A Quarter Century Of Trying

charliestrongAfter so long, a man has to get frustrated. I suppose that’s what’s happened with UF D-coordinator Charlie Strong, whom in the Offseasn Of Black Coaches Getting Hired By Non-BCS Programs and the Turner Gill Effect, apparently got not one call for an interview about a head coaching gig, if his chat with an Orlando Sentinel writer is to be believed — and that his white wife is a factor (as written earlier, Gill’s also married to a white woman.) This is now getting even more attention post-Gill, as the NYT’s Harvey Araton is the latest to write about it.

Strong is a victim of the consistent bad rap against many lifetime coordinators (“they don’t interview well”, which is an excuse for just about anything, and also a legit reason to an AD when considering a man to be the head of its most prominent athletic program), being in the shadow of an immensely successful head coach, and the current college AD’s obsession with offensive numbers (because, if you are a D-IA program in a top BCS con, running up the score may be essential to your poll impact).  So he’s got the triumverate going against him, and a good enough job (with enough security) to wait to get a shot at a program with a chance to compete at the national title level.

But at what point will he get that chance? He’s 48 now, and watching men in the age ranges of his fellow Florida coach Dan Mullen get hired at Mississippi State (which we understand, given the complete O-related shortcomings under Sly Croom) and Lane Kiffin get inked at Tennessee (which I understand a bit less so, although I think it has a good chance of working out.)  Eventually, the only shot he may have, given the way ADs are chasing after younger coaches, hoping to latch onto a long-term solution, the more it seems Strong’s only shot might be if Meyer leaves Florida and the AD dubs him the successor.

If the man has two BCS chamipionship rings after tomorrow and there aren’t teams rushing to pay him after the 2009 season, something’s up.

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.


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.

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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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.)

The Past As Reflection Of The Present

By now we’re all pretty much aware that Barack Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, is fairly ill, and Obama has headed back to Hawai’i to be with her. The funny thing is that I’d never seen a picture of his grandparents, or one that I really remembered seeing, until I was scanning through both Andrew Sullivan’s and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blogs at the Atlantic yesterday, and found the pictures of Dunham with her husband Stanley, and Stanley with Barack as a young boy. If you haven’t, please read Coates’ observations about the photo and come back before I give my own.

It is striking when faced with the severe resemblance that Obama has to his grandfather — that facial structure, that jawline, that I am faced with the amazing task that they simply decided upon when their daughter Ann, in the early 60s, met and married Barack Obama, Sr. at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, married, and had a son: they simply decided to love their daughter and theri grandson, despite opposing the marriage (as did Obama’s paternal grandparents).  In the America of the 1960s, the right, and what seems to us, normal choice was not always the popular one regarding interracial marriages. Loving v. Virginia is not all that long ago. To embrace raising one’s half-black, half-white grandson in the 1970s, even in Hawai’i, is one small profile in courage.

I suppose it strikes me, like many other bi-racial children, that this picture is sort of a negative of my history.  My skin is light. I’ve got blonde hair. If I’d been born 30 or 40 years earlier, I’d likely have faced a moral decision about whether to “pass” or not.  When I speak, both my mother and aunt tell me it is my grandfather’s voice, and my smile comes from that side of the family.  My mother and I are still used to jaws dropping or people being slightly stunned if we say we are parent and child in public. We still get laughs out of it, too.

This is probably part of why Obama has appealed to so many people: the back story is unique but common to what we see in certain areas of family stucture right now: this is the face of a changing America. It doesn’t mean we’ve solved the problems (not even close) that continue to divide; this campaign alone and some of the rhetoric reeking of racism has proven that. But there is a new American story to tell as times change, whether Obama wins on November 4th or not, and to see him on the main stage at this point is to see that change that is a part of every child who grows up in a world where we are increasingly, as I will crudely put it, “fuck until we’re all brown” without a bit of consideration outside of love, for whatever comes afterward.

So-Called “Accidental” Racism

How would you translate this graphic below, which apparently is good enough to be made into flyers by Republicans in the Inland Empire?

I would have gone with “Obama is a nigger,” but that’s just me.

From the Press-Enterprise:

The October newsletter by the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated says if Obama is elected his image will appear on food stamps — instead of dollar bills like other presidents. The statement is followed by an illustration of “Obama Bucks” — a phony $10 bill featuring Obama’s face on a donkey’s body, labeled “United States Food Stamps.”

The GOP newsletter, which was sent to about 200 members and associates of the group by e-mail and regular mail last week, is drawing harsh criticism from members of the political group, elected leaders, party officials and others as racist.

Good, that’s a start. But this is the mentality of way too many people overall (I don’t mean Republicans or Democrats), and it still exists in this country, sadly.  And the group’s president, Diane Fedele, is not exactly helping herself with her defense. She says she’s going to issue an apology, which is still insufficient, considering her obvious inability to identify stereotypes (that’s probably being too kind.)

She said she simply wanted to deride a comment Obama made over the summer about how as an African-American he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”

“It was strictly an attempt to point out the outrageousness of his statement. I really don’t want to go into it any further,” Fedele said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I absolutely apologize to anyone who was offended. That clearly wasn’t my attempt.”

Fedele said she got the illustration in a number of chain e-mails and decided to reprint it for her members in the Trumpeter newsletter because she was offended that Obama would draw attention to his own race. She declined to say who sent her the e-mails with the illustration.

She said she doesn’t think in racist terms, pointing out she once supported Republican Alan Keyes, an African-American who previously ran for president.

Dear Lord.  “I voted for a black person before, so I don’t think in racist terms.”  That excuses you from re-printing the worst stereotypes in a graphic image? Please.

Giambi Gets Fan Campaigns While Bonds Sits And Waits

A column like this is why I’m a big fan of the New York Times’ William C. Rhoden: why is a former steroid user like Jason Giambi, someone who really didn’t fully admit he used (“stuff” is not a complete explanation), getting a campaign with fake mustaches to get the fans to vote him in for the last slot in the All-Star Game (which he lost to Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria) while the best hitter of his generation, Barry Bonds, waits for a team to call him?

Giambi’s half-hearted not-really-an-apology got him leeway and a way back in with the fans after a purgatory spent in unproductive baseball hell. The Yankees orchestrated an entire campaign to get him in the All-Star Game; hell, no one even brings up his steroid past any more. Yet Bonds’ impending perjury trial (which isn’t until next year) is enough to keep him from having a job this season.

Locker room distraction? Only because the press decides to make one out of him. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy every time an analyst or reporter brings it up.  Asshole? Probably, but it’s not like baseball has all good guys in its clubhouses. There are productive players who are probably complete dicks, yet they still are playing in the league.

The problem is, as Rhoden notes, that Bonds has not and will not prostrate himself before Bud Selig, the media, or anyone else: he says he has not used PEDs and is sticking to it.  We are not comfortable with this. As a culture, we want penitence from athletes whom we believe have done wrong, we want them to be humble in ways we would imagine ourselves being in that position. Anything else upsets our sensibilities — and especially when it comes to the uppity black man.

Jason Giambi has been rehabilitated in the public eye.  Every announcer is still in thrall of what Rick Ankiel can do in center field with his pitching arm; no one recalls his shipments ordered from Signature Pharmacy in Florida.  Paul Byrd is having a sub-par season with the rest of the Cleveland Indians; he got a contract extension mere weeks after it came out that he got HGH from a dentist. Troy Glaus has had a pretty good season for a Cardinal team hanging around longer than anyone thought.

Oh, how soon we forget.

Jack Robinson Probably Wouldn’t Think This Is Progress

Major League Baseball is continuing what has been viewed largely as a successful promotional opportunity, historical reminder, and semi-nostalgia trip/pat on the back with Jackie Robinson Day coming up again on Tuesday. After last year’s unretiring of Robinson’s #42 for use among ballplayers for the day (those not named Mariano Rivera, who was grandfathered in because he wore the number when Bud Selig retired it) was a good PR bump, plenty of players will once again participate, and entire teams (like the Mets) will wear 42.

The problem now is that Jack Robinson would probably look at the fact that baseball is now 7% African-American and might see an issue. I would like to point to D-Wil at Sports on My Mind on this one, but he’s had to move to a temp home and his archives aren’t available right now.  You can’t explain the 7% (half of the percentage of the population of black people in the U.S.) by just saying, “well, basketball and football are cheaper to play and appeal because it’s a more straightforward path to the pros.”  That doesn’t quite wash any more. There are and have been advances — more black managers in the league than ever before, but the player drop must be questioned.

Baseball makes its cursory attempts through programs such as RBI, which is in its 20th year, in efforts to bring baseball to the inner cities where basketball reigns supreme.  But the sport has largely decided, whether intentionally or not, to cede the Afrcan-American athlete to other U.S. sports leagues in order to have a lock on Latin and Asian baseball talent.  Remember last year when Gary Sheffield got in trouble for saying that teams liked to go after players from Latin American countries because they were easier to control? He wasn’t wrong, because you can get them in your own academies and sign them at age 16 for a quarter of the cost of an American player acquired through the draft.

Even in the NBA, the teams have to draft the rights just to negotiate with the most desired European players. MLB simply develops them in camps on the cheap — essentially outsourcing America’s pastime.  Let’s not forget that countries like the Dominican Republic and others in South America are a bit more lax about child labor and the regulation of performance enhancing drugs to begin with.

(Note: I’m not xenophobic in the slightest. I just find the dissonance here interesting.)

It also stems from the NCAA as well: since baseball is a non-revenue sport in many schools due to the existence of MLB’s minor leagues, there are only something like 17.5 scholarships available for an entire team — and one of the biggest ways of developing American talent that isn’t of high school phenom status is to have the major college ranks available, and they simply aren’t.

There are a talented number of young African-American players right now: Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, C.C. Sabathia, among others, to go with the veterans like Jimmy Rollins, Ken Griffey, Derrek Lee, and many others that are still in the game and thriving. But last year the Houston Astros couldn’t find a black player to wear Robinson’s #42, and this year, it’s the Braves who have Mark Kotsay wearing it.

I’m not going to say that Jack Robinson didn’t make the careers of all the Latin players possible. That bridge had to be crossed with a black player before a Hispanic one would even be considered. So the majority of this players in the game owe Robinson a major debt; that much is obvious. But it appears clear that Major League Baseball has the intention of celebrating just how far it has come in race relations while ignoring how far backward it’s actually slipping.

I’m Not Quite Following This Theory

I’ve not written a whole lot, if anything, about LeBron James’ Vogue cover, but we had a fairly intense discussion about it at work yesterday, whether it portrayed the King Kong imagery that has been written about by both D-Wil and the Starting Five folks, as well as ESPN’s Jemele Hill. One of my friends sent me Jason Whitlock’s latest piece on this, and I essentially got him to side with me by explaining why it didn’t fly — the thesis was so faulty and the evidence so poor that it couldn’t pass muster at all.

Before I get into Whitlock’s deal, I’ll say flat out: this was a poor cover choice. You can fault a lot of folks here — James and his handlers for not knowing about the imagery and enough history to see the parallels; photographer Annie Leibovitz for the loaded shot; the editors at Vogue and the higher-ups at its parent company, Conde Nast, for either missing the suggestions of the image and/or ignoring it, thinking it controversial (the latter is obviously worse) when they had plenty of decent shots in the mag that would have been much better choices.

I agree with LeBron. The photographer captured him exactly as he is. You know, when he covered his body in tatts years ago, mimicking a death-row inmate, LeBron invited people to jump to the conclusion that he’s dangerous. Yeah, that’s the way the image-is-everything game is played. Ink is a prison and gang thing. Don’t act like you don’t know the origin of the current fad.

Vogue put a mirror in our face, and we’re complaining about the reflection. Half the black players in the NBA take the court each night in front of white audiences tatted from neck to toe like they’re shooting a scene for Prison (Fast)Break.

Wait. So because he got tattoos, which have roots as markings for religious, memorial, sentimental, and rite-of-passage reasons in many societies — but only have that criminal association because white Western society deemed them to be so and finds them unacceptable to the norm, LeBron James is asking to be portrayed as a beast and a thug, and so is every other black athlete with ink on their skin? (I’m not gonna come out and deny that certain tattoos and those who get them have criminal associations, but this is like saying that 1 + 1 = 3.)

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No Teeth In College Football’s New Interview Rule.

8 minority coaches out of 120 schools is not exactly a mark that the NCAA would like to continue with D-IA college football, particularly when so many of the scholarship athletes are of color. But let’s just say that the new agreement regarding minority interview and hiring practices adopted by the member schools is pretty damn toothless:

The written policy…says that “athletics directors interviewing candidates for head football coaching positions should include one or more minority candidates for that position, resulting in a formal interview opportunity. It is prudent to hire from a broad, diverse and growing group of candidates, and to support equal opportunity and fair hiring practices throughout the hiring process. This is not only the position of the association, but most likely in alignment with the hiring policies of the institution.”

Nice thought in theory and your intentions are well-meaning, NCAA, but nothing really gets accomplished here without any sort of punishment mechanism in place.  It’s a very tall order, but the only way to make this work is to punish the offending school with the loss of scholarships. That’s probably not going to happen any time soon. The glacial pace is getting better than it was for minority coaches in the D-IA ranks, but anything’s an improvement right now.

(An aside: I remain amazed at anyone who can claim that hiring preferences, quotas, and other code terms for affirmative action isn’t needed. You don’t erase centuries of brutality and disenfranchisement in 50 years.)