Willingham wants change to declining number of minority coaches in college

Updated: November 14, 2008, 1:40 AM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Tyrone Willingham and Lorenzo Romar enjoyed a quiet, 10-minute talk in the first row of courtside seats inside the University of Washington's otherwise empty basketball arena.

Their chat on Thursday was symbolic yet unnoticed at this school, simply routine.

Willingham, the Huskies' football coach who has been fired effective at the end of the season, Romar, the men's basketball coach, and women's basketball coach Tia Jackson last year made Washington the nation's only major college to have African-Americans coaching the three biggest sports programs.

Moments after Willingham wished Romar a happy 50th birthday, he made it clear he was anything but happy with the progress of the nation's universities in hiring minority football coaches.

A report released by the Black Coaches and Administrators said Willingham's dismissal last month and the firing of Ron Prince at Kansas State -- also effective at season's end -- left the NCAA's top Bowl Subdivision with only four black head coaches, plus one Latino and one Pacific Islander. That's down from a peak of eight.

Minorities filled only four of last year's 31 coaching vacancies in NCAA Division I football, the report said.

"Obviously, it should be a great concern to all of us because there's a pool of resources in our country that's not being tapped," Willingham said before his Huskies, the only winless major college team, practiced for Saturday night's game against UCLA. "We've battled this for some time. At no time has that number been where it should be. In my estimation, that hurts all of us."

Willingham doesn't have a job beyond Washington's Dec. 6 season finale at California, but he does have a platform from which he can try to reverse the downward trend in minority hirings.

The 54-year-old was elected president of the American Football Coaches Association last winter and still has a few months left on his one-year term. Willingham has said he hasn't ruled out coaching somewhere next season, and he wants to make it easier for him and others to get hired.

"I want to make it a natural platform," he said. "I think that benefits all of us. There are no losers."

He said there is a movement within the AFCA to institute some form of the NFL's Rooney Rule, which requires that teams interview at least one minority candidate for each head coaching vacancy.

The NCAA said last week they can't legislate or enforce such a rule in college football.

"The NCAA does not hire coaches. The athletic directors [do]," NCAA vice president of diversity and inclusion Charlotte Westerhaus said.

Willingham wants to at least increase the odds of hiring by expanding the minority pool. He said the AFCA is looking at a plan that would seek compliance from university presidents, athletic directors, prominent boosters and others most influential in a school's big-business football program. That ambitious goal is why something like a "Rooney Rule" won't become reality in college football for at least a few years, he said.

"In the NFL, there is one team owner. There are a few more shareholders in college football," Willingham said with a wry smile.

"There's a push now. ... There are ways to do it."

But Willingham acknowledged such a policy would only get black candidates to sit with athletic directors for interviews. The BCA report noted almost one-third of the coaching candidates last year were minorities, yet again only four got hired.

"The true measure is when ADs actually hire head football coaches of color," Westerhaus said.

Some schools ignored minorities last year. That's why Mississippi, West Virginia and Dayton got "F" grades in the BCA's report.

Mississippi fired Ed Orgeron after last season and hired Houston Nutt without interviewing any minority candidates. Athletic director Pete Boone said at the time he regretted not going through the BCA's suggested interview process but felt he had to act quickly after Nutt resigned from Arkansas.

Dayton athletic director Ted Kissell said he expected the "F" grade after he promoted a coach who had been with the university for 32 years, 1980 Dayton graduate Rick Chamberlin, without interviewing anybody.

"Obviously, we've got to remake the system," Willingham said. "It's not working."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press