Let’s end racism in college football
By Bill McCamley
“Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
“Right, but… but I’ve learned that we can’t judge people based on what they look like.” – Eric Cartman
In a recent column, Dan Foley claims the “word on the street” is that New Mexico State University Athletic Director McKinley Boston is not going to consider a coach from the University of Alabama for NMSU’s head position purely because he is white and Dr. Boston only will consider black candidates. After a long diatribe, Foley concludes that “The ‘color’ of a person you hire is irrelevant. Anyone who tries to tell you it should be a factor used in considering a person is not only wrong, but is also, sadly — consciously or unconsciously — a racist. There’s no place for that in the 21st Century.”
This sounds great, but there are two problems with this hypothesis. First and foremost, the accusation that Dr. Boston would only hire based on race simply doesn’t jive with reality. His first hire as athletic director was Head Football Coach Hal Mumme (Check out this picture. A whiter person would be hard to find.)
Furthermore, unlike Foley, I actually asked Dr. Boston about Jim McElwain, the coach Foley claims is being discriminated against because he is white. Boston responded by saying that McElwain was invited to interview with the search committee but has not because of scheduling conflicts. Boston said he is still having conversations with McElwain’s agent about a possible interview.
Way off target
The second problem with Foley’s column is that, though his statement about race is completely right, his target is way off. Race as a function of hiring in the college football coaching ranks has been a hot topic for years, and not because white people have been discriminated against. Here are the facts. During the past year in the Bowl Subdivision (the top level of college football including teams eligible to enter bowl games that can be seen on TV over the holidays and where both NMSU and UNM play), 50 percent of all football players were black. However, as you climb the ranks of football hierarchy, the number of African Americans participating steadily declines. Some 31 percent of lower assistant coaches were black, while only 12 percent of offensive and defensive coordinators (the top assistants on the team) were.
After the coaches from Mississippi State, Kansas State and Washington all either resigned or were fired in the past month, only three black coaches are left in the top football classification. There are 119 schools. That equals 2.5 percent. Rounding out the count includes only two other minority head coaches: a Cuban-American at Florida International and a Samoan-American at Navy.
The situation actually gets worse. The top six conferences in college football form a subdivision of that FBS category called Bowl Championship. Simply put, for a coach to have a regular chance at getting into a big bowl or the national championship, they have to be at one of these teams. Only one black coach remains in this category (University of Miami). Arguments from many commentators on this problem focus on access. The problem is that black candidates hardly ever get considered for head positions, and when they do, the vast majority get a shot at schools with terrible records.
The Auburn situation
Two weeks ago the race issue popped its ugly head at traditional football power Auburn University. A man named Gene Chizek was awarded the head coach position over another candidate, Turner Gill. Chizek had a good record as a defensive coordinator and coached the last two years at Iowa State, a member of the Big-12 (one of the top six conferences — think Texas and Oklahoma). But in the last two seasons at Iowa State he went 5-19 (He won five games and lost 19).
Turner Gill, on the other hand, was hired as the coach at Buffalo three years ago. Buffalo had a program like NMSU’s (one of the worst in the country). Though he only went 2-8 in his first year, that improved to 5-7 in 2007 and this year he went 8-5, beating a previously undefeated Ball State team ranked 12th in the country. This led to Buffalo traveling to the first bowl game ever in school history.
Charles Barkley, a famous basketball player who played at Auburn, recently criticized the hiring of Chizek over Gill, saying that “I think race was the No. 1 factor” in the decision. Now Barkley is a hothead who will say all sorts of things to get in to the news. But, when examining the overall scenario that black coaches seem to face and the specific records of the two people involved in the Auburn case, he seems to make a good point here.
It becomes more pertinent when other sports are considered. There are a high number of black coaches in both college and pro basketball, and last year the Boston Celtics won the National Basketball Association championship with a black coach. Even the National Football Association recognized that access given to black coaches was a problem in the pros and instituted a policy called the “Rooney Rule.” It stated that teams had to at least interview a minority coach when an opening occurred. The result: There are now six black head coaches out of 32 teams, and two of them actually faced each other in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago.
Rather than pretending racism doesn’t exist…
So what is the bottom line here? Whether we admit it or not, whether it is on the surface or not, whether it is conscious or not, race is playing a role in decisions to hire coaches in college football. Should Dr. Boston hire someone purely because of their skin color? Or course not. However, because others have made their decisions based on race, it can be presumed that there is an abundance of quality African American head coaches available, and that fact should be evaluated in any discussion. Don Haskins used that same principle to win a national championship in college basketball 40 years ago at Texas Western (now UTEP).
Americans have come a long way in terms of race relations. There are now high profile minority university Leaders, journalists, CEOs, judges, and now even a mixed-race president. But we’re not there yet. And rather than wasting time pretending that small pockets of racism, including the one in college football, don’t exist, we should all be doing whatever we can to stamp out the last bastions of this ignorant attitude.
McCamley is the outgoing District 5 Doña Ana County commissioner.
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