Black College Football Coaches Benched Too Fast
Struggling African American coaches get fired faster than whites with similar challenges.
Editor's Note: The views expressed in this op-ed do not necessarily reflect those of Loop 21.
Look up the job description for an NCAA Division I coach, and you may find something that reads like this:
B.A. or B.S. required, M.A. preferred. Demonstrated ability to successfully coach, recruit and organize a football program. Demonstrated success as a head coach is preferred. Coaching at the college level is preferred. Skills for the overall position include technical knowledge of football, strong communication skills, computer skills, as well as budget, program management, recruiting, and public relation skills. Must become NCAA recruiting certified and maintain a working knowledge of NCAA rules and regulations. Experience with the operation of a summer camp, alumni cultivation and fund-raising preferred.
Maybe such job descriptions should add one other detail: "Don't be black." Or at least, "Don't be black AND coaching a losing team."
Coaching college football has its up's and down's. Anybody that watches college football and knows simple math can tell you that when it comes to a struggling program, a coach needs at least three years to turn that program around, especially considering that coaches are responsible for recruiting players and that even the best players have to stay in school at least three years before they can move on to the NFL. But few black college football coaches are given that kind of time.
Last week, the thin ranks of black college football coaches became even thinner when the University of Colorado fired its head football coach Jon Embree after just two seasons. In those two years, Embree posted a terrible record having just won four games. So by football standards, yes, he stunk at his job. Prior to his hiring, Embree had never been a head coach or coordinator at the college level, causing some to believe that he was "hooked up" with the job simply because he played there during the school's glory years decades ago.
But, the story surrounding his firing isn't about the win and loss column specifically. It's about whether or not he, and other African American coaches like him are given a fair shot when times are rough.
In an embarrassing press conference announcing his firing, Embree gave the world a tearful answer:
Just one African American coach, Tyrone Willingham, has been given multiple shots to find success coaching an NCAA Division I football team. Willingham coached Stanford University, Notre Dame and then University of Washington. He was fired from Notre Dame after having a successful debut season followed by two losing ones. He then went on to the struggling University of Washington. The team remained in last place his entire time there. At the time of his firing, in 2008, there were just five black coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
In the mid-2000's things were actually looking up for black coaches in the college ranks. But of the six that were in charge of major programs then, all have been fired, most of them within two to three years of their hiring. With it taking at least three years to fix a struggling team, a college coach getting fired in only two really makes no sense.
Fast forward to 2012, the number of black coaches has increased, but their number and the treatment they receive still looks lopsided compared to their white counterparts; a reality that is especially ironic considering that more than 50 percent of the college football players coaches work with are black.
One prime example is that of former University of Auburn head coach Gene Chizik. Chizik, who is white, was hired by Auburn in 2009 despite posting two losing seasons at his previous head coaching job at Iowa State University. Critics of the hire included Auburn alum and NBA great Charles Barkley who called the selection racist, and that coach Turner Gill, an African American, should have been considered for the the job. Chizik had a decent first season and won the BCS Championship in 2010 thanks to having a guy named Cam Newton dropped in his lap. However, after Newton bolted for the NFL at the end of the season, Chizik failed to repeat that glory and was fired last week as well.
But, as history tells us, Chizik likely will have another job soon.
Beyond the scoreboard, Embree's firing points up another problem for the college leagues: academic performance. During his farewell, Embree noted that while his team may have struggled athletically, he "did things right" and actually focused on the "student" part of the term "student athlete," boasting that players on his team had the highest GPA in the school's history. So while the NCAA would like for you to believe that they really care about academics, that's a farce as well. Just ask former University of Miami football coach Randy Shannon.
Shannon, who's also black, coached Miami from 2007 to 2011 and only had one marginally successful season in 2009. But under his tenure, Miami had the third-best Academic Progress Rate in NCAA Division I FBS. And with Miami's reputation of recruiting trouble makers, only one player was arrested under his watch, compared to 30 arrests in years prior. Shannon was fired in 2011 and has not landed another head coaching job yet.
Meanwhile, white coaches like Bobby Petrino are always considered in the running for jobs despite questionable antics including leaving a team high and dry in the middle of the season and suspicions he slept with a staff member.
So even when black coaches are actually graduating players and turning them into productive citizens, they still can't win for losing. Literally.