The numbers are staggering.
More than 50 percent of the players on Football Bowl Subdivision Championship (formerly known as Division I-A) teams are black, according to the Black Coaches and Administrators Web site.
Yet, only six of the 119 head coaches in the FBS are black. A seventh minority head coach, Mario Cristobal, is Latino.
How did this happen?
The answer is rather simple.
In terms of its hiring practices, college football as a whole is the least progressive sport in America.
Considering the fact that one of the greatest college football coaches of all-time is black, it’s utterly embarrassing that the landscape of one of the most popular sports in the nation is 95 percent white.
During his 57-year career at the helm of the Grambling State football program, Eddie Robinson became the first college football coach to attain 400 victories. He is one of only two coaches to accomplish that lofty feat.
Furthermore, in 1992, Robinson became the first black man to win the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. said he had been to the top of the mountain,” Robinson said upon accepting the award. “Well, I’ve been to the top of the mountain in my profession.”
Robinson, who passed away in April, was one of the few black men who had the opportunity to climb that mountain.
Many black men don’t even get a chance to see the mountain, let alone climb it.
So who’s to blame? The more appropriate question is – who’s not to blame?
The NCAA, athletic directors and university presidents should all be held responsible.
The NCAA spares no expense in maintaining the integrity of intercollegiate sports, instituting an assortment of rules and regulations which range from logical to arbitrary. But nowhere in the NCAA’s vast rulebook is there anything as progressive as the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which penalizes teams for not interviewing minorities for head coaching jobs. Cleveland’s Romeo Crennel, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, Chicago’s Lovie Smith and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin have all been hired since the rule was instituted in late 2002.
Meanwhile, the NCAA – in addition to the 119 FBS institutions – has remained asleep at the wheel.
Only 22 black coaches have presided on the sideline of FBS schools. Of 197 coaching vacancies since 1996, only 12 of those positions went to black candidates.
Current black college football coaches at the FBS level include Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom, UCLA’s Karl Dorrell, Buffalo’s Turner Gill, Kansas State’s Ron Prince, Miami’s Randy Shannon and Washington’s Ty Willingham.
Although aspiring black coaches can find inspiration in those six men, the message that colleges and universities are sending out appears to be clear: Black men are good enough to be on the team but not good enough to lead a team.
This archaic type of thinking is not only ignorant, it’s offensive.
If these conditions don’t change soon, the amount of potential black coaching candidates will decrease severely. Why would a qualified black coach – or a coach of any race, for that matter – keep auditioning for positions that they are repeatedly denied access to before the interviewing process even starts? Those same qualified coaches will go elsewhere, whether it’s the NFL, the Arena Football League or any other professional league that has better hiring practices than college football.
If that happens, a lot of potentially great college football coaches will be lost. And for what? Because college football’s current hiring practices recall an era when it was widely believed that blacks weren’t intelligent enough to quarterback a team, let alone coach one.
Again, the message appears to be clear: you’re good enough to be on the team but you’re not good enough to lead the team.
It might not be true at every institution, but it sure feels that way.
In an effort to produce change in college football’s hiring practices, the Black Coaches and Administrators have suggested that a Rooney-style rule be instituted, possibly through the NCAA.
The proposed regulation would be called, “The Eddie Robinson Rule.”
It’s just a shame that Robinson, who for more than five decades gave his blood, sweat and tears to college football, didn’t live to see the day when significant progress was made.
He deserved better.
And the rest of the black college football coaches across the nation deserve better also.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.