I've long believed that sports mirror society. Take the world of politics and college football, for example.
Barack Obama was born in 1961, four years before the Civil Rights Act became law. The act's goal was to afford minorities an opportunity to succeed. About a decade after Obama's birth, Alabama's Bear Bryant started recruiting black players. As the story goes, Bryant made his decision after Southern Cal pounded the Tide and players who happened to be black were the difference. Bryant could take this step because of his stature as a football coach and his standing as a leader. He opened a door for black players to compete.
Four decades later, a biracial man is elected President of the United States. As a kid, Obama was just a few years removed from having to ride in the back of the bus. Soon he'll take up permanent residence in the White House.
|Teams in need of a head coach would be wise to consider Charlie Strong, Florida's defensive coordinator. (US Presswire)|
But here's the contradiction: Universities are spending millions of dollars to recruit top black players into their programs, yet black coaches are on the outside looking in.
Unlike the players on the field, the coaches' access has been constrained, limited to the occasional and most difficult opportunities. The latest casualties are Tyrone Willingham and Ron Prince. Whether Prince's firing at Kansas State was justified is questionable, but Willingham needed to pack it in at Washington.
Regardless, major college football now has just four black head coaches out of 120 schools; even a cynic has to agree this is pathetic and something needs to be done about it.
The question is, why the discrepancy? I firmly believe it gets back to the attitudes and values of the people who make coaching hires.
Here's an example from outside the lines: There are 12 women and five black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. The reason often articulated to me -- that there aren't enough qualified candidates -- defies logic and reality. If you take a close look at who serves on boards of directors, you'll find white men over the age of 50. Here in the oil patch we call that the "good old boy" club.
We can confirm this thesis by looking at the election results. Obama got 92 percent of the black vote, according to the exit polls reported on CNN. Blacks made up roughly 13 percent of the population, so he needed a lot of help from America who aren't black, and they delivered across the demographic spectrum. There's one glaring exception: The over-50, white-men crowd voted against him. And, by the way, the majority of ADs and university presidents choosing football coaches have a similar profile.
It means that there's far more here than qualifications. You can be the judge about fairness; I'm here to point out what might not be obvious to many.
The defensive coordinator of Florida is Charlie Strong, who already has one national championship under his belt. He is among the brightest defensive minds in the game, respected by his peers and the players -- Tim Tebow is chief among them. I have known Strong for nine years. He is a first-rate recruiter and devoted family man who has high moral values. So far he has drawn a blank for head coaching jobs.
A CBS team member created an index that measures the qualifications of head coaching candidates and, you guessed it, Strong registers off the chart. They don't get any better.
Strong is black and his wife is white. This might not be problem for the enlightened, but it is for some of the folks making decisions about coaching openings. A former dean at an SEC school told me that in no uncertain terms, Strong's marital status would be a difficult sell at any Southern university.
Strong's marriage has nothing to do with measuring up to other candidates; I'm talking about getting a chance to compete.
In principle, our goal needs to have "blind auditions" like the ones held in the music world. Applicants perform out of sight, so nothing but merit wins the prize. Sure, we could hide a coach behind a screen, but can't we just look at a man's qualifications and not the color of his skin?
Here's a plan: Use an index much like the one created by my CBS colleague -- a checklist of strengths and weaknesses for coaching candidates. Just about every profession has a grading system that's available to the public. The index needs to be sponsored by a respected, independent third party much like the Knight Commission that makes recommendations about student-athlete academic-based on performance. It could well be an equipment manufacturer that doesn't back away from compelling issues.
Second, the index needs to be given the widest possible publicity. The media is essential, and not just sports media. The fans can have the most powerful effect on change and we need them. What we are shooting for is to get this issue out of the closet for honest and frank discussion and evaluation.
There's nothing like a little pressure to get people moving, and it's long past time.
As they say on the Blue Collar Comedy tour, "Git 'er done."