He May Be Wrong, For All We Know, But He May Be Right.

Since I have a bad habit of reading most of the CA sports pages, ever since Kurt Streeter wrote the original column defending Karl Dorrell in the L.A. Times and set up a blog to do so and take comments on his pieces, I’ve been reading along for several reasons:

  • having a columnist go to bat so openly for someone he covers is well…questionable at best sometimes, but he gets paid to have these sorts of opinions
  • buttlock among the UCLA faithful over the football program is entertaining to any non-fan with L.A. roots
  • when old media enters the new media universe in such a direct fashion, it bears observation

Now, Streeter has his latest column with the evaluation of the response, and brings us a point that can’t be emphasized enough: race still matters. Doesn’t matter if you’d like to ignore it because it’s just sports, and it’s just college football. In fact, because it’s college athletics, it may be more important — William Rhoden’s theory of The Conveyor Belt, written and expressed in 40 Million Dollar Slaves, still rings true for the most part regarding college hoops and football — we all wink and nudge about it while rooting on Saturdays. Dorrell is one of six black head coaches out of 119 Division I-A programs.

That’s still a bad statistic in a game so identified with black star athletes. It’s him, Sly Croom, Randy Shannon, Ron Price, Ty Willingham, and Turner Gill.  But the NCAA, being a loose confederation of universities and colleges and run by said schools, more or less, doesn’t have the authority to implement a Rooney Rule to shake up the old boy coaches network.  Given that so much of why someone like Dorrell or Shannon was hired may have had to do with an understanding of the background of playing at their respective institutions and being able to connect with the players on those levels (for evidence, please read Gary Smith’s SI profile of Shannon), that shift needs to take place.

(Not to say that black coaches who are former athletes have a better understanding. I think we’re on the verge of another generational coaching shift and it should speed up.)
I happened to be home in the afternoon for once and was watching Lou Holtz and Mark May were addressing this directly in the wake of Texas A&M’s hiring of Mike Sherman right off the bat and the Black Coaches’ Association’s disappointment with the process. Both May and Holtz said minority candidates need to be able to get more opportunities as coordinators (examples being Michigan D-coordinator Ron English and South Carolina D-coordinator Tyrone Nix) to get those interviews.  Seems right — and if you can turn more former players into graduate assistants who can develop in full-fledged coaches and coordinators, that’s the best path right now. However, there should be some sort of shaming for schools that don’t give a few candidates interviews — as May put it, “You never know who’s going to wow you, and even if an AD doesn’t hire the guy, he might pass the name on.”

Streeter manages to miss the obvious point despite bringing up the good one, though.

The problem with such a disparity in the number of minority head coaches at the I-A ranks was humorously jabbed at by EDSBS a while back — how can you fire a mediocre black coach without it being pegged as a race thing post-Willingham at Notre Dame?  I’m repeating, but Dorrell has the potential to be a good coach. He just isn’t one right now. He’s so attached to the West Coast offense that he can’t deviate from it, and has gotten some of the same mixed results that Bill Callahan got forcing it on Nebraska.  He got a shot at a head coaching job before he was probably set for it — but then again, that happens to a lot of coaches who get better. I say the injury problems should get him one more year, because if Patrick Cowan is healthy, the Bruins beat that Notre Dame team and it changes their season a bit.

However, if he’s fired, he’s earned it — he should be going 8-4 in the regular season, even with USC down the road getting the best recruits; there’s enough talent that comes in for 8-win seasons. Ty Willingham probably has one more season up in Seattle before U-Dub starts getting antsy.  Since Drew Olson and Maurice Jones-Drew left, it’s been tough to see offensive improvement from the team — injuries have hurt at QB, but neither Ben Olson nor Patrick Cowan were really improving at a consistent clip, and Dorrell should have had Osaar Rashaan ready to go earlier and adjusted the offense accordingly with his skills — he’s not a drop-back guy.

Dorrell’s situation is screwy because once he gets fired by UCLA, he may never get another head job, and may not be able to even sniff an offensive coordinator gig.   When flameouts and head cases like Rick Neuheisel can get jobs despite being mediocre or scandalous, there’s got to be a lower-risk headset out there waiting for Dorrell. At least, I hope so. Hey, even Bob Toledo landed at Tulane.

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7 Responses

  1. “how can you fire a mediocre black coach without it being pegged as a race thing post-Willingham at Notre Dame?”

    Notre Dame was a special case. They had a history of letting their coaches complete their first contract, but that wasn’t afforded to Ty. If he were coaching anywhere else, I don’t think race would’ve come into the conversation.

    If UCLA fires Dorell, there won’t be any racial backlash. The Bruins lose games they should win. They underachieve. He’s not ready. It happens. I think he’s been given a fair shot, even though injuries have plagued the team this year. I’d hate to see it, but that’s the life of a coach.

    One thing that does irk me is the whole “I can’t fire him because he’s black. They’ll call me a racist.” That’s just bogus. You can fire anyone, just have a good reason. No one called the Cardinals racist for firing Denny Green.

  2. Diallo — agreed. My concern is less about whether Dorrell gets fired than whether he gets another opportunity somewhere down the line to improve.

  3. As a Michigan alum/fan, I feel compelled to point out that if Ron English never gets a head coaching opportunity, it will probably have less to do with race than with his not being a good coach.

  4. Unfortunately, the way the Dorrell situation is going, it looks like it will be even harder to hire unproven black coaches in the future. Why would you even bother to take a chance knowing that you could be stuck with them long after they’ve proven they aren’t the answer. The only reason that Dorrell might stick around for another season is because he’s black and there aren’t enough of them in the college ranks — I think that attitude will lead to fewer opportunities since you aren’t judging them on their ability to coach.

  5. The other factor with Dorrell is that he was an internal promotion, and those are never sexy. Fans at a place like UCLA want a big name, and if they don’t get one, they punish the internally promoted guy with an immature level of impatience. Whether white, black or green, assistants without previous name recognition have to win faster than others.

  6. Tom, there was just such a…well, tough response to Dorrell from the get-go, and I think RBD has a point — so much of it had to do with Dorrell being an internal hire, unappealing to a fanbase that has dreams of Pac-10 upper echelon status.

    UCLA has had plenty of good moments and players in the past. However, its athletic department operates under the principle of getting a coach on the cheap and thinks its football program is better than it really is (a common affliction in Div I-A schools.)

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