new; the BCA has championed the cause for years. In fact, in 2002 the BCA sent a comprehensive list of the top African
American coaching candidates to every Division I-A president and AD. Thirteen head-coaching vacancies were up for grabs that year, but at the end of the day, only one African American got the nod: Willingham — one of the few who’d already had a head-coaching job. But even that was only after George O’Leary, who’s white, resigned as Notre Dame’s head coach when it came to light that he had doctored his résumé. (Willingham declined our request to be interviewed for this story.)
THE GAME PLAN
Attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri have entered the fray, releasing a report blasting the NCAA and NFL’s hiring practices involving black head coaches, and threatening to sue the NFL if it did not adhere to their suggestions to remedy the situation. The report, called Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities, was compiled by the Washington, D.C., law firm of Mehri & Skalet, and addressed the league’s hiring and firing of minority coaches over the last 15 years.
Simply put, Cochran contends that there is an unquestioned higher standard for African American coaches in the NFL, even though they average 1.1 more wins per year and 28% more playoff seasons than their white counterparts, according to the report.
In the NCAA, however, it’s been a mixed performance for black coaches. While Willingham succeeded in leading his team to the Gator Bowl in his inaugural season as head coach, Bobby Williams, who coached for Michigan State, was fired in November 2002 after compiling an overall record of 16—17 in three seasons. John Blake also was released from coaching at the Univers
ity of Oklahoma in 1998, after a 13—21 record in three seasons.
A report, issued in October 2002 by the BCA, along with the Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee, the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association, and Mehri and Cochran (see sidebar), looks to apply as much pressure as possible on the NFL and NCAA, using political and economic means as well as public opinion. The report also includes incentives and proposals the league can put in place to help spur the hiring of African Americans as head coaches. These proposals include extra draft picks for teams with a diverse front office and league requirements in which team owners would include diverse racial groups when interviewing candidates for coaching positions.
A similar strategy worked for Mehri, who is best known for successfully pushing racial discrimination suits to the top of corporate America’s agenda. Despite the academic institutions involved, collegiate sports are big business. Football represented 69% of all revenues generated by men’s sports programs in 2001, for an average of $10.92 million for each Division I-A school, according to the Racial & Gender Report Card.
Even though Cochran’s involvement is widely viewed as a much-needed wake-up call to a league where over 90% of its coaches are white, not everyone is convinced his connection is the ultimate cure-all.