In many industries, investment banking for example, when an African-American is hired to a lofty, running the show position, its usually still, unfortunately, a rarity. Such is the case in FBS football, where there are only 15 black head coaches among the 124 colleges.
On the surface, gains are being made. There were only five in 2008. The past few seasons were considered highpoints with the addition of six new black head coaches at FBS schools before the 2010 season.
The hiring of Jon Embree at Colorado, Darrell Hazell at Kent State, Don Treadwell at Miami (Ohio), David Shaw at Stanford and James Franklin at Vanderbilt, increased African?American head coaches slated to start the 2011 season to a record 18.
Just as quickly as these coaches get hired, they often get fired. The snake pit of played-out cultural philosophies and improbable odds can require a superhuman coaching effort for them to keep these jobs. Its not blatantly visible until an incident like the firing of Colorado coach Jon Embree, thrusts race into the forefront.
Embree struggled to a 4-21 record in his two seasons at Colorado. Based on his failures, the school had legit grounds for kicking him to the curb. The 1-11 record he posted this year, was the worst in the schools 123-year history. A lot of people felt the firing was too soon, considering Embree cared deeply for his alma mater and was successfully replenishing the talent pool and morale following previous coach Dan Hawkins 19-39 tenure.
The passion in Embrees eyes at his press conference reflected his love for football and mentoring. The tears represented the pain of failure. The defiance reflects the shock of what he and many others felt, was a raw deal.
Hes not the first black coach to get the quick hook. Turner Gill turned a mediocre Buffalo team into College Bowl players. Gill, was a favorite for the coveted Auburn position in 09, but lost out to the white Gene Chizik. The hiring prompted TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley to bash Auburn as racists. Chizik was just 5-19 in his previous job at Iowa State, but was able to capitalize on Auburns plentiful resources and win a National Championship with Cam Newton in 2010, before going 3-9 and being fired this season.
After a rocky two-years at Kansas, Gill is fighting for his coaching life as the new head coach at Liberty University.
Tyrone Willingham, the first black head coach at Notre Dame, arrived from Stanford sporting an 81-44 record. Willingham had 10 wins his first season, six in his third and didnt make it to a fourth. Some felt his firing was premature. Willinghams next stop was a struggling Washington program and his career flat-lined with a 0-12 season in 08.
Embrees familiarity with these type of situations was probably why his press conference was more like a funeral. Like Embree said, We (black coaches) dont get second chances.
The statistics back it up. Willingham is the lone black coach to be fired by a BCS program and hired by another. But to blame Embrees plight solely on racism is kind of played out. The pressure to win affects all coaches. Its safe to assume that Embree wouldnt be jobless if he won at CU.
College football is a billion-dollar industry. Sneaker and TV deals and Bowl money creates colossal pressure to win.
Dr. Fitz Hill dealt with this pressure as head coach at San Jose State from 2001 to 2004. Hill, with San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy, wrote an in-depth book on the subject, Crackback! How College Football Blindsides the Hopes of Black Coaches.
Were in an age today where money is starting to dictate the patience people have, more than ever, Hill, currently the president of Arkansas Baptist College, said in a recent Denver Post article.
With so much dough up for grabs, university heads tend to play the race familiarity game and just hire whom they are comfortable with. Any potential for change from that begins at the top.
The recent success of coaches like Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, Louisvilles Charlie Strong and Stanfords David Shaw, indicate a trend towards universities bucking their fears and hiring more black coaches and giving current coaches second chances at better schools.
Sumlin is the first black head coach at a major football school in the state of Texas, giving the SEC three black head coaches. He has the talent, timing and team, to be the Jackie Robinson of college coaches, win a national chip and open the flood gates. Most black coaches have to take any job just to get a foot in the door. Sumlin, who started as a graduate assistant at Washington State, is known as the first bonafide hot black coaching prospect.
From 1991-2007, he bounced around as an assistant and, in 2008, he got his first head coaching job at Houston. Together, he and QB Case Keenum led the high-powered Cougars to a 35-17 record in four seasons. By the time he was done there, Sumlin had a list of suitors including Pac-12 powers UCLA and Arizona State. His 10 wins is a record for first-year coaches at the school.
The next logical step is for one of these coaches to win a national championship.
This story is courtesy of The Shadow League. For more sports stories, go to www.theshadowleague.com.