Just looking for a chance
Black coaches look to break CFB coaching barrier
Posted: Friday October 26, 2007 9:45AM; Updated: Friday October 26, 2007 4:49PM
It was all about the interview. And then word spread about Turner Gill.
No, it wasn't the interview that landed Gill his current head coaching position at the University of Buffalo. But it was Gill's first head coaching job interview at Missouri five years earlier that put him on the map. "I didn't get that job,'' Gill said of the Mizzou gig, "but it allowed me to become part of the process."
Gill is referring to the mysterious, troublesome hiring process of college head football coaches, a process that has produced just six African-American head coaches in big-time college football this season. Never a coordinator or a head coach at the time, Gill recently remembered his Missouri interview. "I did things well,'' he told SI.com, "but the timing wasn't right."
Still, one thing led to another. Time passed. Gill didn't get the head coaching job at his alma mater, Nebraska, either. He landed with the Green Bay Packers as an assistant. Then the Buffalo job opened up. Buffalo athletic director Warde Manuel, who was previously an associate AD at Michigan, knew Gill had been a candidate at Nebraska. He also heard about Gill's Missouri interview. Manuel called Mizzou athletic director Mike Alden, who praised Gill and ...
"I got a chance,'' said Gill. "People need to hear who you are, what you are and what you have to offer. It's just getting an opportunity to interview that's so important."
The Black Coaches and Administrators agree. In a report released earlier this month, the BCA, which grades athletic programs on their affirmative action records, gave its highest marks not necessarily to colleges that hired black coaches but the ones that "took their time in the selection process, had a diverse selection committee [and] and interviewed a diverse pool of candidates."
In the offseason, 24 Division I-A head coaches were hired. Only one, Randy Shannon at Miami, was black. (One, Mario Cristobal, of Florida International, is Latino.) In major college football history, only 22 black men have ever been head coaches.
"With these numbers, it transcends sports," Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches and Administrators (BCA), told SI.com. "It's a social injustice."
Consider: The chance of two African-American head coaches facing each other in the Super Bowl -- which occurred last season with Indianapolis' Tony Dungy and Chicago's Lovie Smith -- was about four percent. In college football, given today's paucity of head black coaches, the likelihood that two black coaches would face off in a BCS title game is 0.2 percent.
"There's something about the institution of higher education," said University of Central Florida professor C. Keith Harrison, the principal investigator for the BCA's hiring survey. "At the end of the day, that position of head coach held by an African-American man is not seen as the status quo by college presidents and athletic directors. It's not seen as the status quo like running back and defensive back.''
Harrison looks to "hiring trees" to produce more black head coaches. It's a sort of football genealogy. From such trees, coordinator positions and head coaches can sprout. That's why new Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, your typical, average white guy coach, is singled out in the recent BCA study.
"Access to leadership opportunities [is] not limited to minorities giving minorities opportunities," Harrison writes, "but majority populations embracing talent and diversity."
Of the nine assistants Brewster brought on last spring after he was hired from the Denver Broncos, six are African-American, including defensive coordinator Everett Withers. No white coach of any Division I-A program has as many minority assistants.
"Why?'' Brewster was asked.
"Why not?'' he said. "What we did is we put together the best staff we could. It just so happened six of them were African-American.''
Brewster claims he didn't realize the racial makeup of his staff until someone pointed it out to him. But, he added, "There are a lot of very, very qualified black football coaches who should be in leadership positions that aren't. That's the key, is get African-American men in leadership positions. That's when we're going to grow as a profession.''
Brewster said he thinks it's athletic directors who simply don't know enough about emerging black candidates. "If there was more education, if there was more real thought put into it, there'd be more black head coaches," he said. "I can think of 50 right now who should be head coaches."
Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi acknowledged that the national search firm that helped him in the process to replace Glen Mason provided names of more white candidates than blacks. "I can't answer the question: 'Why are there so few black head football coaches in football?"' said Maturi, who hired Tubby Smith, a black man, to be the Gophers' new men's basketball coach. "I relied on people I knew in the business to provide me recommendations and then my follow-up calls were to people I knew and trusted. The search firm had far more white candidates listed than blacks.''
This goes to a point that NCAA president Myles Brand made to Congress earlier this year. He said: "We have to mitigate the risk-adverse nature of those who make football coaching hires. Like it or not, the pressure to be successful in college football -- given the contribution it makes financially to a successful experience for other sports and other student-athletes, given the visibility it brings to a campus from multi-million-viewer television audiences, given the complexity of football operations -- raises the stakes for those who make hiring decisions or recommendations in the sport ... Those who make recommendations must become as comfortable with African-American football coaching candidates as they are with African-American basketball coaches.''