Black men can coach

OPINION - Right about now, Mike Locksley and DeWayne Walker are handing out the helmets, dusting off the whistles...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Right about now, Mike Locksley and DeWayne Walker are handing out the helmets, dusting off the whistles and settling in to their new jobs, running the college football programs at New Mexico and New Mexico State Universities.

They aren’t alone, of course. Nineteen other college football coaches are starting new gigs this fall. But what sets Walker and Locksley, each in their first jobs, apart from the others is they are the only two African-Americans among the new crop.
Think that’s bad? How about this: Of the 119 coaches in what used to be called Division I-A, seven are black.

Want less? Of the 66 schools from the six major conferences and independent Notre Dame that make up the Bowl Championship Series constituency, the crème de la crème of the game, only one, Miami of Florida, has a black coach, Randy Shannon.
And why does this matter? Transpose the football numbers into any other campus discipline and ask yourself how long it would be before a major university would have picketers protesting a six or one percent rate of minority instructors.

Besides, many of the universities in Division I-A are public schools and receive public funding, either directly or indirectly. Then there are the billions of dollars that television and the postseason bowls contribute. Add them all up and you can see compelling reasons why black coaches should get in on the action.

The colleges themselves have historically dragged their feet in adding talented black coaches to their staffs, so one state, Oregon, upped the ante. Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed into law last month a measure that requires officials at the state’s seven public colleges and universities to interview, not necessarily hire, a minority candidate before hiring a coach or an athletic director.

It’s a pity that things reached the point where legislation was necessary. In a perfect world, sports fans want politicians as far away from the playing fields as possible, because more often than not, they muck things up (see the Congressional committee hearings on steroid use in baseball).

Also, in theory, sports are the ultimate meritocracy. The faster guy beats the slower guy. The team with the most talent (almost) always wins. When they don’t, it wasn’t because of some governmental finger placed on the scales to neutralize their advantage.
The problem with college football is that the scales have never been remotely balanced in terms of attracting African-American talent, first on the field, then wearing coaching headsets.

The number of African-American college football head coaches has nearly always hovered in the single digits, despite the fact that roughly half the players on the field at any one time are black. My alma mater, Maryland, has designated James Franklin to take over as coach when Ralph Friedgen retires, but it still feels as though Franklin and other blacks will be solitary figures.

After years of taking a public relations beating over the relative dearth of minority head coaches, the NFL enacted the “Rooney Rule” six years ago. Named for Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, then the chair of the league’s diversity committee, the rule requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for every head coaching or general manager opening.

Rooney put his money where his mouth is. When the Steelers had a coaching vacancy after the 2006 season, he hired a little known 33-year-old African-American assistant coach named Mike Tomlin as head coach. Rooney’s faith was rewarded last season when Tomlin led the Steelers to the sixth Super Bowl in franchise history.

But Tomlin isn’t even the first black coach to win a Super Bowl. That honor belongs to Tony Dungy, who guided Indianapolis to a world title in 2007, beating another African-American head coach, Chicago’s Lovie Smith.

In other words, black men can coach. And they don’t need a law to prove it -just the opportunity.