Black coaches not in 'the right circles' Few opportunities in Division 1-A

September 05, 1992|By Jerry Bembry and Don Markus | Jerry Bembry and Don Markus,Staff Writers

Growing up as a youngster in Orangeburg, S.C., Frank Hickson's professional future was shaped while attending South Carolina State football games during the 1970s and watching the work of its legendary coach, Willie Jeffries.

"He built a champion, and he made an impact on the entire state -- Willie Jeffries was just as well known as the governor himself," said Hickson, now an assistant coach at the Naval Academy. "That man was my idol."

In 1979 Jeffries became the first black coach at a major university, taking over at Wichita State. But 13 years after Jeffries made college football history, Hickson is dismayed at the lack of opportunities for blacks at major colleges.

"It's a shame that we're celebrating the 100th year of black college football and what we have to show for it is no black coaches in Division I-A," Hickson said. The first black college game was between Livingstone College and Biddle University on Dec. 27, 1892, in Salisbury, N.C.

"There's some barriers that have been broken, but there's a lot more to go after," said Hickson, 31, who has been coaching since 1982. "It's a tragedy that the starting black football players are so significant in numbers, yet we can't have one person as a black [head] coach."

While the record in hiring has frustrated black coaches, most have demonstrated perseverance. Larry Slade, in the coaching business for 19 years, never interviewed for a coordinator's position until he got a call from Maryland's Mark Duffner earlier this year. He left the University of Washington to take the job as the Terps' defensive coordinator, becoming one of only 12 blacks working as a coordinator or assistant head coach in Division I-A football.

"It's kind of a good-buddy network that tends to play a role," said Slade, 41, Maryland's first black coordinator and the second in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "There are a lot of highly qualified blacks, but they're not in the right circles.

"You have to make your breaks, do as well wherever you are, and even then it's not enough," Slade said. "It is easier [to become a coordi

nator] if you're a white coach than it is if you're a black coach."

Ricky Diggs, who left his assistant coach's job at Air Force to take the head coaching position at Division I-AA Morgan State, said the lack of black coaches in I-A "does not surprise me.

"If you're black and lose at a big school it's a situation where, 'Does [another school] give him another chance?' " Diggs said. "That doesn't happen. The first thing schools will say is that there's none qualified. I don't think they give us our just cause."

Diggs, who was an assistant coach at South Carolina for six years before his one year as wide receivers coach at Air Force, figured he could boost his qualifications by turning around a Morgan program that hasn't had a winning season since 1979.

"I wanted a challenge," said Diggs, 38, who was 1-10 in his first year at Morgan. "Air Force was the most secure position in the country. But had I stayed at Air Force [the chance to become] a major college coach may not have happened. If I'm successful here, they won't be able to say I can't do it. But I'm not looking beyond my present job. I'm looking at my job here."

The same holds true for Hickson, who hopes helping turn around Navy's program will make him an attractive candidate for promotion.

"I would like very soon to put myself in a position to have more responsibility, such as being a coordinator or an assistant head coach," Hickson said. "To help build Navy into a winner, that's probably my best chance for personal advancement."

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