Building From The Bottom Up

Quietly, the number of black head coaches is rising. I say quietly because none of them is really landing at a program known for being anything resembling a football powerhouse. Maybe that’s as it should be, but it’s also part of circumstances that beyond each individual candidate’s control.

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UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker is set to be introduced tomorrow as the head coach at New Mexico State, joining former Illinois OC Mike Locksley, who took over at UNM mere weeks ago. In that interim, Turner Gill re-upped at Buffalo after losing out on the Auburn gig,  Notre Dame OC Mike Haywood went to the other Miami in Ohio, and Ron English left Louisville after one season as DC and headed back to Michigan — Eastern Michigan, the lowest of the directional schools in the state. That makes seven when you add Houston’s Kevin Sumlin and Miami’s Randy Shannon (the latter being the only one at a BCS school now.)

Given that 7 out of 119 (9 minority coaches out of 119 total) still sucks, but there appears to be no obvious way to crack the ranks further post-Barkley ranting about what many of us thought int he wake of the Gene Chizik hiring. That kind of frustration is writ large sometimes for observers, if the coaches won’t say it themselves, especially in a case like Walker’s, who watched a guy he recruited get a head coaching gig in a BCS conference before he did:

In the mid-1990s, when Walker was a young assistant at Brigham Young, he recruited [Steve] Sarkisian to play quarterback. In 2001, when Walker was at USC and working as Pete Carroll’s associate head coach, Sarkisian was getting his toes wet as quarterbacks coach for the Trojans. On that USC staff was another lower-level assistant, Lane Kiffin.

Sarkisian and Kiffin are now the first-year head coaches at Washington and Tennessee, respectively, at the ripe old ages of 34 and 33.

Now, Walker is headed to Las Cruces, a place where there’s no real tradition to build on. He would have been much better off starting with the San Diego State job that wound up going to Ball State’s Brady Hoke — he wouldn’t have strayed too far from his SoCal recruiting base, and I’m not sure that Hoke was any less of a risky hire in SD (riding Nate Davis’ arm, maybe?)

But it may be better this way for Walker and the others: they are in situations in non-BCS conferences where they have to build programs of their own. As far as the conference goes, it’s not like there are automatic losses in the WAC outside of Boise any longer.

While it’s tougher in principle for Locksley in the Mountain West (Utah, BYU, and TCU make it harder) and for Haywood in the MAC, the old “Field of Dreams” principle will have to do, as minority coaches will have to jump at any head coaching opportunity they can impress with.  What better test of recruiting expertise than by seeing if those connections will work when you make the top job?

“If you build it, they will come.”

Besides, everyone remembers the man who builds a program into a winner. Rarely are the ones who merely maintain a winner as well thought of.

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College Football’s Inconvenient Truth

Based on his MAC championship turnaround of a Buffalo Bulls football team that had been the worst in Division I-A when he took over in 2005, one would think Turner Gill would have already been money-whipped by a bigger football factory school by now. But no, Syracuse passed him over for Doug Marrone, who has never been a head coach at the pro or college level (although reports say Gill wasn’t really convinced that ‘Cuse was right for him), and in one of the dumber coaching hires since I’ve been following the sport, Auburn decided on Gene Chizik for its head coaching vacancy. Yes, the same Gene Chizik who went 5-19 in two years at Iowa State.

This is the kind of environment black coaches are in, now with their ranks up to 4 out of 119 D-IA schools as head coaches.  Outside the Lines looked at the number in its Sunday report, based on an article by Dr. Richard Lapchick making recommendations on how to remedy the problem — and this was even before Chizik’s hiring.

The OTL show is in four parts. I’ll link to them, since WordPress hates outside video players not YouTube or DailyMotion:

  • Bob Ley’s tracked piece on Gill and the hiring issue
  • Discussion with Mike Locksley, the new HC at New Mexico and Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin
  • Another discussion, this time with Ohio State’s AD, a member of the board of trustees at Michigan State, and Floyd Keith, the head of the Black Coaches Association
  • Roundtable with Lapchick, an NCAA diversity administrator, and ESPN’s Mark Schlabach

OK, so you’ve likely watched all of them by this point — or I hope you have, because Schlabach made an absolutely stunning statement, or it would be to people who think we’ve somehow gotten past institutional racism in less than half a century:

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Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault

Boise State Oregon Football
Here are the final BCS rankings:

  1. Oklahoma
  2. Florida
  3. Texas
  4. Alabama
  5. USC
  6. Utah
  7. Texas Tech
  8. Penn St.
  9. Boise St.
  10. Ohio St.

Here are the BCS bowl match-ups (along with the rest of the bowls):

  • Title Game: Florida vs. Oklahoma
  • Rose Bowl: USC vs. Penn State
  • Orange Bow: Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati
  • Sugar Bowl: Utah vs. Alabama
  • Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Texas

Now, who really got screwed? (Besides everyone; this system makes everyone feel like a loser without a fair shot to really prove who’s the best on the field.) Texas is still griping about not playing for a national championship, or to prove that it belonged in Kansas City on Saturday.

But Boise State has a real reason to bitch. As far as I see it, the Broncos have a legitimate claim that they were left out because Ohio State has more fans, travels better, and would assure better numbers in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas.

Ohio State lost twice, both times to BCS teams: the first to USC, who absolutely drubbed the Buckeyes in a heavy-handed fashion, leaving QB Todd Boeckman unable to see straight; the second to Penn State, in a defensive showdown in Columbus.  As far as teams to lose to, those are not bad ones, but they’re still two losses. What makes them more worthy than a second at-large team from a non-BCS conference? Strength of schedule or conference? The Big Televen, outside of Penn State and an OSU team trying to figure out its transition process between Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor, was absolute medocrity, with only Northwestern making any real attempts at trying to rise above its station.

10-2 in a down BCS conference shouldn’t trump undefeated from a conference that has sent two teams to the BCS with at large bids in the past two years. Yes, Hawaii got slaughtered by Georgia last year, but everyone remembers the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. That should count for something. Despite a year in which there was a bit less WAC competition, Chris Petersen led another squad, this one with a redshirt freshman QB in Kellen Moore, to his second undefeated season in the past three years.

There’s no rationale for the OSU selection outside of money, and that’s understandable, because the bowl games, including the BCS Championship Game, are a business. The primary goal is to draw eyeballs to the TV and fans to each of the neutral sites for sellouts. Ohio State is guaranteed to do that better than Boise State will; they have good, dedicated fans that will travel anywhere for a squad with a BCS bid. But let’s not act like they belong there.

The problem is that we keep pretending that this is the way to “select” a national champion in Division I-A (suck it, FBS) football because the NCAA doesn’t have the balls to tell the conference commissioners that it’s past time to stop farming out a sport’s post-season to outsiders.  The NCAA is in the thrall of its conferences and cannot do anything about it when four of the six commissioners of those conferences won’t even vote on a plus-one system.

Thus, Boise State will take on Texas Christian in what may be the best non-BCS bowl game in the Pointsettia Bowl. Hell, it sounds like it’ll be much better than the Orange Bowl.

It’s too bad the BCS selection committee can’t see it that way.   Of course, you cannot make men understand something if their jobs hinge on them not understanding it.

You Want Him, U-Dub? We’ll Help Sark Pack

sarkisian(Partial headline credit to ParagonSC of Conquest Chronicles.)

Rece Davis just dropped a bomb on ESPN during the halftime of Louisville-Rutgers (in which the Scarlet Knights are up 49-0; Mike Teel has thrown 7 TD passes and pushed Steve Kragthorpe into the river with cement shoes), and announced that USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will be the head coach at Washington next season, after both Pat Hill and Mike Leach supposedly interviewed to replace Ty Willingham. This came from Joe Schad, who now has it up on the Four-Letter’s dot-com apparatus.

Really, U-Dub?

Most Trojan fans will be more than happy to wish Sark well and send him on his way. Sarkisian is a better choice to revive a moribound program than an intense guy like Hill (who reportedly took his name out because U-Dub wanted to wait to name a coach and he wanted to know before his bowl game) and an offensive mind like Leach, who probably used the interview partially to drive up his hand in Lubbock (and also to drive interest in Auburn)?

Really, U-Dub?

I was actually waiting to write a post telling U-Dub to do anything it has to in order to get ahold of Leach and bring him to the Pac-10, because what this conference needs is an outsize character to recruit and compete with Pete Carroll on and off the field. (Rick Neuheisel isn’t there until he at least makes the annual UCLA-USC game competitive.) Not only that, but Leach would have given something for the Seattle sports fan to feel good about in a year where Land Thieves invaded and stole the Sonics, the Mariners hit rock bottom in baseball, and the Seahawks look like the J.V. squad of the NFL after years of dominating their lame division.

Additionally, rescuing the last couple years of Jake Locker’s collegiate career are a priority.  Sark is a good QBs coach and okay calling the plays, but trying to bring back a program to respectability and salvage the talent of a star QB, so far wasted by Willingham, is not for an offensive coordinator considered nowhere near his mentor Norm Chow.

Any coordinator not named Chow is not a giant loss to USC, because the emphasis on the styles of play both offensively and defensiely comes from Carroll — the assistants are there to execute it, but the fount of what the team wants to do comes from the Humanitarian.

Sark certainly has the ability to become a good head coach, and training under Chow and Carroll isn’t a bad place to get your bearings. But it’ll take a lot more to convince me that U-Dub will be anything in the next couple years with him. At least with Lane Kiffin, you know the guy was nuts about recruiting. I’ve never heard such a thing abotu Sarkisian. The brass in Seattle needed a slam dunk; instead, starved sports fans in Seattle will be hearing the sounds of their neighbors from Bellingham, Death Cab for Cutie, when Sarkisian is introduced:

Just Another Symptom

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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.)

All Your Sporting Events Are Belong To Bristol

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I am of two minds on Fox basically ceding the contract to broadcast the BCS to the Four-Letter. There are two sapproaches to note: the first is the quality of hte production, the second is what it means in a journalistic sense.  Several of ESPN’s regular cadre of college football analysts calling for a playoff, but first, we’ll deal with the aesthetic aspect, because it’s all about what you see, and then what’s underneath.

In a pure TV production sense, no sport should be handled by Fox. They do an absolutely loathsome job with the BCS — seeing as they handle no college football games during the regular season on the main network, they then put together some truly poor announcnig teams (most notably, any team involving Charles Davis.)  College football is obviously secondary to them, and it shows on air every time they do the BCS bowls they hold the rights for (all save the Rose Bowl.) There is gimmickry (the robot for NFL football, the talking animated baseball explaining the basics of pitching to an audience likely older than its execs imagine).

(If I had my way and could assign a network to handle the vast majority of televised sports. it would be CBS, who, particularly with college football and basketball, brings in the best announcers and analysts.  It’s hard to imagine ESPN willfully discussing the recent study by Richard Lapchick on the number of minority coaches now being at six after the firing of Ron Prince at K-State, but two weeks ago, Spencer Tillman went for it and called out the university presidents and conference bosses on it.)

While ESPN is at the very least competent in game presentation, announcing, and analysis (save clankers like Pam Ward, Andre Ware, Brad Nessler, and Bob Griese), it also has a problem: will owning the TV rights to the all the big bowl games lead some of them to keep quiet about a playoff possibility?  The more problematic issue is that ESPN now holds a complete monopoly on the important aspects of college football, which is never particularly a good diea for any enterprise. Lack of competition leads to stagnation, and bad efects for the sport in general — it’s safe to guess that shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars until 2014 will do nothing to get rid of the crap system in college football. ESPN will now have a further investment in the status quo.

So, eight-team playoff, 16-team playoff, plus-one…..all of these options will be dragged out even longer.

Rushing The Field: Another SEC Barnburner

Seriously, if we’re gonna go through this every week with SEC teams in the night game on ESPN, it’s gonna be a real long, nail-biting season.  LSU pulled out the victory in the Tiger Bowl against Auburn thanks to a late touchdown pass from Jarrett Lee, who was subbing after Andrew Hatch got concussed, to Brandon LaFell to end a game largely characterized by the hard hits on both sides along with fits and starts on offense that have to infuriate Auburn fans. I mean, just watching the passing on Tony Franklin’s offense look spectacular one minute and awful the next has to drive the Auburn faithful nuts rights now.  So much more of the game was about the heavy hitters on defense, and the eight guys LSU rotated in and out on the D-line came through and pounded Chris Todd in the end to secure the win.  Les Miles would also like to remind you about the size of his play-calling balls.

When UGA’s Rennie Curran took Rudy Carpenter’s helmet with him on a sack in the first half of Georgia’s visit to Tempe to face Arizona State, I knew this game was going to be in favor of the Dawgs, and ugly in the second half. Matthew Stafford now has a new target in A.J. Green, who caught for more than 150 yards last night and a score on top of two more touchodwns from the reliable Knowshon Moreno.  Carpenter now has a fifth off-brand orifice thanks to an offensive line that can’t protect him; at least two of them were provided by USC’s Rey Maualuga.

The Tennessee Volunteers just flat out gave up when Florida came to town. The final score does say that the Vols got on the scoreboard, but really, when you’re down 27-0 in the third quarter, do any points after that count?  It wasn’t exactly a spectacular game for Tim Tebow, and that offense still looks a little too dependent upon him and Percy Harvin, but the Vols defense had very few counters and the Vols on offense — well, this is a team with two studs at RB in Arian Foster and Monterio Hardesty whom they can’t open holes for and get the ball to. Jonathan Crompton is still being asked to do way too much.  In joining Steve Spurrier as the second Florida coach to beat Tennessee and Phil Fulmer four times in a row, Urban Meyer would be perfectly within his rights to snark, “You can’t spell Outback without UT.”

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