After a 42-25 home loss to Michigan on Oct. 12, it looked as though Illinois’ Lovie Smith would be yet another black head coaching casualty at season’s end.
But his team rallied to finish the regular season 6-6 and reach a bowl game. He’s happy, Illini fans are happy and the NCAA is very, very happy.
As pitiful as the hiring record of black head coaches and coordinators is in the NFL, it is far worse in the Power 5 conferences and with other members of the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision.
In fact, it’s a disgrace.
According to alarming analysis by the Associated Press of all 130 FBS schools, there are just 13 black head coaches. Three of 32 head coaches in the NFL are black, and it is catching hell as a result. Why isn’t college football?
If that’s not scary enough, the number of black offensive and defensive coordinators is downright insulting.
Of the 130 schools, only seven have a black man in charge of the offense. There are four that carry a co-offensive coordinator title. The majority of future head coaches, recently, have been offensive coordinators with play-calling responsibility.
There are 16 African-American coordinators, and six black coaches listed as co-coordinators. It’s worth noting that Arizona State, with black head coach Herm Edwards, has two black coaches serving as co-defensive coordinators. The University of North Carolina-Charlotte is another.
The 14-team Pac 12 Conference and 14-member Big Ten reign supreme when it comes to inclusion at the highest coaching rank. They both have four African-American head coaches.
The conferences became tied in head coaching inclusion earlier this month when Colorado’s Mel Tucker bolted from the Pac 12 to the Big Ten’s Michigan State University.
In the SEC, Derek Mason of Vanderbilt is the lone black head coach. There is just one black head coach, Dino Babers of Syracuse, in the ACC and the 10-member Big 12 has zero, none, goose egg.
Mason was surprisingly not sent packing (his win over Missouri probably saved his job) and Smith’s mid-season turnaround almost certainly saved his.
As poor as diversity is in head coaching in Power 5 conferences, it’s worse at the next level – the 65 schools in the Group of Five.
Jay Norvell at Nevada (Mountain West), Thomas Hammock at Northern Illinois (Mid-American) and Willie Taggart at Florida Atlantic (Conference USA) make the trio of black coaches at that level.
The American Athletic Conference and the Sun Belt have no black head coaches, joining the Big 12 in that embarrassing category.
The survey of coaching positions also revealed that black head coaches have a fewer number of seasons to reach success before being fired compared to their white counterparts; second chances are more difficult to come by for black head coaches; and the most prominent football schools in America have rarely had a black man at the helm.
“College coaches are expected to fund-raise and schmooze with alumni as well as coach,” said Mark Naison, an African American Studies and History professor at Fordham University, who contends that non-football factors also hold back black coaches.
“College coaches are expected to fund-raise and schmooze with alumni as well as coach,” he told the AP.
“The rich alumni, most of whom are white, feel more comfortable with people who look like them. So long as alumni dollars drive college football funding, white coaches will have a huge hiring advantage.”
There is no “Rooney Rule” in college football mandating that a black candidate must be interviewed for any head coaching position, and it shows on the field.
Norvell was an assistant coach for 31 years before landing the Nevada job at the age of 53. After a 3-9 season in 2017, he has led his team to back-to-back bowl games.
He says he went though many interviews knowing the school had no intention of hiring him.
“That becomes frustrating as a candidate because you don’t want to go through the process unless you’re being taken seriously,” he said.
“There were several of those I went through, but we just have to keep pushing.”
AP sports writer Paul Newberry also shared the story of Todd Graham in his recent article.
He wrote, “(Graham) bolted from two of his head coaching jobs after only one season — which should’ve raised some red flags — and was fired by Arizona in 2017.
“Career over? Hardly. He recently landed the top job at Hawaii, which become the fifth FBS school to hand him the keys to its program.
“Graham, of course, is white. College football, have you no shame?”
A Paige in history
The late, great Satchel Paige's daughter, Linda Paige Shelby, captured the spirit of her father and former players during the opening celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues last Thursday in Kansas City.
“You couldn't keep them down,” she said.
“They loved the game of baseball and nothing was going to stop them from playing it. If they were alive, they would be overwhelmed. They never expected this kind of appreciation.”
Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association showed their respective appreciation with a joint donation of $1 million to the Negro League Baseball Museum.
“This will be a time of celebration, but also a time of reflection,” said NLBM Chairman Stewart Myers.
“(It’s) a time to acknowledge the courage of those who helped change America's national pastime and America too,” NLBM chairman Stewart Myers said.
On June 27, all MLB players, managers, coaches and umpires will wear a patch commemorating the Negro Leagues 100th anniversary. The St. Louis Cardinals are scheduled to be in Boston taking on the Red Sox that afternoon.
“It commemorates baseball history, and it's a tribute to African-American entrepreneurship in the culture that existed at the time,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said.
St. Louis’ All-Time Black Athletes
I commend sports writer Seth Berkman for his list of 50 Black Athletes That Transformed American Sports that was written for the website Stacker and MSN Sports.
It includes three athletes special to St. Louis – Arthur Ashe, Curt Flood and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
Most of the names are familiar, including Muhammad Ali, Henry Aaron, Jackie Robinson and more.
He recognizes some other not-as-well-known sports giants including Fritz Pollard, the NFL’s first black player and Blake Bolden, the first Black player in the National Women’s Hockey League.
A glaring omission, though, is Hall of Famer and greatest pitcher in St. Louis Cardinals history, Bob Gibson.
Berkman should feel free to drop one of the following to include Gibson - Laila Ali, Bo Jackson, Florence Griffith Joyner, Jon Jones or Herschel Walker.
The Reid Roundup
Twenty-one Major League teams have announced respective special recognition days honoring the Negro Leagues and its players during the 2020 season. While I have no doubt the franchise will take part, so far, the St. Louis Cardinals are not included… While an NCAA Tournament berth won’t happen unless Missouri wins the SEC Tournament, last Saturday’s emphatic win over No. 11 Auburn should be recognized as important by Tigers fans ready to chase coach Cuonzo Martin out of town… Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas will begin the season on the injured list. The Boston Red Sox are paying half of David Price’s $32 million annual salary as part of the Mookie Betts trade to the L.A. Dodgers. You see where I’m going with this?... The Seattle XFL franchise drew 29,000 fans to its home opener last weekend. I’m hearing St. Louis could top 20,000… The NFL Network used all of its President’s Day programming to show a “Mahomes Marathon.” It featured several of Patrick Mahomes’ best games throughout the day… Somebody named Stacey Mickles from Auburn University compiled a list of the Most Influential African Americans in Sports History that is on the website FanBuzz – and didn’t include Muhammad Ali… Toren Pittman, a grandson of former Dallas Cowboys great Drew Pearson, chose Colorado to pursue his football career – then head coach Mel Tucker took the Michigan State job. This led Pearson to call Tucker “a con man” on Twitter. “He recruited my grandson to go to CU said he wasn’t going anywhere then ups and leaves. Sat there and lied to my face he wasn’t going anywhere! So I want to beat him up today on social media. What else can I do?” You go, grandpa.
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” His Twitter handle is @aareid1