Commentary

Few FBS offers for black coaches

Originally Published: January 19, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

DeWayne Walker was overdue for a head-coaching job in college football. That's what everyone said. The former UCLA assistant had done too much solid work designing defenses and recruiting talent not to earn a promotion to the big chair.

DeWayne Walker
AP Photo/Shari VialpandoNew Mexico State's DeWayne Walker is one of four black head coaches taking over a program in 2009.
Then he was hired this offseason at New Mexico State, where the big chair has been an electric chair for nearly half a century. The Aggies own the longest streak without a bowl bid among current FBS schools, having last played a postseason game in 1960. The past eight coaches at NMSU all left the school with losing records.

Ron English was overdue, too. That's what everyone said. He'd invigorated the defenses at Michigan and Louisville in recent years, and his players loved the guy. He was ready to call the shots for a big-time program.

Then he was hired this offseason at Eastern Michigan, where they shoot only blanks. They've had 13 straight losing seasons at EMU, never winning more than four games in a year since 1995. The past eight coaches who were in charge for at least one full season there all departed with losing records.

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Mike Locksley was overdue as well. That's what everyone said. The recruiting dynamo and offensive coordinator who helped send Illinois to the 2008 Rose Bowl just needed a chance to show what he could do as a head coach.

Then he was hired this offseason at New Mexico, where even Dennis Franchione couldn't carve out a winning overall record in six seasons. The Lobos' ledger over the past quarter-century: 118 victories, 179 defeats.

What do Walker, English and Locksley all have in common, beyond incredibly challenging first head-coaching jobs? They're all black coaches.

Coincidence?

What do you think?

Even with the hires of the above three men, plus Mike Haywood at Miami (Ohio), the number of black head coaches in college football remains an embarrassment: seven out of 120. But what's even worse is the number of black head coaches working at schools that have a chance to win at the highest level.

Or just to win, period.

Bottom line: Of the few head-coaching jobs blacks get in college football, most are bad ones.

Outside of Randy Shannon, who just completed his second season in charge at Miami, there are no black coaches among the other 64 schools in BCS conferences. Those are the schools that offer the most money, the most exposure, the most prestige and the best chances to win. They just don't offer many chances to blacks.

Randy Shanon
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIRandy Shannon is the only black head coach at a BCS conference program.

Ten jobs in BCS conferences have turned over heading into 2009. All were filled by white coaches, eight of whom have never been a head coach at the FBS level. Last year, all 11 BCS-conference jobs went to white men.

Meanwhile, black coaches are scrambling to take jobs in gridiron gulags like Las Cruces, N.M., and Ypsilanti, Mich. Of the seven programs currently headed by black coaches, four (Buffalo, New Mexico, Eastern Michigan and New Mexico State) rank in the bottom 20 of ESPN.com's freshly updated all-time Prestige Ratings.

(To briefly explain, the Prestige Ratings, which will be rolled out this week, are an attempt to objectively quantify the success -- or lack thereof -- of every FBS program. ESPN Research devised a numerical method of ranking the FBS programs since the 1936 season.)

The all-time rankings of the seven programs led by black coaches:

10. Miami (Fla.)
47. Houston
48. Miami (Ohio)
103. Buffalo
104. New Mexico
113. Eastern Michigan
117. New Mexico State

The rankings of those seven during the BCS era (i.e., since 1998):

4. Miami (Fla.)
54. Miami (Ohio)
71. Houston
93. New Mexico
103. Buffalo
110. New Mexico State
113. Eastern Michigan

Good luck, guys.

In major-college football history, exactly two marquee jobs have gone to black coaches: Oklahoma hired John Blake in 1996, and Notre Dame hired Tyrone Willingham in 2002. Each was given three seasons before being booted.

While it's obvious that Oklahoma made an upgrade when it replaced Blake with Bob Stoops, the same cannot be said at Notre Dame, at least not yet. Charlie Weis' winning percentage is worse after four seasons than Willingham's was through three.

The vast majority of the time, the big-ticket jobs go to white men. Black guys get jobs like Jim Caldwell did in the 1990s. He got Wake Forest.

Caldwell followed 10 consecutive coaches with losing records by compiling a losing record of his own over eight years. But that didn't stop the Indianapolis Colts from naming him to succeed Tony Dungy as the leader of one of the league's best franchises.

Turner Gill
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesTurner Gill turned around Buffalo, but will he get a shot at coaching a big-time program?

(The NFL remains the vastly more progressive job market for blacks. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will be the third black coach of the past six coaches to appear in a Super Bowl.)

There are some who argue that any head-coaching job is a good head-coaching job. Among those in that camp is John Wooten, who spent 44 years working in the NFL as a player or an administrator. Today he's the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance -- a 6-year-old organization dedicated to the advancement of minorities in the coaching and administrative ranks of the NFL -- but he keeps close tabs on the college coaching ranks, as well.

"If you want to be a coach and you get the opportunity to coach at Miami of Ohio, you take the job and do the best you can," Wooten said. "And if you're a top coach, you elevate the program and move on from there.

"If you're sitting around waiting on Tennessee and Southern Cal, when is that going to happen? You're wasting your time."

Wooten's point is valid: Beggars cannot be choosers. But the living, breathing counterpoint is Buffalo coach Turner Gill. He's elevated that previously awful program to a bowl-bound level, yet still he remains mired in the MAC.

And if Buffalo regresses in 2009 without four-year starting quarterback Drew Willy, Gill could lose the luster he gained in '08. Even that luster wasn't enough for nearby Syracuse or for Auburn, which interviewed Gill but opted to hire Mr. 5-19, Gene Chizik.

When it comes to Auburn, Wooten is not outraged on Gill's behalf. The guy he is outraged for -- with good reason -- is Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. After the Gators shut down the most prolific offense in history to beat Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game, Strong's continued inability to get a head-coaching job borders on the criminal.

"He's right there in the conference," Wooten said. "How can you pass up Charlie Strong? … I truly thought Sylvester [Croom] had broken that [the color barrier in the SEC]. But after what happened at Auburn, I guess not.

"When you bust your butt and do everything you can to prepare to get a head-coaching job, and when you know the only reason, in your heart, that you didn't get that job is because you're a minority? It hurts. Because it goes against everything you believe. You believe that hard work will be rewarded."

Hard work often goes unrewarded for black college football coaches.

And sometimes even when it is rewarded, you wind up with a dead-end job in Las Cruces.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.