By George E Curry
With Obama-mania causing some to prematurely proclaim an end to racism in America, the paltry number of Black coaches allowed to lead big time football programs remains a shameful reminder that we are nowhere near the promised land of racial equality. Monday night's BSC championship game between LSU and Ohio State capped thirty-two college football bowl games, a TV frenzy that began on December 21. On the playing field there were so many Black players that some games could be mistaken for contests between two United Negro College Fund teams. But the head coaches pacing the sidelines were another story.
With Obama-mania causing some to prematurely proclaim an end to racism in America, the paltry number of Black coaches allowed to lead big time football programs remains a shameful reminder that we are nowhere near the promised land of racial equality.
According to the most recent stats for this season, of 120 Bowl Subdivision football head coaches, formerly known as Division 1-A, only seven were African-American. This is less than a year after two Black coaches squared off in the Super Bowl. If African-American coaches can compete at that level, certainly there is nothing magical about coaching at the college level.
Of course this all goes back to some stubborn myths about the intellectual capacity of African-Americans. For the longest time, Blacks were excluded from the so-called thinking positions on the field, especially the signal-calling quarterback and middle linebacker positions. But beginning with Sandy Stephens, the All-American QB at the University of Minnesota in the early 1960s, that myth was shattered. Now it is not uncommon to see Blacks as the starting quarterback on teams in the deepest part of the Deep South: LSU, Florida and Auburn.
On another level, we have finally seen a breakthrough in the SEC, which never had a Black head coach until Sylvester Crooms was selected at Mississippi State University. Crooms, a player and coach under the legendary Paul ''Bear'' Bryant at Alabama, was passed over three years ago at his alma mater for Mike Shula, who compiled a 26-23 record over four years before being fired. Meanwhile, Crooms turned around the failing program at Mississippi State this year, defeating both Alabama and Auburn en route to a victory over Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl.
The notion that Blacks can't play quarterback, middle linebacker or coach is a stupid one. Anyone who knows anything about college football knows about the success of Eddie Robinson at Grambling, Jake Gaither at Florida A&M and John Merritt at Tennessee State. Even if you grant that Blacks could coach, they didn't field teams with ten players on offense and ten on defense. No, Blacks played all eleven positions and played them well. Grambling's Doug Williams, for example, went on to become MVP of the Super Bowl as quarterback of the Washington Redskins.
The problem has been and continues to be that Blacks are judged by a double standard. The treatment of former Notre Dame Head Coach Tyrone Willingham is a perfect example. After accumulating a record of 22-15, Willingham was fired in 2004. Charlie Weis, the former offensive strategist for the New England Patriots and Notre Dame alum, was picked amid much fanfare to replace Willingham. Seven games into his first season, Weiss was given a new ten-year contract. After three years, his record is 21-16 – a victory shy of Willingham's wins. This year Notre Dame lost nine games, the most in the school's history, yet there is no drumbeat for Weiss' firing like there was for Willingham's ouster.
While talented Black coaches such as Willingham are dropped at a moment's notice, failed white coaches are recycled every year. West Virginia elevated Assistant Coach Bill Stewart. In his only previous head coaching experience, he compiled a record of 8-25 at VMI.
This is not to say there hasn't been any improvement in the coaching ranks. Former Oklahoma assistant coach Floyd Keith was hired as head coach at Hous