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Commentary: Colleges block black coaches out ... again

  • Story Highlights
  • Universities should try to find best people for head coaching jobs, allow them to apply
  • Few minority coaches have gotten a shot at top assistant jobs on college, pro levels
  • Process is unfair, as this exclusion has kept them from becoming head coaches
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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(CNN) -- I was one of the 85,000-plus on hand at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, the day after Thanksgiving to see my alma mater, Texas A&M, beat our arch-rival, the University of Texas, 38-30.

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Roland S. Martin: Division I-A colleges and universities are quick to field black ball players, but not black coaches.

After that thrilling win, A&M head coach Dennis Franchione tendered his resignation, ending a five-year run that didn't live up to the billing and, especially, his $2 million annual check.

Three days later, Mike Sherman, the offensive coordinator for the Houston Texans and a former Texas A&M assistant coach, was introduced as the new head coach.

But don't think Texas A&M is alone in zeroing in on one candidate in a supposed "national search."

Six hours after resigning from the University of Arkansas after 15 years, Houston Nutt had a new job in the Southeastern Conference as head of Ole Miss. They didn't even bother to announce a search.

What's wrong with this picture? Many of you may say nothing. But for black and other minority coaches in college football, and even the NFL, it's déjà vu: another high-profile head coaching job opens up, and they don't even get a shot to interview for the job.

This continuing exclusion of minority coaches is indicative of Division I-A colleges and universities, which are quick to field black ball players, but on the sidelines, you might as well forget about it.

Of the 119 Division I-A colleges, just six have African-Americans as head coaches. In 2006, it was five; three in 2005; five in 2004; and four in 2003. In 1997, there were eight.

After being unceremoniously dumped by Notre Dame after three years, Tyrone Willingham was hired by the University of Washington. The other black coaches are: Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State (after his alma mater, the University of Alabama, didn't choose him); Turner Gill at the University of Buffalo; Karl Dorrell at UCLA; Randy Shannon at the University of Miami; and Ron Prince at Kansas State.

And when a black head coach does get a shot, you probably can forget it being at a top-tier program or one that is still in relatively good shape.

Even Penn State's Joe Paterno recognized that fact when he advised one of his assistants, Ron Dickerson, not to take the head coaching job at Temple 15 years ago.

"I said, 'Ron, black coaches have got to get good jobs. They can't turn bad jobs around all the time,' " Paterno told AtlanticMirror.com.

But Dickerson didn't listen. He took the job at Temple, a weak football team for years, and now wishes he listened to Joe Pa.

Athletic directors and college presidents will be quick to say that race has nothing to do with it, but the facts are the facts, and race has to be examined when it's this obvious.

Take the case of Norm Chow.

As offensive coordinator for the University of Southern California, he was the mastermind of an explosive team that won back-to-back national championships in four years featuring two Heisman Trophy winners. When he worked at Brigham Young in the 1970s, he tutored future NFL quarterbacks such Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer and future pro football Hall of Famer Steve Young. But when it came time to fill head coaching jobs in college, Chow's phone barely rang. Now he is the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, and he still doesn't get a nibble.

Did I mention that Chow is Asian-American?

The NFL finally decided to do something about this problem (after it was threatened with a lawsuit by Johnnie Cochran and other attorneys) when it adopted "The Rooney Rule" in 2002, which mandates that each team considering head coaches interview at least one minority candidate. Today, there are six black head coaches in the NFL: Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts; Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears; Romeo Crennell, Cleveland Browns; Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals; Herm Edwards, Kansas City Chiefs; and Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers. That's down one from when Dennis Green led the Arizona Cardinals and Art Shell directed the Oakland Raiders. (Tomlin is in his first year.)

That means that 32 NFL teams have the same number of black coaches as 119 Division I-A programs.

The university athletic directors and college presidents will be quick to say that race has nothing to do with it and that they look for the most qualified person. But we know that not to be the case.

Other barriers exist.

For instance, Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne made it clear that he wanted someone with previous head coaching experience. Fine. But because black coaches have been excluded for years, so few have gotten a shot at top assistant jobs on the college and pro levels, which has kept them from becoming head coaches. So by making such a statement, he effectively eliminated nearly every black coach from consideration. And if that is the stipulation by every other AD or college president, we will never see more coaches because so few get the shot in college and the NFL.

Bottom line: the process if flawed and is inherently unfair.

On the football field, if you ran faster, can throw it farther, are more accurate and can hit harder, you get the starting job. That's called an equal playing field. But on the sidelines, the good ol' boys club reigns, and that's a fraternity that keeps many with my skin tone out.

Go right ahead and send me your e-mails complaining about me playing the race card. But you should be asking yourself why universities won't open these "national searches" up to find the best people and allow them to apply. All of them.

Roland S. Martin is a nationally award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University, and he is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." You can read more of his columns at www.rolandsmartin.com.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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