The NCAA believes in the values of diversity and inclusion. Although it has made progress in increasing the diversity of the membership and generating opportunities within intercollegiate athletics for individuals of all backgrounds, the Association’s leadership recognizes there is more work to be done. The diversity and inclusion staff at the national office aims to centralize efforts concerning diversity and inclusion, serve as a point of contact for related concerns and assist the membership in developing initiatives that will lead to increased diversity and inclusion throughout intercollegiate athletics.
Behind the Blue Disk: Minority head football coaches.
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Coaching coaches: Professional development programs, conducted by the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee and the NCAA staff, have been making inroads into a longstanding problem for the Association – the lack of color at the top of the football coaching pyramid.
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A numbers game for minority football head coaches: Four individuals who participated in NCAA programming and are at various stages in their careers shared their thoughts on moving up the ladder.
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By Gary Brown
Participants at a session to further diversify the collegiate football coaching ranks pledged to continue a strategic assault that has led to 30 minority head coaches being hired at non-HBCU institutions in the last three years.
Meeting Monday in Indianapolis, a group of leaders that included the architect of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, high-profile athletics directors and NCAA President Mark Emmert concluded that college football’s commitment to hiring minority head coaches must continue to improve.
“We are overjoyed about what has happened during the last three hiring cycles, but the key is a continued commitment and trust that gives people the opportunity,” said John Wooten, chair of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the diversity arm of the NFL and a contributor to inclusion efforts at the collegiate level.
Wooten joined American Football Coaches Association Executive Director Grant Teaff; ADs Gene Smith of Ohio State, Dan Guerrero of UCLA and Derrick Gragg of Eastern Michigan; Dutch Baughman, executive director of the Division 1A Athletic Directors’ Association; and others in the third meeting of its kind in the last four years. The first in August 2007 is widely regarded as having provided the impetus for change.
That’s when Wooten’s Alliance partnered with the ADs association to develop something akin to the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate when filling head-coaching vacancies or be fined for noncompliance. While a financial penalty would be problematic for a membership association such as the NCAA, Baughman’s 1A AD group did adopt Rooney-like standards that made it an “unacceptable practice” for athletics directors not to include minorities in the candidate pool for in-person interviews.
That has since caught on. Baughman, whose office talks with ADs who are involved in a search every December, said that in 2008, ADs had to be reminded about the acceptable standard, but since then, every AD says it is already engrained in their protocol.
“That’s a huge step forward in and of itself,” Baughman said.
The numbers bear that out, as there are more minority head coaches now (41, not including HBCUs) than any other time in college football history. Especially in the last two years when the directive to the ADs was most prominent, 12 hires have been made in the Football Bowl Subdivision alone.
But despite the change in hiring attitude, the proportion of minority head coaches remains low for a sport in which more than half the players are minorities.
As of today, minority head coaches roam sidelines at only 18 of the 120 schools in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. All but two are African-American (the others are Latino and Pacific Islander). In the Football Championship Subdivision, only 10 of the 101 teams are coached by minorities (nine African-Americans and one American Indian).
It’s worse in Division II, where there are only four minority head coaches (all African-American) of 133 football-playing schools, while in Division III, there are just nine minority head coaches (eight African-Americans and one Latino) among 229 institutions. And that’s after five Division III schools hired minority head coaches in 2010 and another one in 2011.
Meeting participants said that’s not good enough.
Among the priorities was to brainstorm ways to improve the numbers in the Football Championship Subdivision and in Divisions II and III. Participants suggested finding a significant advocate to champion the cause the way the Division 1A Athletic Directors’ Association did for the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Others urged a more public campaign.
Cyrus Mehri, who along with lawyer Johnnie Cochran helped develop the Rooney Rule in 2002, asked NCAA President Emmert to keep the issue on the Association’s front burner, perhaps with emphasis near the beginning of the 2011 season. Doing so, he said, not only helps the public understand recent success but also reiterates to potential minority candidates that there’s success to be had.
“Candidates didn’t see there was a chance to succeed before. Emphasizing the success we’ve had opens the minds of the cynical public and of the talent pools,” Mehri said.
The meeting also generated candid discussion about what decision-makers are looking for in a head football coach. Participants said while the X’s and O’s are still important, they may only get candidates into the finalist pool. The ability to manage all that comes with being a football coach at a major institution is what athletics directors and presidents want to see.
“Your credentials are what will get you to an interview, but what gets you hired is how well the decision-makers like and trust you,” said Eastern Michigan AD Derrick Gragg. “The people interviewing you already know your experience – they want to know whether you can be articulate, address groups like the faculty senate, the media and alumni, and represent the university. They’re not so much interested in your ability to run the spread offense.”
Emmert said presidents are interested in that broader perspective, as well.
“Presidents judge candidates by how they are going to represent the university, work with alumni and faculty groups – all the ‘soft skills’ that candidates often don’t pick up when they’re focusing on being a great X’s and O’s coach,” he said. “Coaching today is a lot more than making sure the right players are in the right place at the right time.”
Fortunately, the NCAA has programming to help in that regard. The Association offers several professional-development “academies” for prospective head coaches who are at various stages in their careers. Eighteen of the hires in the last three years in fact are graduates of these programs.
Many of the educational components focus on off-the-field aspects of the game that prepare candidates for the real coaching world. Participants bulk up on budgeting, media relations, academic standards, alumni relations, administrative structure and other aspects of the game that don’t take place just on Saturdays. A new component starting next year takes coaches who are ready for prime time through a simulated interview process.
Wooten likes that approach because it grooms prospective coaches to be strategists rather than just tacticians. He said today’s minority candidates need that kind of preparation because they simply haven’t been exposed to it enough in the past.
“The opportunity and platform hasn’t always been there for the minority candidate,” he said. “Consequently, that’s why it is so important for that kind of preparation – all the things you have to be ready for, such as dealing with faculty, alumni and administrative groups, knowing about the Academic Progress Rate and budget and all of those things.”
“We would be totally dishonest if we said that minority coaches have had the same chance. They simply haven’t had the same chance – they haven’t traveled the same road.”
Baughman said that with such programming in place and a renewed commitment from athletics directors to diversify the candidate pools, the foundation for future success is much stronger than it was four years ago. He and others at the meeting credited the session in 2007 – which occurred just months after two black coaches faced each other in Super Bowl XLI and people were wondering why the college game wasn’t keeping up with the pros in diversity – as a significant benchmark.
Baughman said it wasn’t because diversity wasn’t an agenda item for college sports, but it took a concerted effort from a number of groups to get the ball rolling.
“If it was going to happen on its own, it would have happened by then,” he said. “There had been too much talk about it for too long. But in order to accomplish something, it was necessary to bring people together who would move forward with a plan.”
Now, Baughman said, that plan is far enough along for progress to be more than aspirational. He said there are two types of search processes – a “targeted search” where the decision-makers already know who they want, and a “general search” in which the school casts a wider net. While more minorities are being captured in that wider net, they’re also on short lists for the targeted searches.
“That’s a great milestone,” Baughman said. “In football, every day a school goes without a coach is another day lost in recruiting and another day that competitors can say ugly things about ‘the school without a coach.’ Schools have to move fast when making a football hire, and isn’t it great now that the best candidate or the targeted person can be a minority.”
People at the April 18 meeting promised to keep moving the ball downfield.
“You can’t help but conclude that the collaborative approach over the last several years has had some positive impact,” Emmert said. “But the data are equally clear that we’re not making near enough progress.
“I am heartened by the significant rise in the number of minority coaches at the assistant and associate level, which dramatically improves the diversity of the candidate pools from which ADs make their selections, but we now have to make sure they make that next step.”
* NCAA Coaching Academies/Forums Alumni