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Congressional Panel Explores Options For Boosting Minorities In College Head Coaching Ranks

African Americans and other minorities are woefully underrepresented in the college coaching ranks – particularly in football – with few clear remedies in sight, witnesses told a House of Representatives panel Wednesday.

“A candidate of color has a better chance of becoming a military general than a college president, an athletic commissioner or a college football coach,” said Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches Association, before the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee.

Not counting historically Black colleges and universities, only 14 higher education institutions have African American coaches out of more than 600 football programs in all divisions of the NCAA.

“For all the success that people of color have had in professional sports, similar progress in college athletics remains stubbornly elusive,” said Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., subcommittee chairman. These low numbers continue even though the pipeline is “overflowing with qualified candidates,” he added.

The revenue produced by college football and basketball – generated with help from minority athletes – has created a “disturbing two-tier situation” for African Americans due to the dearth of coaching opportunities, he said.

Rev. Jesse Jackson credited the NCAA with new policies that have raised graduation rates for African American and other minority student/athletes. “But there’s no penalty if you don’t have Black coaches or Hispanic coaches,” he said.

The recent Super Bowl featuring two African American head coaches – Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears – also illustrate differences between the college and pro ranks, witnesses said. While the NFL’s so-called “Rooney rule” requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate, such an approach may not work at the college level.

“The NCAA can’t mandate who to interview or hire,” said NCAA President Myles Brand, who acknowledged Division I institutions have a “dismal record” of hiring Black coaches, particularly in football.

The NCAA has tried to make the hiring process more transparent in hopes of promoting minority coaches, he said. It also has held coaching academies to help minority candidates prepare for some off-the-field issues in college football, such as hiring a staff and managing a large program.

But Brand, former president of Indiana University, said the typical college president knows little about how to hire head coaches. Instead, they leave much of the work to athletic directors, consultants and, sometimes, alumni.

Compared to the professional ranks, with its more streamlined process, “There are a lot of hands on the wheel” in college football, he added.

Several witnesses sharply criticized alumni boosters for actively favoring White coaches over minority candidates. While a college football coach, Fitzgerald Hill said he recalled boosters who questioned him about employing too many Black assistants.

“The booster situation has a lot to do with the problem today,” said Hill, now president of Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock.

Even after winning an NCAA basketball title as coach at the University of Arkansas, Nolan Richardson told the panel he still encountered barriers. “You have to take the boosters out of the equation,” he said.

One option for the NCAA is to offer financial incentives for hiring minority coaches, said Tim Weiser, athletic director at Kansas State University, one of six Division I-A teams to hire an African American as head football coach.

Part of the problem is that colleges prefer to hire current head coaches, making it difficult for qualified minorities to make the final cut. “Only after that might you look at the assistant ranks,” Weiser said. A financial incentive may change that situation, he added.

–Charles Dervarics


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