“During our process, Lane Kiffin stood out. He has great football bloodlines and has been part of a strong football tradition since birth.”
Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, on the hiring of the Vols’ new football coach.
This is what’s wrong with college football. What’s wrong is people such as Mike Hamilton being allowed to make major hiring decisions based on, what, genealogy? What’s even worse is that the University of Tennessee athletic director is allowed to trumpet it publicly without anyone standing up and saying: Are you freakin’ kidding?
After what Hamilton jokingly called a “national search,” one that took place in less time than it took fired Vols coach Phillip Fulmer to clean out his desk, Hamilton hired a guy with a year and a cup of coffee’s experience as a head coach and a 5-15 record, a guy who has never been a head coach at the collegiate level, never mind at a program with national championship aspirations such as Tennessee.
And he stood out because of bloodlines – the luck of the gene pool?
If we chose our president the way Hamilton hires football coaches, well, never mind. I guess we used to, but he’ll be leaving office Jan. 20.
Trouble is, Hamilton’s not alone.
That mentality, that “process”, still dominates the hiring of college football coaches, not just in the South but throughout the nation. That’s just one of the reasons why the dearth of African-American college football coaches might be the most mind-numbing story in sports. It’s been a story for as long as I can remember and the lack of progress – particularly now – might make it the most embarrassing corner of the sports landscape.
Lately, in the wake of the ouster of two black head coaches (Ty Willingham at Washington and Ron Prince at Kansas State, and the resignation of Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom (a good coach who never really had a chance for sustainable success at MSU), the numbers have been widely reported: Just four black head football coaches among the 119 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools, half as many as there were a decade ago and the fewest in 15 years.
Not in college football.
Not unless something drastic happens, on many fronts.
NCAA president Myles Brand has in the past decried the lack of black coaches. But when The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida released its annual report last month detailing the number of minorities in leadership positions in college sports, it was Charlotte Westerhaus, the NCAA’s vice president for diversity and inclusion, who told the Los Angeles Times that the numbers were “appalling.”
Brand has said the NCAA can not legislate something like the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview non-white candidates for coaching vacancies. I’ve heard from all corners that it would be difficult to implement and enforce such a rule due to the autonomy of the disparate major institutions. But since when does difficult preclude trying? Form a committee comprising college presidents, advisers from pro sports and people such as Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches Association; and Richard Lapchik of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport and charge them with creating a framework that would be the starting point for college sports’ version of such a rule.
Then give the rule teeth with sanctions such as the loss of scholarships for schools that do not comply.
Moreover, once a hire is made, new coaches such as Kiffin should be required to adhere to the rule as well. So far, with the hiring of his brother-in-law in some capacity and the rumored hiring of his dad as defensive coordinator, Kiffin looks to be watering the entire family tree from the Vols’ trough. Forget nepotism, but is Kiffin assembling the best staff possible?
Not possible when you’re only fishing in the family pond.
Little will change until the young black men who represent the 55 percent of all student athletes begin to hold the schools and coaches accountable for their hiring practices. Particularly those who are the cream of the recruits, the young studs who will carry the burden of expectations.
In the age of Obama, these young men should be inspired to ask the tough questions, “Why should I play for you if you don’t feel anyone like me is capable of being a leader at your institution?”
I know it’s a lot to ask of young men, but if they know their history, they know that the movement that paved the way for Obama’s election was carried out by young men and women no older than they are.
In his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech former NFL tight end Kellen Winslow charged a generation of recruits to leverage their opportunity to influence change: “‘Son,'” he said at one point, speaking as if he was a college coach recruiting a top player, “‘we’d really like for you to play for State U. We have a fine academic program, and a winning tradition, and it’s close to home, so your folks can see you play a lot.’ — Player to coach — “‘That sounds great, but it bothers me that there are only two African-American coaches on your staff, and neither one of them is the offensive or defensive coordinator.'”
“With these few words, African-American athletes can begin to open doors of opportunities that for whatever reason were once closed to African-Americans.”
Kiffin wasted no time to reaching out to Tennesee’s top prospect, Marlon Brown (pictured), a 6-foot-5 wide receiver from Memphis. We don’t know whether Brown asked Kiffin about his plans for his staff, whether any non-white men would be recruited as a coordinator or position coach. But we can hope.
We can hope that, at minimum, Brown will tell Kiffin to appreciate him for more than his bloodlines.
Harding Academy photo