SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA_It was only two weeks ago when I wrote about black coaches, and the hiring practices that seemed to be improving, slowly but surely. SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA_It was only two weeks ago when I wrote about black coaches, and the hiring practices that seemed to be improving, slowly but surely. There was some discussion, too, about one coach in particular. One coach who has, seemingly, now done the impossible. One coach that I told you could walk on water where getting any coaching job was concerned.
The University of Notre Dame took Tyrone Willingham away from Stanford University, and made him the first African-American head coach of any sport in the history of their institution. Willingham's hiring is a little different because in no way could this be labeled as a mercy hiring, which makes it refreshing to talk about. There are those who will need to throw their two cents in and make it all about them, but in this one, celebrate the accomplishment.....and celebrate the man.
Without too much of a good argument to dispute the fact, the football head coaching job at Notre Dame is the biggest job in collegiate sports. It's the job where men have been made into legends, and the ghosts of those legendary men still lurk from beyond the famous "Touchdown Jesus" icon that looks over Notre Dame Stadium.
Willingham's historical hiring is already on the fast track to being a movie. With any kind of success, it's a done deal. Let's face it, if they can make a movie about a kid that played one play in college, then the pioneering of the institution's coaching practices is a shoo-in for, at best, a TV feature.
Since I'm not Coach Willingham's publicist or agent, and I wish I was at his new salary of $2 million a year, the dynamics of his new job should be talked about.
The Notre Dame job IS equivalent to the lesser NFL job. A few of those would be available in the coming weeks, and it is the natural progression for college coaches to take their shots at the big time. Except in our crazy world of sports, moving from the Bay Area to Indiana is an upward move. The NFL pipeline was already buzzing about which job Mr. Willingham would take when all the offers came racing in, but then Notre Dame came calling, and for all that might be vacant when this pro football season says its goodbyes, he made the right decision.
His predecessor left him with a job and a half to do in terms of rehabbing the Irish program. The stakes have stepped up, too, because at Notre Dame, coaches are hired for immediate fixes, not elonagted rehabbing. A five-year contract at Notre Dame turns into a three-year buyout very easily when the results aren't there.
There have been the bevy of Black players at Notre Dame, so that's never been a problem. However, a Black coach recruiting all kinds of players to play at the school has never been done. Notre Dame is an instant lure for most high school athletes looking for a spotlight school to play for, but nothing is automatic, and the tough alumni will be watching to see how Willingham does in this regard. The process was a little more difficult at Stanford because the academic commitment was greater than at the majority of top-tier football programs. If kids didn't get scared away from knowing what they had to do in the classroom, it was the lure of programs that were more nationalized than Stanford, which is big only on the West Coast.
The line on this new era of Notre Dame is historical, but the ramifications are many.
As many coaches and institutions have talked about hiring African-American coaches, the granddaddy of them all did. However, there's still the matter of doing well at the job. It might be a little soon to think about that, but think of it this way: The slow hiring process for African-Americans came from prejudices based on unproven theories that Black coaches didn't have the aptitude for doing the big man's job.
The big man's j