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On the day after America reached a historic milestone in racial equality, electing its first-ever black president, the college football world took another step back toward the stone ages.
With the firing of Ron Prince at Kansas State, on the heels of Tyrone Willingham's dismissal at Washington, the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision is down to four African-American head coaches (Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom, Buffalo's Turner Gill, Miami's Randy Shannon and Houston's Kevin Sumlin). If 3-6 Mississippi State doesn't pull off an upset or two the rest of the way, Croom may soon suffer the same fate, in which case that number would drop to three.
Think about that. Three black head coaches out of 119 schools. Astonishing.
Just to be clear, race had nothing to do with the exits of either Willingham or Prince. The Washington coach had four years to turn around the Huskies and is currently 0-8. His employer had no choice. Prince's ouster seems unduly hasty, what with this being just his third season at the school, but his record is 16-18 and his teams have regressed every year. He'd lost the confidence of his fan base, particularly following last week's 51-21 loss to rival Kansas.
Meanwhile Croom, after going 9-25 in his first three seasons, seemed to have turned the corner last season when Mississippi State went 8-5, but if the Bulldogs regress back to 3-9 or 4-8 this year, the school will be well within reason to look in another direction.
The aforementioned schools are not the ones to blame for college football's embarrassing dearth of minority coaches. If anything, they're to be commended for being among the few to give black coaches an opportunity. But the downfalls of Prince and Willingham reinforce why it continues to be so difficult for both schools and coaches to make any serious inroads in rectifying the greater issue.
Prince and Willingham did not fail because they're black; they failed because ... at least half of all coaches do. Black or white, the ones that don't win games ultimately lose their jobs. The difference is, when Tommy Bowden and Phillip Fulmer lose their jobs, they're just two of 100-plus white coaches. When Prince and Willingham lose their jobs, the sport loses one-third of its black coaches.
How do you increase the number of black coaches when there's no guarantee in any given year of maintaining the current level?
Many have speculated why college football continues to lag so far behind the NFL and other sports in the area of minority hiring. Most theories usually center around the idea that an "old boy" mentality still hovers over the sport. I disagree. Most college administrators today are relatively young (in their 40s or 50s) and progressive.
However, their predecessors of 20 to 25 years ago were not, which is right around the time the typical, 40-something head coaching candidate of today would have needed to enter the profession. At that time, black people had little reason to believe a career in coaching would pay off for them, which likely caused a whole bunch of potentially promising coaches to choose another field. Hence, today's pool remains predominately white.
There are certainly no shortage of qualified black coaching candidates today, particularly at the coordinator level. Florida's Charlie Strong, Louisville's Ron English and UCLA's DeWayne Walker immediately come to mind. But the sheer number of white candidates remains much larger, and while it's entirely reasonable to implore schools with an opening to interview at least one minority candidate (i.e., an unofficial "Rooney Rule"), you can't force a school hire to a black coach if it doesn't truly believe him to be the best candidate.
Unfortunately, the only sure-fire way to increase the number of black coaches is for the current ones to keep winning. That's an entirely unfair brand of pressure to put on the shoulders of any coach.