But Floyd Keith keeps talking about it anyway, critics be damned. The executive director of the Black Coaches and Administrators keeps beating the drum, keeps raising the issue of equal opportunity in the pursuit of head coaching jobs for black college football coaches, even while the numbers say his efforts are not producing results.
Floyd thought by now this shouldn’t be a problem. He remembers the sight of Tony Dungy and Lovey Smith leading their teams into Super Bowl XLI — the first black men in NFL history to be Super Bowl head coaches — and he was convinced that this would be a watershed moment for black football coaches everywhere.
“It should have been like when John Thompson won the NCAA title in college basketball,” Keith said. “I was sure it would have that kind of lasting impact where another mental barrier would be broken and no one would have a fear of hiring a minority to run their football program, particularly at the college level.”
Keith paused for a moment to let out a disappointed laugh. “I guess I was wrong about that, huh?” he said.
Two years later, the numbers game in college football’s top level, the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division IA) have surprisingly gotten worse. Out of the 119 schools that have Division IA football programs, only six head coaches were African Americans, one was Latino and one was of Polynesian descent.
With the mid-season firings of Ron Prince at Kansas State and Ty Willingham at Washington, that means only 3.36 percent of the top jobs in college football are held by black men in a sport where the participation level is 54 percent minority and 50 percent African American.
So now we are at that familiar place in this hot-button discussion where there are a few questions that usually beg to be answered. The first one is the convenient weapon of mass distraction used by the uninformed or the narrow minded who have conveniently decided that discrimination must have ended the day Barack Obama was elected president.
That question goes something like this: Who cares?
Why don’t these guys just admit that this is another form of affirmative action to force schools to hire unqualified black coaches?
Those of course are the wrong questions, raised by people who immediately assume that men like Floyd are trying to force feed incompetent black coaches on unsuspecting college presidents and athletic directors.
The second question that should be asked by people with far more open minds and no foolish assumptions about this alleged inferiority cuts a bit closer to the truth.
What makes college presidents, athletic directors and power broker alumni so comfortable with the thought of a black man as head basketball coach, yet so ill at ease with a man of color as the leader of the same university’s football program?
“That’s a great question. You should ask them,” said a clearly frustrated Keith, whose organization is on the forefront of the battle to increase minority participation at sports highest levels. “You can be president of the United States now. You can be a great general in charge of our army. But the odds seem to be stacked against you if you’re black and want to be a college football head coach. You have a four times greater chance of being a college basketball coach, a four times greater chances of being an NFL head coach or being the next Colin Powell than becoming the next Ty Willingham. How does that happen? It’s rather painfully clear that there’s something systemically wrong with college football.”
Last year the Division IA Athletic Directors Association agreed to issue hiring guidelines that included a commitment to diverse interviewing process. According to Keith, the interviews for minorities increased dramatically, but the jobs did not.
“Interviewing is not hiring,” Keith said. “Hiring is hiring.”
Last year, two minorities were hired out of the 22 Division IA jobs that opened. Since 1996, only 12 African-American coaches have been hired among 199 vacancies, a meager six percent of the total. “Overall, the numbers simply do not reflect the diversity of our student-athletes,” said Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports and the author of an exhaustive report released this month that revealed these bad numbers.
I have raised that very question in private conversations with men on both sides of the process over the course of a few weeks. The answers I heard confirmed that there was something to the idea that knocking down the barriers of equity in the workplace is still an ongoing process. I didn’t just pull this question out of thin air or make inaccurate assumptions about facts that aren’t in evidence.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
So how do you overcome those fears and attack those lousy hiring numbers? Like everything else in sports, everyone copies the success of others. So until they see more undisputed examples of what a black head coach can do for the program, they’re more likely to go with what is familiar and comfortable.
You want people to be more open minded, but reality says they aren’t. So the task for men like Floyd becomes finding ways to alter those misperceptions. Floyd says that the BCA has a plan, and part of their strategy will eventually involve legal action against NCAA schools who continue to show a disregard for an equitable process.
But that can’t be the only solution. Those legal blows may soften the opponent, but the potent counter-punch has to come too.
CFT: The University of Nevada is honoring longtime coach Chris Ault, who stepped down in the fall, by renaming the school's football field after him.
CFT: The Detroit Lions are expected to own and operate their own bowl game at Ford Field, starting play in 2014, according to a report by ESPN.
Video: Football from NBC Sports
HBO Real Sports: Bill O'Brien
Penn State football coach and 2012 National Coach of the Year shares the challenges in turning around a program shattered by scandal. Real Sports premieres Tuesday, May 21 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
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