Just Another Symptom


I don’t particularly like writing posts like these, because just like any fan who has a team, yet has a liberated ideal about college football outside of that immediate fandom, I like Will Muschamp. He’s intense, seems to get the best out of guys who play for his defense, and has deserved a head coaching gig for a while now.  While his current work with Texas isn’t the most impressive in terms of keeping points off the board, the important part is that Texas leads the Big 12 in scoring defense by creating turnovers. This makes the difference in a confernce loaded with very good offensive talent.

Well, Muschamp is going to get his head coaching gig at Texas — eventually — because the Longhorns’ athletic department has decided to make Boom Motherfucker himself the heir to Mack Brown, designating him head coach-in-waiting.

Muschamp is merely the latest in a trend: the most prominent name in this ilk is Florida State O-coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who’s been promised the head gig when Bobby Bowden either retires or keels over, followed by Kentucky OC Joker Phillips in the same position with Rich Brooks (it also exists at Purdue, but I can’t recall the guy replacing Joe Tiller next season.)  Hell, it isn’t even reserved for the NCAA — Jim Mora the Younger is set to replace Mike Holmgren with the Seahawks next year.

In Austin, this is considered a move to keep continuity in the program, which is true, and desirable from a program’s standpoint. Brown had his own comments on the practice:

Brown said he thinks it’s part of a new trend. “Looking across the country, I think we will see more of this, especially in programs that are working well,” Brown said.

I hope not.

Programs that are working well bleed into their own complacency sometimes.  Besides, shouldn’t a succession plan at least open itself up to a few other qualified people first? Like, y’know, maybe someone from outside the organization? This is a purely insular move — partially to keep a valued coordinator — but it has repercussions for sports and the coaching ranks.

I don’t have anything against Muschamp or Brown, and I think it’s a smart move for the program on that level. But given the recent report (PDF file) from Dr. Richard Lapchick and The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport amid an environment in which only 8 out of 119 NCAA I-A head football coaches are minorities (and that will be down to 6 next season, after Ty Willingham and Ron Prince finish up their lame duck status), any pre-ordainiment and assignment of a “head coach in waiting” is another door closed pre-emptively, and I don’t care how many times you bring up Joker Phillips being a black man. There is a good ol’ boy network in coaching, and it needs to be blown right the fuck up, no matter how deserving or worthy the heir is. Head coaches in waiting are extensions and an attempt to preserve that network.

“While the percentages are slightly better, the general picture is still one of white men running college sport,” said Richard Lapchick, the report’s co-author. “Overall, the numbers simply do not reflect the diversity of our student-athletes. Moreover, they do not reflect the diversity of our nation where we have elected an African-American as President for the first time.”

The report also looked at university leadership, including presidents and athletic directors. Ninety-one percent are white. Minority representation in all positions increased less than 1 percent last year.

Charlotte Westerhaus, NCAA vice president for diversity and inclusion, said she was disappointed in the figures, particularly considering the election.

“This moment on Tuesday reflected the best of our country,” Westerhaus said. “Our country showed the will and the way. We have to do the same.”

It’s been about a week since the report was released, and it generally disappeared right into the ether, with barely a couple mentions on the Four-Letter’s broadcasts (of course, only brought up by Kevin Blackistone on Around the Horn and Desmond Howard sometime later) and only a righteously written column by Gene Wojciechowski on its dot-com operation to bring it up.

I only hammer at this because these are the ways entrenched university presidents and athletic directors protect their asses: extending the privilege of race and class in the coaching network by playing it safe, locking up the job with an heir when possible, not daring to venture outside the box. I thought it was telling when CBS’ Spencer Tillman absolutely went off about this two Saturdays ago:

“Who are the people that run college football? Fifty-and-older white, Southern men. Those are the people who run college football, and so to expect progress from them is a tough battle. They want someone who looks like them.”

Minority coaches are going to get short-ended more often than not between the hashmarks at higher levels: while Willingham deserved his firing at U-Dub, he still got a raw deal at Notre Dame, and Prince’s release by K-State was just as bad in my books — barring scandal or complete incompetence, no college football coach should be fired before the end of a full four-year recruiting cycle. It’s well past time for Floyd Keith and the Black Coaches & Administrators to merely express disappointment. Legal action will probably have to be the way to go now. It took legal action to get the NFL to adopt the Rooney Rule; it will probably take the real threat of it to get what Keith and Lapchick have called an “Eddie Robinson Rule.”

Locking up a desired coaching gig in the Big 12 years in advance seems like a further jump backwards for college athletics. Things could change; Brown could fail miserably and be forced out, and Muschamp thrown out with him — but isn’t that way too much coincidence? Both men are good football coaches; too good for that to actually happen beyond the three or four-loss season.  That’s too much “if” to leave to the traditional habits of university administrators. Admittedly, it’s only been maybe half a century since minority students had access to some of the public universities that are major athletic schools; thus, there is a base of power that still needs to be built.  However, that doesn’t excuse the presidents and athletic directors for a collectively lousy record.

Again, it’s nothing against Muschamp, who I think has more than earned a head coaching job somewhere in D-IA.  But the status as heir apparent becomes about the men not looked at, the perspectives closed off, the interviews not held, when a department decides to anoint a successor without so much as an evaluation of anyone else who might be interested, someday, when Mack Brown decides it’s time to move to the cushy gig in the athletic department.

(This didn’t fit anywhere else in the piece, but I wanted to note it: It’s rather instructive to look at Bill Rhoden’s column in the NYT from a few weeks ago on NFL players and their perceptions of coaches, as reported in a study, in the context of how it might apply to college football.)

4 Responses

  1. I don’t think there’s any way Muschamp actually takes over for Mack, unless a) Muschamp gets complacent and stops being a commodity as a head coach or b) Mack has a couple of really bad years and gets forced out. I think Muschamp sees this as a chance to get a huge paycheck without the pressure of taking over a struggling team. Assuming he continues to be a great coordinator, some school will eventually pony up to pay for whatever the buyout in the new contract is (USC if Carroll goes back to the NFL, Notre Dame, etc.), and if they want Muschamp to chip in, well, he’s got the extra cash to do it. This is completely different than the situations at Purdue and the Seahawks (both of those coaches are definitely done at the end of the year), or FSU (Bowden won’t last much longer).

    As for the actual point of your post, I completely agree that coaches-in-waiting are just a closed door, and that the power structure in college football is completely fucked up. I also agree that Willingham got the shaft at Notre Dame. Prince did too, but he was also suffering from taking over a legend (in this case the only legend in the school’s history) and ANY coach who has the record he does would be in trouble.

    The biggest problem, I think, is that when a Greg Robinson takes over a program like Syracuse and runs it into the ground, people say, “oh, he’s just a horrible coach”. But when Willingham (at ND) or Sylvester Croom fail to turn a program around, people think, “maybe those black coaches just can’t coach”. Not that anyone (sane) would actually say that out loud, but I think that’s the biggest problem with the low percentage of minority coaches; they’re not seen as “just another coach”.

    Sorry that was completely rambling and in retrospect made very little sense, but I’m going to post it anyway.

  2. James – I could see that, but I keep reading rumors about Brown finishing out 2010 and then heading to the athletic department — which is, until anything’s actually said, a rumor. Muschamp could dislike all of the schools out there (Tennessee, Clemson, U-Dub) and think he’s better off staying another year with a fancier title.

    And even though it may have rambled, I still got it. Thanks.

  3. Amen… Every time a new rule is made in an attempt to bring the administrative side of football into the 21st century, the good ole’ boys find a way to parry. Bill Rhoden’s column says it all: first, to have an 80% response rate to a survey is practically unheard of and I think makes the data virtually unimpeachable. And it shows that race does matter: many of the black players come from backgrounds where race has defined their relationships, successes, and failures, and having a coach who can relate on that level crucially shapes their relationship with the coach and by extension, their mindset toward their work.

  4. […] I’d previously tackled the “coach-in-waiting” thing, it had to do with colleges and the minority coaches issue. It doesn’t apply here: an […]

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