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Halfway Home for Black Coaches

October 4, 2002 Columns No Comments

Halfway Home

by Brian Strong

“If Mike Krzyzewski can help Tommy Amaker with a career move, then why is it that Lou Holtz can’t seem to help out [his assistant] Charlie Strong?”…

It’s a strong point that was presented to viewers by CBS’ Tim Brando, as he and studio partner Spencer Tillman recently mulled over the progress of minorities in coaching.

On the one hand, Brando’s comment says many negative things about the state of football, one of this country’s two most popular college sports. With all due respect to Tyrone Willingham’s recent coup at Notre Dame, the glaring numbers – 4 black coaches out of 117 – are still nothing short of ugly and an intolerable embarrassment to sports culture and society in general.

On the other hand, a.k.a. the relatively bright side, Brando’s comments do lend a certain deserved amount of credit to the sport of college basketball. Believe me, I know that college basketball, and most sports for that matter, are still not where they could be and will be with regard to hiring black head coaches. As Miami’s Perry Clark said, prior to Indiana’s Mike Davis and Oklahoma’s Kelvin Sampson meeting in last year’s Final Four, “I’m not so sure two minority coaches [in the Final Four] is as significant as some people make it out to be. I think it would be significant if we get to the point where something like this isn’t even noteworthy.”

However, with 93 black men in the top spots at the 324 NCAA division one men’s basketball programs, we should still give credit to the sport of college basketball for cracking open the door. As fans of college hoops, we can take some pride in the fact that twenty-plus years ago, the sport of college basketball allowed high-profile outspoken minority coaches like John Chaney, John Thompson, and Nolan Richardson to take over the spotlight. Those men begat Tubby Smith, Sampson, and Ernie Kent’s (Ore.) generation, who have been followed by Davis, Stan Heath (Arkansas), and the crop of younger guys who are attempting to take things even further today. Meanwhile, the heads of college football programs and their professional equivalents in the NFL continue to make a mockery of the talent and desire to lead that so many black coaches in their sport possess.

College basketball, as I said before, it’s not where it could be with this situation, but it’s getting encouragingly closer and closer to the point where black coaches are just plain coaches. They’re still in the business of groundbreaking, but their most important business, which at last check was booming for this group, is in the Elite Eight and Final Four. Davis, Sampson, Kent, and Heath’s teams accounted for half of the squads who were at least one game away from the Final Four last season.

It’s all a steady progression, which has taken black coaches from being stereotyped as just “great motivators” and “great recruiters” to men who have gained respect as a group in this game. And we can hopefully look forward to the day when the National Association of Black Coaches will be able to tone down its aggressive lobbying and I won’t have to write anymore ridiculous columns about how great it is that blacks are doing well in coaching. It will just be the standard.

Conversely, at the rate football’s going – 5% black Division 1-A head coaches in ’95-’96 down to 2% now – football websites won’t be writing a column like this one praising this type of progress in their sport for another twenty years. Athletic directors will either allow their football programs to follow the path that basketball has laid or risk being left in the dust with the Old Boys Network.

So, once again, congrats to college hoops for being ahead of the game. Just make sure to keep increasing the score.


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