Turner Gill tried for years to stake claim as a college football head coach.
During his 13 seasons serving as an assistant at Nebraska, Gill had constructed an impressive resume.
- ESPN rated Gill one of the nation’s top 10 recruiters in 2000 and 2001.
- He tutored quarterbacks Tommie Frazier, Jamaal Lord and 2001 Heisman Trophy Award winner Tim Crouch, each of whom ranks among the best quarterbacks in Nebraska history.
- Gill was a finalist in 2002 for the Frank Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.
- He helped coach the Cornhuskers to national championships in 1994, 1995 and 1997.
Still, he couldn’t land a head coaching position. Four schools – Missouri, New Mexico State, Sam Houston State and Nebraska – interviewed Gill, but each time the institution passed.
“That didn’t bother me and it still doesn’t bother me,” said Gill, who added that he used his Christian faith to keep his head high.
Finally, Buffalo, a program that had strung together seven consecutive losing seasons, took a chance on Gill, hiring the former Nebraska quarterback in December 2005.
Gill, an African-American, earned a position uncommon to minorities – that of a Division I-A football head coach.
Only 22 African-Americans have ever served as head coach of a Division I-A football program. There are currently just seven minority coaches among the 119 Division I-A schools and only six among the 122 Division I-AA programs.
These numbers so disturbed the Black Coaches and Administrators, a non-profit organization dedicated to development of minorities at all athletic levels, that the organization called for action when it released its fourth annual Hiring Report Card two weeks ago.
Since the BCA began releasing this report, it has graded 54 percent of Division I schools. Of the 117 vacancies graded, only eight have been filled by minorities.
“I think that it’s made the hiring process more transparent than it had been previously,” BCA executive director Floyd Keith said of Hiring Report Card. “I think the general public is more in-tuned with the situation we face. I say we, meaning, it’s an issue that should be on the social conscience of people when they see the numbers.”
While minorities make up an underserved portion of coaches across all sports compared to their participation rates as players, the numbers in college football are particularly glaring.
Minorities compose just 6 percent of Division I-A football head coaches. This number jumps to 19 percent in the National Football League and to 25 percent among Division I men’s basketball.
THE ROONEY RULE
Last January, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith became the first two black head coaches to square off in the Super Bowl, perhaps American sports’ grandest stage.
The moment was hailed as a giant step for minorities everywhere, and the NFL received praise for its Rooney Rule, a doctrine requiring franchises to interview at least one minority for each head coaching vacancy or face fines.
Since its 2002 adoption, the number of minority NFL head coaches rose from two to a record seven at the start of the 2006 season. There are currently six minority head coaches. Only one club, the Detroit Lions, has been fined for violating the Rooney Rule.
As the NFL basked in this glory, the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association began discussing a way to improve the hiring practices of its member institutions.
Executive director Dutch Baughman said the association is seeking to set suggested standards for its member institutions to follow when hiring football coaches. He said the guidelines will be similar to the Rooney Rule in regard to interviewing minority candidates for each vacancy, but won’t feature penalties for failure to comply.
“We can identify acceptable standards and encourage our member institutions to follow those standards,” Baughman said. “But we are not in a position to mandate to those institutions what their hiring standards are. The schools already have protocol in place that identifies the process they will follow in the hiring process.”
The association has not set a timetable for completion, Baughman said, because it wants to make sure all opinions are heard. A number of the association’s former presidents have headed the assignment. The BCA and NCAA have also been heavily involved.
Keith said he’s pleased the association is searching for a solution, even if penalties cannot be assessed. Though the standards would only apply to Division I-A institutions, Keith said he hopes they’d be a starting point for improving hiring practices among other divisions as well.
“We’d like to see that transcend across the board, which would be positive,” Keith said. “There is a lot of influence by the Division I-A schools. The light that shines there is pretty bright.”
ROLE OF INSTITUTIONS
Among Division I-A schools, Temple has shone as an example of a university committed to diversity among its athletic department.
Temple hosted a NCAA diversity workshop for local athletic administrators and student-athletes last February, and earned an Overall Excellence in Diversity Award from the Laboratory for Diversity in Sport at Texas A&M in 2006.
Minorities represent 36 percent of Temple’s full-time coaches, 37.5 percent of its senior staff and 38 percent of its administrative staff.
Temple also received an ‘A’ from the BCA for its hire of football coach Al Golden in December 2005.
The BCA evaluates schools in five categories – communication, hiring/search committee, candidates interviewed, reasonable time and affirmative action. Institutions hiring a minority received bonus points.
Temple scored well because its athletic department contacted the BCA for suggested candidates, had minorities on its search committee and held a search that lasted nearly two months.
“We were in regular communication with the BCA and their executive director about any kind of leads that he might have for us,” Director of Athletics Bill Bradshaw said. “There are people that we might want to interview that we didn’t know about in different parts of the country. So, we were able to get those signals out pretty good.”
Two prominent minorities, Clarence Armbrister and JoAnne Epps, served on Temple’s football search committee. Ambrister serves a senior vice president and Epps is an associate dean for academic affairs at the Beasley School of Law.
“They have a real respect for the student-athlete, for the philosophies of what intercollegiate sports can mean to the mission of the university,” Bradshaw said. “All of those things lined up. So, again, Temple is very fortunate as opposed to some other institutions where you may not have people of that caliber and experience of Clay Armbrister and JoAnne Epps.”
Bradshaw said the process of landing more minorities in head coaching positions is a “two-way street.” Minority candidates must take the necessary steps in establishing themselves as legitimate candidates, but institutions must take the initiative to make that path easier, he said.
“Some [schools] don’t pay the kind of compensation that you need to pay to get the very high quality candidates,” Bradshaw said. “Their campus environment might not be there. There might not be a lot of minority people already on the staffs or the student body. So, when minority candidates visit the campus, it might not be as attractive as it could be.”
Bradshaw spoke at the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association convention last June, offering such suggestions to administrators in attendance.
“We need to be responsible as institutions for ensuring that we take every lead possible and make sure that the searches are fair,” Bradshaw added. “Head coaches, I think too, need to reward minority coaches who have done a good job as coordinators, so that that pool is much bigger.”
THE DUNGY TREE
While Bradshaw said institutions must make better efforts to search for potential minority candidates, he admitted the pool could be deepened by getting more minorities into coordinator positions.
The numbers back up his assessment.
In 2006, minorities made up 14.9 percent of Division I-A coordinators, but 28.5 percent of assistant coaches.
“There’s a lot of emphasis and a lot of pressure to make sure that minority candidates are given every consideration,” Bradshaw said. “But it’s not as easy to hire somebody who’s just a linebackers coach or a defensive backs coach as it is to hire a coordinator, who’s made decisions on one or both sides of the ball [during] their career as an assistant coach.”
That’s an area the BCA stressed in its Hiring Report Card. The BCA pointed to the effect Dungy has had among minorities in the NFL, deeming it ‘The Dungy Tree.’
As the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996 to 2001, Dungy awarded several minorities with spots on his coaching staff. Three of them – Herm Edwards, Mike Tomlin and Lovie Smith – are now head coaches in the NFL.
DeAndre Smith, an African-American promoted as an associate head coach at Miami (Ohio) prior to the collegiate season, said college football needs minority coaches to follow Dungy’s lead.
“You like to see that if guys do have an opportunity to become head coaches that they bring guys along with them as well,” Smith said.
Gill has done so at Buffalo. Four members of his coaching staff, including assistant head coach Danny Barrett and defensive coordinator Jimmy Williams, are black.
Gill said he feels no responsibility to hire minorities, but understands their status in college football.
“I don’t have a responsibility to help anyone,” Gill said. “We go out and hire the best people we know that fit into my vision as a coach.”
Smith, who aspires to be a head coach, said athletic directors need to place less emphasis on previous head coaching experiences, especially when considering minorities.
“Those guys need to be more open-minded about that,” he said. “A lot of times, [minorities] get that label that we don’t have head coaching experience. . . . We can’t get experience if we don’t have a chance to be a head coach.”
Though only a few minorities can list head coaching experience on their resumes, programs exist to assist minorities advance up the coaching ranks.
One of them is the NFL Minority Fellowship Program, which provides minorities training camp positions each summer. Coaches are assigned duties that reflect those of actual NFL assistants, including planning and directing workouts, preparing preseason game strategies and assessing video tape.
Two of Temple’s assistant coaches, Andrew Dees and Curtis Bray, have taken part in this program. Bray served Denver in 2003. Dees has participated in the program with three teams – Buffalo (2000), Miami (2004) and Pittsburgh (2005). He said the program helped broaden his contact base.
“You want to get ahead in the world, you need to know some people who can [help you],” Dees said. “It’s a good way to network.”
However, he doesn’t totally buy into the argument that because 53.5 percent of Division I-A players were minorities last season, a similar number of head coaches should be minorities as well.
“I think it is what it is,” Dees said of the situation. “You become a coordinator, and if you do a good job as a coordinator, you become a head coach. The business is what the business is, that if you’re good enough, you’ll be a head coach. Not everyone is head coach material.”
He also doesn’t worry about the fact that minorities might have to be more careful of the actions they take or the words they speak.
“I try to be the same guy everyday,” he said. “I have one rule in life – treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s my rule.”
The BCA and the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association are attempting to do just that for minorities in college football. The statistics show a problem exists. Now, they’re focused on solving it.
“I think we’ll look back in five or 10 years from now and see just like in basketball,” Bradshaw said. “. . . As some of these things get together more and it’s always front-and-center as a high priority, I think it will be a lot easier for it to happen.”
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.