With Green moving to NFL, Division I-A has all-white head coaching fraternity

February 23, 1992|By Ed Sherman | Ed Sherman,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Compared to the color line in college football, the NFL's minority representation among head coaches is a virtual Rainbow Coalition.

Even though the Minnesota Vikings recently hired Dennis Green, there was still much criticism that the NFL had just two black head coaches among 28 franchises. Two is light years better than none, which is the current figure for blacks holding head coaching positions in big-time Division I-A football -- the same as in the National Hockey League.

To make matters worse, there are 106 schools in I-A, almost four times as many opportunities as in the NFL.

That's 0-for-106, an amazing statistic for a sport in which so many players are black.

"It's truly frightening, speaking on behalf of every black assistant football coach," said Clemson assistant Ron Dickerson, president of the Black Coaches Association. "This is 1992, and we haven't progressed at all."

Regressed would be a better description, considering there were three black head coaches in 1991. Green left Stanford for the Vikings, Northwestern fired Francis Peay and Willie Brown lost his job when Long Beach State decided to give up football.

The void, though, easily could have been filled, because there were 16 coaching vacancies this year, an unusually high turnover, with three alone in the Big Ten. Sixteen new head coaches later, and no blacks.

In fact, blacks were hardly in the running anywhere. Willie Shaw, Stanford's defensive coordinator, probably got the most serious consideration as a possible replacement for Green. But when Bill Walsh entered the picture, Shaw went from a front-runner to out of a job; he's since latched on with Green and the Vikings.

"You very seldom hear of blacks being on a college's short list. It's very troubling," said Arthur Ashe, the former tennis star who wrote a detailed chronicle of black athletes in America.

Minority representation throughout college sports is troubling to Ashe and other critics. According to the most recent (1990) study by the Center for the Study of Sports in Society at Northeastern University, of the 1,165 head coaching positions in Division I sports with a high black participation, only 47 were filled by blacks, and 39 of them were basketball coaches.

In the Big Ten, there are two black basketball coaches (Ohio State's Randy Ayers and Minnesota's Clem Haskins) and one black athletic director (Minnesota's McKinley Boston). The conference has eight coaching positions in non-revenue sports filled by blacks.

The Big Ten's record with minorities is better than most, but as the current football situation shows, there's much room for improvement everywhere.

"The progress isn't what it should be [in football]," said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. "Obviously, there are qualified minorities. For whatever reason, it's not happening."

There are many theories. Ashe maintains the "good old boy" network is just as strong in the colleges as in the pros. That network is made up of white coaches hired predominantly by white administrators.

"The fact is, the industry tends to be a little bit closed," Delany said. "Many of the constituents tend to be white -- from the fans to the alumni to the people who make the decisions. This isn't a justification, it's just the way it is."

Purdue offensive coordinator Bobby Turner has heard all the reasons, including: "The town [he wouldn't specify] isn't ready for a black head coach." Turner and Iowa offensive coordinator Carl Jackson are the only two black coordinators in the Big Ten, out of a possible 20 spots.

That's a big part of the problem. While almost every school has a black coach on its staff, Turner says, "Ninety-nine percent of us are hired to recruit [black athletes]."

Very few like Turner and Jackson have been able to progress to coordinator positions. New head coaches usually are selected from that pool. Illinois promoted defensive coordinator Lou Tepper to replace John Mackovic, and Northwestern selected Colorado offensive coordinator Gary Barnett to run its show.

If blacks aren't getting that high up the ladder, they definitely won't get to the top. Once again, it's the "good old boy" network at work.

"Normally, people hire people who they know," said Iowa's Jackson. "That could leave some [black] coaches out."

Purdue coach Jim Colletto gave Turner a shot as one of his top assistants. Turner, 42, hopes it will put him in position to achieve his goal of being a head coach.

"I feel like I've paid my dues," he said. "I've been around a lot of good organizations. Now if I don't get it, people can't say I haven't been a coordinator, and that I haven't worked under key people.

"I've done all the groundwork to make myself available. If there's someone better, I don't have a problem. But I can't live with being lied to. All I want is an opportunity."

Turner believes he will get his chance, as will other blacks. "There are enough of us who are qualified. The number shouldn't be zero."

Ashe agrees. In an idealist view, he says the nation's colleges should have been at the forefront of this issue. After all, institutions of higher education are expected to promote progressive ideas, providing the environment for change.

And yet, in 1992, there are the same number of black coaches in big-time college football as there were when Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947.

"Our colleges are supposed to be the keepers of the flame," Ashe said. "But there's no way you can say our colleges are keeping a high moral vista and are doing the right thing here."

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