Explaining the Lack of Black Head Coaches in College Football

This article was written by Dr. Brian Joseph, a freelance writer and educational consultant. His passions include socioeconomics, educational reform, sports and politics. A Southern California native, Brian lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife and two children. He can be reached at: brianbiggame@yahoo.com.

footballEarlier this , Mina Kimes penned an article in ESPN the Magazine entitled “New Study Exposes NFL’s Coaching Diversity Crisis: Highlighting the Lack of Black Head Coaches in the NFL.” Seemingly every year this is a topic that is tossed around talk radio and various media outlets.

The lack of Black head coaches in major college football has also become a major issue. According to figures compiled by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, at the beginning of this year, there were 11 Black head coaches among the 128 teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Football Bowl Subdivision.

Why are there not more Black head coaches in major college football? Critics clamor for the NCAA to adopt a college version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for vacant coaching positions. Many conclude that Blacks are just not given an equal opportunity, intentionally passed over by White presidents and White athletic directors. In some instances this may be so.

But other factors also come into play and have a major impact on why there are not more Black head coaches in college football. This study will show that Blacks do not currently hold assistant coaching positions that have a strong correlation to becoming coordinators and subsequent head coaches. This study will also show that whenever Blacks have aspired to become head coaches, taken the coaching path that leads to success and have committed and dedicated to the art of coaching, they have become head coaches.

Whereas blacks comprise 60 percent of the participants in Division I-A football and 70 percent at some of the traditional football powerhouses, i.e. Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson, they comprise only 34 percent of the coaching population. While motivation and intention to pursue coaching are hard to measure, one of the reasons for the lack of Black coaches may be connected to the humble beginnings many coaches must endure to ascend to an eventual head coach position.

Entry level coaching positions do not offer the same rewards that playing on the big stages of major college football do. Coaching also requires different skill sets and often times the ability to endure humbling circumstances and meager financial rewards. Over half of the current head football coaches within the group of Power 5 football conferences begin their foray into the profession by becoming graduate assistants. Because of the exposure and social capital they provide, graduate assistant (GAs) positions are extremely competitive, especially at schools within the Power 5 and are generally reserved for young aspiring coaches/students pursuing their graduate degrees.

In exchange for an offset in tuition, GAs routinely work 12-15 hour days, game planning, breaking down film, evaluating players and the like. Only two out of seven of the current Black head coaches within the Power 5 began their coaching careers as graduate assistants. However, Black men who aspire to be coaches are not pursuing the graduate assistant route at the same rate as their White counterparts. Blacks only comprise 13 percent of all graduate school enrollments and 75 percent of those enrollees are Black women. The aforementioned data suggests that the majority of Blacks begin their foray into the coaching profession by becoming coaches at lower-level college programs, community colleges, or high schools.

Prior to becoming head coach, 58 of the 62 current head coaches within the Power 5 conferences served as coordinators, making the coordinator role the unofficial prerequisite. Also, 34 of the 62 current head coaches were former offensive coordinators, a significant advantage over their former defensive coordinators counterparts. Twenty-four head coaches were former defensive coordinators. In addition, for all coaches, the average time spent as an assistant coach, prior to becoming a head coach was 18.9 years. It is noteworthy that African American head coaches David Shaw, James Franklin, and Kevin Sumlin all spent less time as assistant coaches than the national average; all three were quarterback coaches and subsequently promoted to offensive coordinator. So if the unofficial prerequisite to becoming a head coach is becoming a coordinator, then training quarterbacks places coaches on the fast track to head coach. Four of the seven current Black head coaches in Power 5 conferences served as quarterback coaches and then offensive coordinators.

The obvious prerequisite to becoming a quarterback coach is to have some experience playing the position. While Blacks have had tremendous success playing the position and Black quarterbacks are not the anomaly they were in past, there are still very few Blacks playing the position at the collegiate or professional levels, making the potential pool of candidates very small.

The path to defensive coordinator is strongly correlated with defensive back coaches as the most likely position to promote to defensive coordinator and then head coach. Of the current head coaches within the Power 5, as aforementioned, 24 of 62 were former defensive coordinators and 19 of these were former defensive back coaches. The current Black head coaches with defensive coordinator experience were all defensive back coaches at some point in their early careers.

While Blacks are strongly represented as assistant coaches within the Power 5 conferences, most do not coach a position that is fast tracked to the coordinator role and the subsequent head coaching role. This is evidenced by the positions Blacks occupy on Power 5 coaching staffs. Black assistant coaches are well represented at the running back coach position (37/62) and the wide receiver coach position (33/62) but these positions have a very low correlation to offensive coordinator. There are currently only two Black quarterback coaches, the assistant coaching position with the highest correlation to becoming head coach.

On the defensive side of the ball, blacks are well represented as defensive line coaches (29/62) and defensive back coaches (22/62) with defensive back coach having the strongest correlation to defensive coordinator. It is noteworthy that every Black assistant coach does not aspire to become a head coach or coordinator but this is also the same for their White counterparts.

In conclusion, while there might be some merit to the theory of systematic racism in NCAA head coaching hires, the information presented here suggests that collectively, most Blacks do not coach positions that fast track them to coordinator and subsequently head coach. Blacks who aspire to become head coaches must be mindful of the coaching path they select but this is also true for their White counterparts. However, far too many times faulty conclusions are made to determine the cause for the lack of Black head coaches. Before making determinations, it is critical that the trends and data are closely examined.

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  1. The conclusion assumes that opportunities for getting assistant coaching lines that lead to head coach is equally open to African Americans needs to be tested. We know that positions have long been race-connected so I would assume that the same is true for position coaches. This being said, racism appears to be systemically intertwined with career trajectories not just head coach. This would be my hypothesis.

  2. While your points are valid Dr. Joseph, the fact remains that even those Blacks who take the route of GA or assume an assistant position that leads to a coordintor and then head coaching opportunty potentially, the fact that remains that they will ultimately run into the wall. The Fritz Pollard model is not really working, but is instead one way for the NFL to keep the natives silent, i.e. lots of interviews, few hires and even then, it’s just like what happens with White coaches…retreads

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