National : Diversity still lacking in college football coaching
Amidst all the debate over the Bowl Championship Series postseason system, one pressing flaw with the college game has become more acute of late.
Coming into this season, six black coaches led major college football programs. That changed in early November, with the dismissals of Tyrone Willingham at Washington and Ron Prince at Kansas State. Now, the total has regressed back down to only four out of the 119-member NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, the lowest amount since there were three in 2005.
Miami’s Randy Shannon, Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom, Buffalo’s Turner Gill and Houston’s Kevin Sumlin are the lone black coaches in the country. The disproportionate percentage (3.36 percent) has Sumlin, Gill and others concerned with the state of coaching affairs in college football.
‘It’s disheartening to talk about the percentages and the lack of diversity,’ Sumlin, a first-year head coach with the Cougars, said in a teleconference. ‘There’s only four of us right now, and I think that speaks to the disparity of the numbers. Certainly the ratio of four out of 119 is nowhere where it needs to be.’
That ratio may plummet even lower. In four and a half seasons with the Bulldogs, Croom is 20-37 (3-7 this season), and has failed to meet expectations. At the conclusion of this year, there’s a chance his job will not be safe.
The statistics are staggering, especially since minorities compose approximately 55 percent of all Division I football players.
According to a recent study conducted by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, there have been 199 head coaching job openings in college football since 1996. Of these, only 12 jobs have been given to black candidates.
Despite advocating diversity, Division I football hasn’t produced tangible results. In the past decade, the number of black hires has inconsistently fluctuated. The NCAA is trying to move in the right direction, but it has been a gradual process. .
‘There’s things that are going toward (the integration of minority coaches),’ Gill said in a teleconference. ‘Everyone wants things to happen overnight. Obviously, it’s a process and it’s a journey. All we can do is perform to the best of our abilities, pray about it, and let God intervene.’
In 2003, the NCAA, in conjunction with the Black Coaches Association and the American Football Coaches Association, developed a coaches academy and a mentoring program to promote the integration of minority coaches in college football. Within the program, NCAA officials and current minority head coaches organize off-season seminars to educate assistant head coaches, coordinators and other aspiring minority candidates. In the process, they teach them how to prepare for interviews, build resumes, network with other coaches, and handle the media.
Both Gill and Sumlin were benefactors of previous seminars, having received head coaching jobs in recent years. Now, they are the ones sustaining the tradition and imparting their own wisdom with prospective coaches.
‘We don’t just talk about X’s and O’s,’ Sumlin said. ‘There’s a lot of guys out there that are good coaches, but there are other things involved in this job that aren’t necessarily football-related, which is the biggest difference of being a head coach.’
Despite the marginal improvements of the two programs, there is still a subversive movement lobbying the NCAA to adopt a rule similar to the NFL’s ‘Rooney Rule.’ The rule mandates NFL owners to interview at least one minority candidate before filling a coaching vacancy.
So far, it has been effective for the NFL. Of the 32 teams in the league, seven of them have black coaches – a far greater proportion than the 3.36 percent in college football.
Still, due to the incongruities between the systems, the chances of the NCAA committee implementing the regulation are slim.
‘It’s a lot different than the NFL, where you just have an owner who’s hiring the coach,’ Sumlin said. ‘There’s a lot of factors involved, and sometimes people have to be in the coordinator role to get those positions.’
At the moment, there is no immediate solution that can rectify the conundrum. But the four coaches have realized that ultimately the responsibility lies with them. In order to secure a future for black coaches, they have to win with their current programs.
‘I only try to focus on the things I can control and that’s to go out and do the best job I can as coach as the head coach at Buffalo,’ Gill said. ‘And then whatever happens from that can help minorities. It’s all about trying to help minorities throughout our country. To give them hope, to give them a future, and an opportunity to be successful.’
With nothing left to play for, Kent State coach Doug Martin has made an uncharacteristic change in the lineup. He appointed his senior quarterback Julian Edelman to be the primary punt returner for the remainder of the season, giving him double duty on offense and special teams.
Martin understands it’s a risky decision, but Edelman is in his last year of eligibility. And in making the decision, the Golden Flashes coach ultimately had his quarterback’s interests at heart.
‘This is a young man who may have a chance to play at another level,’ Martin said in a teleconference. ‘Pro scouts are always asking me if he can return punts. So I thought it was wise for him to at least show that ability in these last couple games.’
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