“Black prospects often have the same credentials, or more, as white prospects. But black coaches are left out of the loop when hiring takes place. So, the perception has been that white coaches are qualified and black coaches are not, which is wrong.”
One of the most well-known examples of an outstanding African American head coach left out of Division 1-A consideration was Grambling State’s Eddie Robinson, who was a coach in the Deep South from 1941—1997. His stellar career at the Division I-AA level boasted more wins than Caucasian coaching legends Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, but he was never even offered an interview with a Division I-A school. “I’m not going to accuse everybody, but [there is racism] out there and we’d be foolish to say it’s not,” asserts Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches Association (BCA).
Richard Lapchick, chairman of the sports business management program at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and founder of the Northeastern University Center for the Study of Sport in Society, points out that another flaw in the system is the lack of a national search when a university is in the market for a new coach, resulting in ADs, presidents, and alumni choosing a candidate who’s comfortable and familiar. Lapchick says that a white president or AD quickly seeking to fill a coaching position will frequently turn to a familiar pool of candidates who are also likely to be white.
According to Chuck Bell, athletic director at San Jose State University, the breakdown also occurs at the coordinator-assistant coach level. He cites the 2003 Racial and Gender Report Card, compiled by the Center for the Study of Sport in Society, which states that only 22.7% of Division 1-A’s coaching staff was African American, compared to 74.6% for whites during the 2000—2001 season. “The bottom line is, the improvement of these dismal numbers has to be a priority in the administrator’s mind — that it’s for the betterment of the student athletes — and not necessarily trying to meet boosters’ expectations.”
Lapchick points the finger at college presidents as well as athletic directors. “There seems to be a culture in college football [not] to think out of the box and take some risks like college basketball did.” He cites the successes of African American coaches John Thompson (who guided Princeton to the basketball league championship and the NCAA tournament in his first season as a head coach) and John Chaney (who has a winning percentage of .720 with Cheyney State and Temple University) in the 1980s. “Other athletic directors saw that these coaches can keep alumni involved, they can keep fans coming to the games, and they can win and do it honorably.”
Lapchick says very few athletic directors have been willing to take the risk fearing that black football head coaches can’t raise money and won’t be able to keep the alumni happy and contributing.
The crusade to increase the numbers of African American head coaches — particularly at the pro and college ranks — isn’t