The Houston Chronicle took an in-depth look at why college football’s hiring of black coaches has stalled in recent years, citing a hiring report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, known as TIDES, and interviews with former and current black college football head coaches.
The article hits on the same weekend that reports indicate the University of Texas plans to fire head coach Charlie Strong, one the most high-profile African American coaches in college football, after the season. Although the first sentence of the Chronicle piece states that “the state of Texas now boasts four black head coaches at college football’s highest level,” even that now overstates matters as Strong looks headed to his third losing record in as many seasons at UT and the door after enjoying two conference titles in four seasons leading Louisville.
According to TIDES, the Football Bowl Subdivision formerly known as Division I started this season with 15 black head coaches, accounting for 11.7 percent of all head coaching positions in FBS.
In the view of Texas State head coach Everett Weathers, the reason for that low number is the racial make-up of who hires coaches in college football. Weathers told the Chronicle, “Throughout the evolution of college athleticism, the big booster sports have been predominantly driven by influential Caucasian alum throughout the country. It’s still that way.”
The TIDES report for 2015-2016 indicates that whites make up nearly 90% of university presidents and athletic directors.
Former Stanford, Notre Dame, and Washington coach Ty Willingham claims that white administrators do not want to give up “power” to black coaches. Willingham said, “That power aspect of it is a huge dynamic that has to be discussed. I don’t think there is any doubt about that. Football programs have become, and most universities say this, one of the places that people gain a lot of their knowledge about the university. And with that presentation comes a certain amount of power.”
According to Willingham, that “power” does not share equally among black coaches and white coaches because, “We should not ask that question of those who are in the pool, but of those who are doing the hiring. The participants don’t control the thought process on the other side of the table.”
The Chronicle interviewed several other administrators and coaches, none of whom could name a specific reason for the supposed low numbers of minority hires. However, if racial prejudice does not explain it, then Willingham says he wants a thorough explanation of the real cause: “I want them to be able to identify shortcomings, if such exist…. If you can’t give me concrete reasons why I am not good enough, then there’s only one conclusion I can go to.”
For an explanation, consider that Willingham coached in FBS for 14 years, a far longer period of time than the normal life expectancy of any college football coach, black or white. Over the course of those 14 years Willingham suffered eight losing seasons in addition to losing four out of five bowl games. His sole bowl victory came as a minor Sun Bowl appearance in his second year at Stanford.
Remember that Willingham served the first black head coach in the history of the University of Notre Dame in any sport. After spending three seasons there, he went to Washington and promptly ran that program into the ground, coaching the Huskies to only 11 wins over his four years. Ty Willingham doesn’t have a job and hasn’t had one in a while because he’s not a good coach.
Willingham’s confusion is rivaled only by Texas State head coach Everett Weathers blaming white administrators for why black coaches don’t get hired. Coach Weathers coaches in Texas, which has four schools with black head coaches, constituting more than 25% of all black head coaches in FBS. Texas A&M University and the University of Texas, the two largest football schools in the state who also happen to boast the most lily-white alumnae communities in the state, both hired black head coaches.
The bigger question becomes where the idea that black head coaches are underrepresented in college football comes from? According to the Census Bureau, blacks account for 13.3 percent of the total U.S. population. If black head coaches account for 11.7 percent of college head coaches, that’s only 1.6 percent under the national average.
In other words, no “shortage” of black head coaches actually exists in college football.
Even if we accept, for argument’s sake, that a shortage of black head coaches does exist, then Ty Willingham’s career might best explain why. Willingham won seven games in his first two years at Washington. At that point many coaches would have lost their job, but Willingham kept his for two more years.
The same case exists for Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State, who won only three games a year in his first three years at Starkville. Most coaches wouldn’t have survived two years of that, but Croom survived three years and continued on as coach of the Bulldogs for two more years. Had Croom and Willingham been white, it’s highly unlikely they would have been retained that long.
Given the history of major institutions hiring black coaches, the problem is not a resistance to hiring, but rather that a black coach is extremely difficult to fire because groups such as TIDES and people such as Ty Willingham might call you a racist.
The only color that college boosters and alumni care about is green, the color of money that flows into the school as the result of a winning program with sustained success over a long period of time. Schools such as Texas and Texas A&M have given the “power” to black coaches they believe will deliver that kind of success.
If the media and former head coaches-turned-activists wouldn’t launch inquisitions and hurl accusations of racism, more would do it.
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn