Michigan visits Notre Dame in one of the great traditional match-ups this weekend, but something about this game helped highlight the obvious, where are the black head coaches in NCAA Division I College Football?
Michigan went through tremendous effort to lure Rich Rodriguez away from West Virginia when their head coaching position was open after last season. So many of the open positions filled in the off-season featured the same old Mexican Hat Dance trying to keep the same fellows passing through the revolving door atop the nation’s top college programs. Meanwhile, Charlie Weis enters his fourth year as Notre Dame Head Coach whose tenure at Notre Dame has hardly been distinguished with modestly successful records his first two years before the bottom fell out after a disgraceful season last year.
Weis replaced Ty Willingham who was abruptly fired after three years on the job. Willingham had a record of 10-3 in 2002, 5-7 in 2003, and 6-6 in 2004. He was not even allowed to complete the season to coach the Fighting Irish in a minor bowl appearance, the Insight Bowl, at the end of that season. Weis’s tenure at Notre Dame appeared to start off well, 9-3 in 2005 then losing in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2006, his record was a respectable 10-3 leading to a loss in the Sugar Bowl, then the bottom fell out in the 2007 season with a 3-9 record.
Bigger problems surrounded the Notre Dame program than the simple impact of two head coaches both of whom faced similar challenges as modern times began to catch up with a team steeped in tradition. Willingham was given the bums rush out of town. Weis has a fat contract and tons of second chances. Willingham worked his way up through the college ranks being hired away from Stanford to lead the Fighting Irish. Weis was a Bill Parcells protégé who was offensive coordinator for Bill Belichick as the Patriots’ dynasty began. Weis is also a Notre Dame alumnus. Oh by the way, did we mention Ty Willingham is black?
Surely, the jury is out on just how much potential Willingham has as a head coach. His achievement at Washington after leaving Notre Dame has not been noteworthy at all, but what’s most noteworthy is just what a rare species he is as an African American head coach in the elite world of bowl caliber college football.
In researching this article using the faithful Google search, trying to find the teams who have Black head coaches and who those coaches are is difficult. On most issues, punch in the search data, and viola! a host of information. Kevin Sumlin was hired at Houston. Turner Gill coaches at Buffalo. The most current information we could find was an article from the Los Angeles Times, December 4, 2007 indicating only FIVE out of 119 teams have black head coaches. A couple years earlier it was just three. Meanwhile, at least fifty percent of all players are black, and the top recruits to the NFL???
Black quarterbacks have won Super Bowls. That’s not new news. Doug Williams did that for the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII in 1988. He coached college football after leaving the NFL at a traditional Black school, Grambling, not one of those fancy 119 teams.
In 2007, Tony Dungy coached the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl win over the Chicago Bears coached by Lovie Smith. It was historic that two Black guys met for the first time at that level, but there was so little fanfare because it was hardly a surprise. Dungy has been one of the NFL’s most respected coaches for years building the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a contender after years of futility before his arrival. When Dungy arrived in Indianapolis, he took the Colts to being perennial championship contenders.
Aside from Dungy and Smith, currently, Romeo Crennel leads the Cleveland Browns, Herm Edwards, the Kansas City Chiefs; Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati; and Mike Timlin in Pittsburgh. Previously, Denny Green had a successful run in Minnesota before landing in the abyss in Arizona, coaching the Arizona Cardinals. Ray Rhodes led the Philadelphia Eagles.
It took a long time for the NFL to catch up with reality, but now what race a head coach is just doesn’t seem like that much of a big deal. Head coaches are head coaches. The “Good Old Boys Network” surely does still exist in some form, but the league was quick to bring in guys like Mike Smith in Atlanta, John Harbaugh in Baltimore and Jim Zorn in Washington are rookie coaches with no previous head coaching experience in the NFL.
The hiring goal should always be to find the best man possible for the job regardless of race, period. The coach’s disposition should be determined by results not politics, period. The NFL is big business. We think of the college campus as “progressive,” and often their social agendas are just plain weird so far out in left field they amount to pure nonsense. How strange it is that these same universities would be about forty years behind the times on hiring one of the most visible positions on campus. Six out of 32 NFL coaches are African-American. We show only five of 119 NCAA Division I-A coaches are. WHY??