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Black football coaches have harder path to top jobs, ASU analysis finds

Global Sport Institute project finds that 22% of top Power 5 football jobs went to members of minority groups

September 25, 2020

A new report out of Arizona State University shows how Black men have a more difficult path to college head football coaching jobs than white men, who are hired with less playing and coaching experience.

“We wanted to take a look at what leadership looks like in college head coaching,” said Karen Gallagher, senior researcher with the Global Sport Institute at ASU, which collected the data in conjunction with the Paul Robeson Research Center for Innovative Academic and Athletic Prowess.

“You can see the greatest gains in 10 seasons is in the hiring of white coaches, but we wanted to consider factors like playing experience and coaching experience.”

The report, "Field Studies: A Ten-Season Snapshot of NCAA Power Five Coaching Hires," looked at head coach hiring patterns over the past 10 seasons in the Power Five conferences (Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference). The analysis found:

  • There were relatively few coaches of color hired as head coaches at the highest level of college football — 24 out of 111 hires (21.6%) in the 65 schools in five conferences over 10 years. Of those, 21 were Black and three were Latino.
  • Head coaches who are white were hired with proportionally lower levels of playing and coaching experience than their Black and Latino peers.
  • When coaches of color were hired, their tenure was shorter on average than that of white coaches.
  • The study found that 39% of the 65 teams in the five conferences have never hired a head football coach of color. Nearly two-thirds of schools in the Southeastern Conference have not.

“For white coaches, there were a lot more pathways, including not having significant playing experience, which was noteworthy,” Gallagher said. She spoke at a webinar on Sept. 24 in which a panel of experts discussed the results.

Ken Shropshire, CEO of the Global Sport Institute, and the panelists reflected on how their emotions and their discussion of racial justice were impacted by the news on Wednesday that the police officers who shot Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, in March would not be charged with her killing.

“Our hearts are heavy as we do this. In this work, we know it’s all intertwined,” Shropshire said.

“It’s the shape of the river. How do we correct the course to address all these things? Where having head coaches sits on the pantheon of problems, I don’t know, but it’s all part of the river.”

Panelist C. Keith Harrison, a professor at the University of Central Florida who oversaw data collection for the project, said that the numbers showed how white coaches “get in at the ground level.”

“Many played in Division 3, Division 2, NAIA,” he said. “It’s like Dr. Harry Edwards has said, for us to have an opportunity to coach or be in the (broadcast) booth, we have to have five Super Bowl rings or championship rings.”

The panel included Richard Lapchick, CEO of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, who was among the first researchers to track hiring of minorities in sports and make the results public, starting in the 1980s. Back then, he pointed out the lack of minorities among general managers, coaches and front office and league office personnel, despite the fact that most players are Black.

“It’s something the general public can grasp rather than systemic racism or the history of slavery,” he said. “They can talk about this as football fans.”

Fitz Hill, a former head football coach at San Jose State University, said that Lapchick’s work in 1988 was an “awakening moment” for him.

“I used that data to create the game plan to become a head football coach and I realized there was a stereotyped perception of African American coaches,” said Hill, who was president of Arkansas Baptist University from 2006 to 2016.

“To be honest, that’s why I got a doctorate degree. Black coaches are evaluated as a group and white coaches are evaluated as individuals. I said, ‘How will I make myself stand out?  I have to be an anomaly.’“

Hill forged relationships with white coaches, at one point taking a graduate assistant position at the University of Arkansas that paid $50 a month and sleeping on the floor of an assistant coach’s hotel room during away games. That “sponsorship” was key in getting a chance at the head coaching position at San Jose State, he said.

“I probably shouldn’t have taken that job because the resources weren’t what I was used to, coming from the SEC,” he said. “But because I knew the data so well, I knew that Black coaches don’t get many opportunities. When they offered me the job, there were only three Black head coaches at the time.”

Hill said being the “first” is a burden.

“They’ll probably never hire another Black coach because of my lack of success,” he said. 

“We’re looked at as an experiment. If we’re successful, it’s like a blue-chip stock that’s taken off. If not, the experiment failed.”

Sam Sachs, founder of the No Hate Zone organization, described how he worked to get legislation passed in Oregon in 2009 that required any state-funded university to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring a head football coach. It’s based on the NFL’s “Rooney Rule.”

“They amended it to include all sports,” he said.

“Since then, we’ve seen the first Black head football coach, the first Black track coach, the first Black woman athletic director, at Portland State. We’ve had a lot of successes in the last 10 years.”

Lapchick said he’s been trying to get the NCAA to adopt a similar rule for several years.

“There’s been total resistance,” he said. “But I think the precedent of graduation rates is a good example. The NCAA said in the ‘70s and ‘80s that they would never stand for the publication of graduation rates. Then Sen. Tom Bradley passed the Student Right to Know Act and the NCAA was publishing graduation rates.

“The last thing they want is government intervention.”

Hill lamented that hiring of Black coaches is regressing. He wrote a book, “Crackback: How College Football Blindsides the Hopes of Black Coaches” in 2012.

“I actually thought in 2011, when my book went to the publisher and we had 17 Black head football coaches (across all divisions) in the NCAA, that in 2020, ‘Crackback’ may be irrelevant,” he said.

“We’re still saying we need legislation to include me in the process?”

In the Power 5 schools, four Black coaches were hired both in 2010 and 2011, but only one or two were hired per year after that through 2019.

Hill said he believes that some key hires led to a kind of complacency, sometimes called “the Obama effect.”

“When Kevin Sumlin was hired at Texas A&M and Charlie Strong was hired at Texas, we got comfortable thinking we had reached that plateau. But we have to keep this on the front burner.”

Sumlin is now the head football coach at the University of Arizona. Five of the 12 head football coaches in the Pac-12 this season are Black: Sumlin, Herm Edwards at ASU, Karl Dorrell at the University of Colorado, Jimmy Lake at the University of Washington and David Shaw at Stanford. Mario Cristobal, a Latino man, is head coach at the University of Oregon.

Hill said he has been motivated to study the issue further.

“I’m going to do a ‘Crackback’ postgame report. How did we go back?”

The webinar and study are part of a Global Sport Matters project called "The Reset of College Sport."

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