the opportunity? Middle-tier schools, also focused on diversity, make the same move, elevating lower-performing minority students who might have gone to lower-tier schools. At some point, there is a limit to this — and at the point where a school refuses to admit a lower-qualified minority merely for diversity purposes, there appears a “diversity gap” that seems to suggest those schools won’t admit minority candidates, when actually the minority candidates they would admit are going to better schools. The candidates themselves seem to benefit, but they are placed into schools where they may tend to underperform as compared to their peers. Hence, they tend to get worse jobs upon exiting,

    Is the same thing happening in college football? If Ty Willingham had just stayed an assistant a little longer and gotten more seasoning, or if Dennis Green had coached in college instead of pro ball first, would they have been more successful? We’ll never know. But in the high-stakes world of coaching, each failure or disappointment by a black coach harms other black coaches – qualified and unqualified – if we consider them as a group worthy of special treatment.

    Far better, in my opinion, to avoid the artificial hiring gimmicks and instead consider each candidate on their merits, not their skin color.


  4. HVL Dawg

    The “Rooney Rule” established for open OCs and DCs would produce plenty of Head Coaches after a decade.

    The players have been mostly black for what, 30 years? There should be more black coaches by now.


  5. David – that’s an excellent point. I have no idea why, other than to speculate that there are completely different cultures around each sport now (basketball is far more urban oriented than is football, for example) which may mean that ADs have very different constituencies to answer to with regard to the two sports.

    Marque – I’m not in favor of mandatory hiring rules, but I see a lot of good in schools choosing to adopt some form of the Rooney Rule for at least two reasons. First, it gets those that hire (and those they answer to) into a mindset that it’s at least worth giving minority candidates consideration. Second, it gives those minority candidates greater visibility to the public and those making the hiring decisions, which hopefully pays off over the long haul.

    HVL – I agree. You’ve gotta start somewhere. Throwing up your hands at the problem, as Mandel suggests, just postpones the status quo for another generation.


  6. Kit


    I like your reasoning on the matter. In the point I made, it was the lack of black coordinators on the college (and even NFL) level that hinders the progress of a black coach from getting the necessary experience to interview and lock down a HC job.

    I know there are a ton of coaches out there who deserve the shot but lack the experience. I don’t know if a certain rule is going to be effective enough, though. To become a HC is a career path and not one simple move.

    I think if the NCAA were to establish interviewing practices for minority candidates at ALL levels (Assistant, DC, OC & HC), then you would see more guys make the transition, and over time, that would translate into better results.

    If the NCAA really sat down and mapped out what it takes to become a HC at the college level and then educated minorities on how to do it, then I think it’s very realistic to say you could see anywhere from a 50% – 100% increase in black HC in 10 years.

    I just don’t think creating one rule is going to solve the problem. A HC position is a career move, not just a job. You take a job. There are many steps into making a career.


  7. Kit

    If the NCAA really sat down and mapped out what it takes to become a HC at the college level and then educated minorities on how to do it, then I think it’s very realistic to say you could see anywhere from a 50% – 100% increase in black HC in 10 years.

    For what it’s worth, when I say “educate” I’m not suggesting that they don’t know what to do to become a head coach.

    A better sentence would have been “and then assisted minorities through the process.”

    I hope no one will read the comment above and take that the wrong way. I’m certainly on the side of changing the current situation.


  8. I just don’t think creating one rule is going to solve the problem.

    Kit, I agree with you completely on this. But as I said to HVL, you gotta start somewhere.

    If the NCAA really sat down and mapped out what it takes to become a HC at the college level and then educated minorities on how to do it, then I think it’s very realistic to say you could see anywhere from a 50% – 100% increase in black HC in 10 years.

    I think something like that already occurs. For example, this is from Coach Garner’s official bio:

    … Garner participated in the inaugural Minority Coaches Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., in May, 2006. He was also selected one of 10 coaches from throughout the country to participate in the 2004 NCAA Expert Coaching Academy in Indianapolis and one of only 20 chosen for the NCAA’s 2004 Advanced Coaching Academy in Orlando.


  9. Marque

    Senator – fair points re: the voluntary Rooney Rule. I guess I would take Charlie Strong as an example of someone who may have been hurt by an already-existing tendency among ADs to do that, though. He seems to be in the mix for a lot of hires, and has been for almost a decade now since he became a DC. But time and again, he gets passed over. I don’t know why that is, but if he’s getting interviewed because he’s black (and the school needs to look good) and he’s getting rejected because the school always intended to hire someone else, Strong is effectively getting used to bolster the school’s reputation.

    And it’s not just that he gets used. When someone has been considered and not hired that many times in a publicly-watched hiring environment, a reputation begins to build — what’s wrong with this guy that so many other smart ADs have passed on him? Suddenly, a coach who was known as an up-and-comer is always the bridesmaid, never the bride. This dynamic would be entirely absent without the artificial “you have to interview a black candidate” principle, because no school would ever waste their time with a token candidate without it.

    I’m all for taking steps to improve the chances that good black coaches become head coaches at the college level. The best way to do that is to encourage young men leaving college football as players to enter the coaching ranks. If there is a perception among young athletes that coaching isn’t a viable option for their future, fight that with a vengeance. But don’t stigmatize universities for failing to hire black coaches when the problem (to me, anyway) appears to be one of supply, not demand. Such a stigma only reinforces the perception among young athletes that there is a prejudice problem (which both you and Mandel seem to agree there isn’t) and discourages the very wave of new coaches we all hope to see from joining the profession in the first place.


  10. Kit

    I think something like that already occurs. For example, this is from Coach Garner’s official bio:

    … Garner participated in the inaugural Minority Coaches Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., in May, 2006. He was also selected one of 10 coaches from throughout the country to participate in the 2004 NCAA Expert Coaching Academy in Indianapolis and one of only 20 chosen for the NCAA’s 2004 Advanced Coaching Academy in Orlando.

    Don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here standing corrected.

    Geez, this really is a HUGE problem. The Minority Coaches Forum (according to the bio) was established in 2006. That’s a step in the right direction, but so incredibly late in the process.

    I’m agreeing now that some type of rule, even if just a good first step, needs to be created immediately to get candidates through the door. The process has to begin somewhere. With a lot of vacancies already in college football and more to come, now is as good a time as any.


  11. Such a stigma only reinforces the perception among young athletes that there is a prejudice problem (which both you and Mandel seem to agree there isn’t)…

    Let me respond to this by saying that I don’t think for a minute that there are any out and out racists running college athletic departments these days (although I don’t doubt that there are racist boosters that they may have to deal with), so when you say there isn’t a prejudice problem, I agree with you on that level.

    But when you watch outright hacks/mediocrities like Hal Mumme and Al Groh recycle through head coaching jobs at different schools, you realize there’s a different type of prejudice at work. And that’s what I think approaches like the Rooney Rule can have a positive impact on.


  12. Marque

    I completely agree with you, Senator, that the prejudice of ADs in favor of “experienced” coaches works against the emergence of good candidates from the DC/OC ranks. But unless we think that there’s a racial prejudice problem, this tendency cuts against all talented DC/OCs equally, regardless of race. Recall that Coach Richt almost didn’t get the job with Georgia because he might be too nice — we could have gotten the “experienced” Chan Gailey as our coach instead.

    I just don’t think the solution to the experience bias is to artificially create another irrational bias that promotes more mediocrity, which any standard based on qualities (such as skin color) unrelated to the job will inevitably do. Rather, it’s to flood the system with enough candidates that ADs aren’t asked to choose between one or two minority candidates and a host of experienced coaches, but dozens of candidates demonstrating a full range of coaching styles, personalities, football systems — precisely the kind of criteria these decisions should be made on.

    Willingham, Dorrell, and the like aren’t immune to the benefits of the experience bias, either. They will probably continue to get coaching jobs as long as they want them (if they’re willing to stoop lower each time). And, taking your examples, Groh and Mumme aren’t exactly rising stars. The experience bias isn’t limited to college football, either — mediocre CEOs, environmental engineers, baseball managers, and electricians keep getting jobs over smarter, less experienced counterparts (regardless of race) because they’ve done it before, even if they haven’t done it especially well. Why compound this unfortunate feature of human decision-making with a hyper-focus on the pigmentation of candidates’ skin?


  13. Marque, you think that reaching a voluntary consensus to interview – not hire, just interview – a minority candidate for an open coaching position is “hyper-focusing”?

    And exactly how would you go about “flooding the system”?

    Again, I’m strongly against quotas. They do more harm than good in hiring. But the numbers speak loudly. ADs are reluctant to hire minority head football coaches. And I don’t think that can all be explained away by experience. Every year there are hot assistants that emerge as the new “gotta have guys”. Very few of them are anything but white.

    ADs and presidents are being short sighted about minority hiring opportunities. I’ve argued this before – at some point in time if things don’t get better from a numbers standpoint, Washington is going to step in and mandate changes. That’s what happened with Title IX. And while nobody these days would argue that women weren’t getting a fair shake back when it passed, it’s also true that some of the unintended consequences of Title IX have been unfortunate. I’d hate to see something similar happen to college football.


  14. Marque

    Senator, I think anyone who makes hiring/interviewing decisions on the basis of race is hyper-focused on race, because there is no rational basis for doing so. If eliminating the “hyper” makes me seem more right, well, please do so. The voluntary nature of the decision doesn’t resolve any of my other concerns — schools using coaches as a means to improve their reputation, good coaches hurt by constant rejection, coaches failing because they’re promoted before they’re ready, institutionalizing the perception of an absent prejudice problem. I think all of those problems kick in at the interview stage.

    As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I’d flood the system with qualified candidates by actively encouraging minority athletes to become coaches in the first place. Your comment about Garner’s experience with coaching leadership institutes, etc. speaks well of efforts to help those already in the profession, and that’s a vital element. But you also have to get a critical mass of folks into the profession — otherwise, you’re just hoping that the small group of guys you’ve gone the extra mile to prepare are the right guys. I don’t see any great effort being made in that regard, but I also haven’t gone looking for it.

    I don’t doubt that the government would love to step in and hurry along the hiring of minority coaches. I just don’t think it would do any good, for the schools, the sport, or the coaches themselves. I also don’t see why having the schools step up and make the same mistake before they’re forced to make it by the government improves the situation in the slightest, except perhaps that they’d be able to correct the mistake later without an act of Congress.

    In the end, Senator, we both agree that we need to take action to improve minority representation among head coaches. It’s a serious problem. But saying “this is 2008, it has to be now” doesn’t get us there. Unless we see a lot of highly-qualified minority coaches who aren’t getting hired for inexplicable reasons (which would scream prejudice to me), the problem goes deeper than just demanding interviews. And that deeper problem requires a broader solution that’s going to demand patience. It’s sad that college football is behind other sports in this respect, but we’d do a lot better by the sport and its participants to acknowledge that and fix the system, rather than attempt band-aid remedies that won’t solve the problem but might make people feel better about it.

    Thanks for the intelligent and spirited debate.


  15. Kit

    Just a quick thought, if we all agree that there is a great lack of qualified black DC and OC candidates, can some of the blame also fall on the head coaches as well for this mess?

    The AD hires the head coaches, but isn’t it the head coach’s responsibility to load his staff with the most qualified candidates as well? Mark Richt’s famous stance of sticking with an assistant through thick and thin is a common one in college football. In fact, assistants like Muschamp bouncing from place to place is actually a rarity.

    I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but if the AD pretty much is the lead dog in hiring the HC, and the HC is the lead dog in hiring the assistants, shouldn’t HC across the nation be just as responsible for this mess as anyone?

    This is a good debate. Kudos to you, Good Senator, for bringing this up.


  16. HVL Dawg

    There’s a picture of Coach Vince Dooley interviewing a potential DC on the top of this page!

    Good discussion sir.


  17. Heyberto

    Lots of good points on this topic. I too wish there were more black head coaches.. but I don’t think AD’s and their selection criteria and associated staff wouldn’t hire a black head coach because of that. I don’t want to say that would never happen, but I think schools will hire the best man for the job, regardless of race. I still think Willingham got hosed by ND, but I’m just hoping they new something I didn’t. But, it’s just a matter of time of finding the right candidate for the right job.

    I would love to see Sylvester Croom go to a top tier SEC school (Tennessee?) or similar (Clemson?). He is such a class act and a good coach and I think with a school he can truly recruit at, he could do great things. We already know the job he does with preparing young players for life.. he’s top notch. But someone is going to have to take a chance on him, becuase his record at MSU has hurt him, and I think he’s done remarkably well with his resources.


  18. Dawg95

    There is a ton of pressure on college football programs to win. When a black coach is the one that gives a major college the best chance to win, he will be hired.

    We just elected a black president. Not because he was white or black….but because he is very educated, very eloquent, and people wanted change.

    The same will happen with all other areas including college football coaches. They will get the jobs when they earn them. Racism will never be over as long as people keep trying to bend rules to make things “fair”!!!!

    Work hard!! Take chances!! Stay on the straight and narrow!! That’s how you succed in this country no matter what your skin color is!!