I don't normally find myself agreeing with Charles Barkley on many topics, but I couldn't agree with him any more when it came to the hiring of Gene Chizik as head football coach at Auburn, Barkley's alma mater. How can anyone not think that the color or Chizik's skin played a bigger role in his hiring than his laughable record as a head coach?
There's no question that Chizik is a good coach. He was the defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2004 when the Tigers went 13-0 and won the SEC title. In 2005 he was the assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator at Texas when the Longhorns went 13-0 and won the national championship.
This hire would have been celebrated two or three years ago. All the pundits would have lauded Auburn for hiring one of the best defensive coordinators in the country to turn around the program. The problem is that its 2008, and Chizik is getting his "dream job" after going 5-19 in two seasons as the head coach at Iowa State. After beating South Dakota State and Kent State to begin this season, the Cyclones went 0-10 under Chizik.
If Chizik were black, there's no chance he would be given a head coaching job at a perennial power after going 5-19 with two straight last place finishes in his division. If he were black, he would be given one, maybe two more years to turn things around before being fired and forced to take a job as an assistant somewhere else. Chances are good that would have been his last opportunity to be a head coach at a BCS conference school. If he was lucky enough to get another break, it would probably be at a school with a football history as maligned as Iowa State's
But Chizik is not black, and so winning just 20 pecent of his games as a head coach -- and never winning a road game -- didn't make him a failure, it made him "the right guy for the job." How many black coaches in the history of any sport have been "the right guy for the job" after winning just 20 percent of their games?
Some might argue that Chizik is a great defensive coach and tireless recruiter who was simply stuck in a thankless position at Iowa State. Well, welcome to the plight of most black coaches who must take thankless jobs at downtrodden programs in order to to become head coaches. Such was the case for Turner Gill, who interviewed for the Auburn job but was turned down. Gill took over a Buffalo program that was probably the worst in college football history and best known for having the nation's longest losing streak just three years before he took the job. Gill has improved the Bulls by three wins in each of his three seasons as the head coach; this season he led Buffalo to its first MAC Championship and a win over undefeated Ball State to earn the school's first bowl bid since joining the FBS.
As an assistant at Nebraska, where he was also Heisman finalist as a quarterback in 1983, Gill won three national championships and was the quarterbacks coach for Eric Crouch when he won the Heisman and Tommie Frazier when he won back-to-back national titles. He was rated as one the top recruiters in the nation and was a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award, given annually to the top assistant coach in the nation.
On paper, he's basically as hot as Chizik was in his assistant days -- only Gill has the head coaching success to go with it. He also didn't assure his administration and players that he wouldn't leave them for Auburn, as Chizik reportedly did last week. But again, Chizik is not black, Gill is, and that's why Gill is still coaching Buffalo despite being a miracle-worker, while Chizik was introduced as the new coach at Auburn despite losing his last 10 games as a head coach. That same hiring logic is also why there are currently only four black head coaches in the FBS, and only one at a BCS conference school.