In minority, but making difference Lone 3 blacks know success goes beyond I-A coaching wins

September 14, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

Philadelphia -- Temple University is surrounded by boarded-up rowhouses and small, street-corner stores. Old sofas and worn-out mattresses are left in several streets as people sit on their stoops during a hot, muggy September day.

But not far away, Temple's football team is practicing on the artificial turf at fenced-in Geasy Field, behind McGonigle Hall. This has become a hangout for a quite a few of Philadelphia's black youth.

"We come here to play catch, because the coach likes us," said Sherrod Johnson, 8, who can't remember the coach's name. "He never turns us away. One day, I'm going to play here. I want to play for the black coach."

Ron Dickerson, 45, became Temple's head coach on Nov. 24, 1992. A month later, Wake Forest's Jim Caldwell, 37, and Eastern Michigan's Ron Cooper, 32, joined Dickerson as the only three blacks among the 107 head coaches of Division I-A football schools. There have been nine in Division I-A history.

Much of the country will be watching and waiting.

And waiting. . . .

"There were no African-American coaches for me to look up to when I was a kid," Dickerson said. "I love being in this role, and one of the things I enjoy most is how people perceive Ron Dickerson.

"I hope I'm not judged this year on wins and losses. But I hope and pray that we win, because it will inspire so many. Hopefully, the door for hiring more blacks is now open beyond a crack. I would like to think it's three-quarters of the way open."

It was closed last season, when there were no African-American Division I football coaches for the first time since 1979, when Willie Jeffries was hired at Wichita State.

Maybe times are changing.

Or are they?

"Just by the numbers, I would hardly call it a trendsetter," said Washington State offensive coordinator Ted Williams. He and Nebraska receivers coach Ron Brown, New Mexico offensive coordinator Matt Simon, Tulane assistant Desmond Robinson and Maryland defensive coordinator Larry Slade are several African-Americans considered head-coaching prospects.

"We may be wading through an isolated period, or it just may be that consideration will be given to all races," said Williams. "I'm keeping an open mind and being optimistic."

Brown said: "It's hard to tell what may happen. But the three that were chosen are solid men and good role models. Hopefully, the skill and character they have as coaches will eliminate any apprehension others may have about hiring coaches because of their skin color."

Strong credentials

Jim Caldwell was an "A" student, National Honor Society member, co-captain of the basketball team and football and baseball star at Beloit (Wis.) Memorial High. Friends say he could have used a grant from local physicians to attend medical school and set up a practice in Beloit.

But Caldwell went to the University of Iowa and played football. He then became an assistant coach for 15 years, working under Minnesota Vikings head coach Dennis Green, Colorado's Bill McCartney, Louisville's Howard Schnellenberger and Penn State's Joe Paterno.

Dickerson had been an assistant coach since 1971. He has written a 103-page manual called "101 Defensive Back Drills and Techniques." Twenty of his players have gone on to the NFL. Dickerson has worked for McCartney, Paterno, Clemson's Ken Hatfield and Pittsburgh's Jackie Sherrill.

Cooper is the least known of the three, but his stock rose fast. He had held assistant positions at Appalachian State, Minnesota, Austin Peay, Murray State, East Carolina and Nevada-Las Vegas before Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz hired him two years ago as a defensive backs and assistant head coach.

All three are fairly quiet. All believe in strong discipline and no profanity on the field.

"These are three coaches with extensive backgrounds," said Williams. "What I like about their situations is that they were given an opportunity based on individual merit and at schools where there is a chance to succeed. That always wasn't the case in the past."

Wake Forest, Temple and Eastern Michigan aren't exactly football powers, but these schools are a step above Wichita State, Ohio University, Nevada-Las Vegas, Northwestern and Long Beach State, programs that have hired blacks since Jeffries took the first job in 1979.

Last year, Temple alumnus Bill Cosby told Dickerson the question he will hear most from recruits' parents is, "Will my child be safe?"

Dickerson, though, was unfazed. He also wasn't bothered that Temple has won 19 games since 1986 and plays in the competitive Big East.

"Ten years ago, I was talking with coaches about what programs should be outstanding. I thought Temple should be one of them. Temple football is a sleeping giant. There are enough good players in and around the Philadelphia area to get excited about," said Dickerson, who signed 25 recruits, nine from Pennsylvania. "If we lock in on them, this program can get turned around. The future of this program is endless."

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