The Audacity of Hope and Black College Football Head Coaches
In 2004 Tyrone Willingham was fired from the University of Notre Dame. At the time I thought he was given an unfair deal. In 2002, his first year at Notre Dame Willingham began the season 8-0 and won 10 games becoming the only first-year coach in Notre Dame history to win 10 games. For his efforts he was named the ESPN/Home Depot College Coach of the Year, the Scripps College Coach of the Year, the Black Coaches Association Male Coach of the Year and the George Munger Award College Coach of the Year by the Maxwell Football Club. In 2003 Notre Dame went 5-7, clearly a set back from the previous season. And in 2004, after going 6-5 Willingham was fired.
Notre Dame then hired Charlie Weiss. After Weiss went 9-2 in his first year he was given a 10 year contract worth $30-40m. Willingham after winning 10 games in his first year was never given any contract security of this magnitude. Since the contract was signed Weiss has went 9-2, 3-9 and 6-6. Many believe that the only reason he had a 10-2 and 9-2 season is because he used the players recruited by Willingham. Clearly Weiss shouldn't still have a job after his past two seasons. I am sure that if Willingham had these kind of seasons, he would not be there. I tend to agree.
Fast forward to 2008. This year has seen some of the more obvious racism in coaching. As of today there are only 5 black coaches (with the hiring of Ron English at Eastern Michigan today) out of a possible 119 coaches in college football. This represents 3% of the entire coaching population. It is crucial to remember that over 50% of college football players are black. You do the math. This year the biggest issue has been surrounding the Auburn head coaching situation.
Gene Chizik was hired as head coach at Auburn recently. Prior to his hiring he had a record of 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State. As an alum and former position coach at Auburn, it was understandable that he be hired. But what made his hiring quite contentious was that Auburn interviewed Turner Gill, football coach at Buffalo, a black candidate.
Turner Gill had a record of 8-5 this year, defeating former undefeated team Ball State to win the MAC Championship. In Chizik's TWO years at Iowa State, he didn't amass the same amount of wins that Gill did in one year. Clearly on paper Gill would have been the best candidate. I have heard that Gill has commented that he felt his interview at Auburn was a token interview. After the selection of Chizik, former alum and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley came out and said that the hiring of Chizik was racially motivated. I believe that it was.
I was watching Outside the Lines on ESPN last week and Mark Schlabach, ESPN College Football writer said that he had spoken to several SEC coaches that believed that Turner Gill would not get hired. And not only because he was black, but also because he was married to a white woman. Now these are other coaches. Clearly there must be some truth to the issue if other coaches commented on it.
I am offended, confused and shocked at how ridiculous college football coaching has become. I believe that colleges should implement the "Rooney Rule" much in the same way that the NFL has. The Rooney Rule says that all organizations must interview one black candidate before they make their choices. While this may not solve the issue in college football, it might begin to change some things. But clearly something needs to be done. Because this issue is quite problematic.
I believe that we as a country have come very far in race relations. But as long as major leadership positions are clearly marked "No Blacks Allowed" then we have considerable work to do. I feel very proud that I can tell my brothers that they can become the President of the United States. I feel proud that I can say to them that the highest office in the land is attainable for blacks. I feel very sad that in the same breath, at the same time, in this same historic moment for this country and this world that I can look at them and say they can not become head football coaches for Division 1 schools. The audacity of hope indeed.