Bringing in blacks counts with Geiger

MIKE LITTWIN

January 15, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

You probably heard only half the Dennis Green story. You heard the good half, about how, when he moved from Stanford to the Minnesota Vikings last week, he became the second black head coach in modern NFL history.

Here's the downside: At the same time Green left Stanford, he also left the Division I-A college football ranks without a single black head coach.

That's right. Green was the last one standing, according to a spokesman from the American Football Coaches Association.

Out of 106, rah-rah, sis-boom-bah, big-time, big-money, big-deal schools, none of them has a black head coach. Imagine some group that is able to make the NFL look progressive. It boggles the mind.

If this does not disturb you, however, maybe you should consider becoming an athletic director at a major college or university.

OK, that's not fair. I know of at least one athletic director at a major college or university who cares a great deal. He's the Maryland athletic director, and his name is Andy Geiger. As background, when he was the Stanford athletic director, he hired a certain Dennis Green to be his football coach.

Now, he's hiring again. When Geiger named Mark Duffner, who is white, as the Maryland football coach, he insisted that Duffner hire black assistants. This may not seem unusual until you discover that the Maryland football program has never had more than one black assistant coach at a time.

As of Monday, the Terps have two, and there may be others. One of those hired, Larry Slade, was named the defensive coordinator. That makes him the first black coach in the 100-year history of the Maryland football program to have filled the position of either offensive or defensive coordinator. Yes, progress comes slowly, when it comes at all.

Geiger is trying to hurry the process along.

He explained why: "Forty-some-odd percent of our team is African-American. Diversity is something this university celebrates. Role modeling, I believe, is important, particularly with black males. And I just think it's right."

I liked the last part best. He just thought it was right. Most people do. And yet, most people don't do anything about it. Most people get bogged down somewhere, maybe on the idea of quotas, and there are even some who are angry that Geiger would dictate that his coach consider race as a factor in hiring. Geiger doesn't know that he could do otherwise.

"One of the questions many people asked me at my arrival at Maryland was what was I going to do to reach out to the black community, particularly with what happened to Bob Wade and the basketball program and the resulting alienation," he said. "One thing I said was that I would try to hire black people in the athletic department, and that I wanted a university that reflects its constituency.

"When you put out all kinds of job announcements, and they say on the bottom that you're an equal opportunity employer, that you have an affirmative action program, I think you have to mean what you say."

But, for Geiger, it doesn't stop there. He has a personal stake in this, a personal belief. He and his wife have adopted a mixed-race child. They live in a mixed-race neighborhood. This is not lip service in which Geiger is engaging. This comes from the heart.

"I think it's important," he said, "sometimes to begin to put your money where your mouth is. Having black youngsters play for you is a little bit empty if you're not willing to provide opportunities in that same field of endeavor for black adults."

That Slade is a defensive coordinator is important because it is generally from the coordinators that head coaches evolve. The system is no more mysterious than the concept of 11 players to a side. Coaches work their way toward the top. Too often, however, black assistants never even get to the middle rung, and then people say there's no pool from which to hire.

Now, Slade is in the pool. It's a start.

As a head coach at a major university, Green was in a pool that the NFL general managers frequent. It's the one where they found Bobby Ross, as an example. The Vikings were quick to say that Green's race was not a factor in determining his qualifications. And Duffner said much the same of Larry Slade. We keep thinking there will come a time when nobody even asks.

But not yet.

For now, we have Geiger making his case: "This university is in a county [Prince George's] that is majority black, and we need to reflect that. It's our responsibility. And it's important."

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