This is the question you need to ask yourself as we near the end of another coaching search silly season: Would Gene Chizik have been hired at Auburn if he were black?
The answer, of course, is no. Not in this environment. Not with his record.
That's not an indictment of Auburn or Chizik so much as it is of college football.
Fourteen new coaches have been hired in the last few weeks. One of them has been an African-American. That small sample actually represents double the ratio (7.1 percent) that exists overall in the sport (3.3 percent). White presidents, ADs and boosters hire those with whom they are comfortable.
Had Chizik been black he would not have been considered with a 5-19 head coaching record. Because he is white, and Auburn was becoming desperate, he fit.
It you are outraged by that stance, please, be my guest. Auburn icon Charles Barkley agrees with me. He told a reporter recently "race was the No. 1 factor" in the hire. I'm not attacking Auburn per se, I'm attacking a system that has allowed the number of African-American coaches to slip from six in 2008 to the current number of four. There are still five jobs to fill, so one can only hope for "progress."
If Auburn AD Jay Jacobs was looking to make a splash -- he didn't, by the way -- why not go hard after Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong? Or Georgia's Rodney Garner, a former Auburn player and coach? The Dawgs defensive line coach is one of the best recruiters in the country. I could keep going, but the list is the same one that has been ignored by virtually every school with an opening.
CBS analyst Spencer Tillman wrote a fine column last month on this site crystallizing part of the issue.
"Strong is black and his wife is white," Tillman wrote. "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."
Auburn just happens to have become a case study for white coaches being given the benefit of the doubt. And there was a lot of doubt with Chizik. Two years after taking the job, a month after professing undying loyalty for Iowa State, Chizik said goodbye to his players over the weekend.
Don't try to rationalize such an ethically borderline decision, Gene, just admit you fell into a truckload of money, got a chance to get back into the SEC and got the hell out of Ames.
|Coach Turner Gill's success at Buffalo wasn't enough for Auburn, apparently. (Getty Images)|
What's the first rule of a coaching search? When you fire someone, have an idea who you want to hire. When Tommy Tuberville was fired/resigned, Auburn fired a shotgun at a target of unrealistic candidates. Bobby Petrino, Paul Johnson, Jimbo Fisher, Steve Spurrier and Will Muschamp were all persons of interest. It's obvious by now the interest was not reciprocal.
Chizik looks to be something like a fourth or fifth choice. How do I know? If he had been at the top of the list, Chizik would have already been on the job.
In the end, Auburn found someone it could control and fit a narrow job description. That first point is obvious. Tuberville averaged 8 1/2 wins per season. You don't "resign" if you're contending for SEC West titles each year. You aren't tempted to do the right thing when your comfort zone is a century-plus run of white coaches.
Once again, let me stress that Auburn is no different than the majority of programs. Look at the results of some of the other searches:
Kansas State rightly fired Ron Prince but then gave the right of first refusal to former coach Bill Snyder, apparently without interviewing anyone else.
Mississippi State gave up on Sylvester Croom, the first black head coach in the SEC, then hired Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen. Mullen was a deserving candidate but so was Strong from the same staff.
Ty Willingham has been fired from two traditionally powerful programs -- Washington and Notre Dame. Both schools gave lip service to seriously considering minority candidates to replace Willingham.
In the end Auburn traded a coach with a 5-7 record for a coach with a 2-10 record. If Auburn was going to settle for hiring a coach with a losing record it could have done worse than Gill (15-22 at Buffalo).
That's the point. Maybe it did.
Rating the hires (so far)
1. New Mexico, Mike Locksley (Illinois offensive coordinator) -- This made too much sense. At age 38, Locksley is ready to take off as a head coach after serving at two big-time programs (Illinois and Florida).
"Locks" will bring immediate credibility to a program that had grown stale. He will bring in BCS-quality speed and get the Lobos challenging for the Mountain West title within three years. If everything goes right, Locksley will leave this steppingstone program after four or five years and head to a BCS conference.
So far, Locksley is the only African-American hired in the current round of coaching changes.
2. Mississippi State, Dan Mullen (Florida offensive coordinator) -- Great for Mississippi State, which has become like nails on a chalkboard to watch on offense. Questionable for Mullen, who could have maybe waited a year and gotten a better, safer, more victorious gig. Mullen could be wildly successful and move on in a few years or see his career fall down a black hole. Last time I checked the SEC isn't getting any easier and Mississippi State has one winning season since 2000.
3. Clemson, Dabo Swinney (interim coach) -- It was a, shall we say, very public search by AD Terry Don Phillips. That private plane with the big orange paw was the first giveaway.
Phillips did his due diligence in replacing Tommy Bowden, then settled on a safe, sane pick. Swinney might not be sexy enough for some Clemson fans but Tiger fans had sexy for 10 years under Bowden. Where did that get them?
First impressions were not favorable. In his initial game as interim coach against Georgia Tech, Swinney put the Tigers in a hole calling gadget plays. After that he went 4-1 to end the season. Phillips put away the jet and put his faith in a well-respected, former Alabama walk-on who has won a national championship. That's something Clemson hasn't done since 1981.
|The Silly Season|
|Division I-A coaching changes|
|Auburn (Tommy Tuberville) to Gene Chizik|
|Bowling Green (Gregg Brandon) to Dave Clawson|
|Clemson (Tommy Bowden) to Dabo Swinney|
|Kansas State (Ron Prince) to Bill Snyder|
|Mississippi State (Sylvester Croom) to Dan Mullen|
|New Mexico (Rocky Long) to Mike Locksley|
|Purdue (Joe Tiller) to Danny Hope|
|San Diego State (Chuck Long) to Brady Hoke|
|Syracuse (Greg Robinson) to Doug Marrone|
|Tennessee (Phil Fulmer) to Lane Kiffin|
|Toledo (Tom Amstutz) to Tim Beckman|
|Utah State (Brent Guy) to Gary to Andersen|
|Washington (Tyrone Willingham) to Steve Sarkisian|
|Wyoming (Joe Glenn) to Dave Christensen|
If the karma stays with them they will both soon have their low-riding programs competing for conference championships. Really, these two have been blessed having "grown up" at USC. They took over for Norm Chow, calling offensive plays for Pete Carroll and now find themselves at major programs in their mid-30s.
Sarkisian has the advantage for now. He had the smarts to turn down the Raiders. Kiffin took the job and it cost him a 20-game detour into hell. Both coaches have the locals jazzed. It's harder to tell which guy has the furthest to go. Washington was I-A's only winless team but Tennessee has stumbled in arguably the sport's toughest division (SEC East). First one to get to a BCS bowl heads for the NFL.
6. Wyoming, Dave Christensen (Missouri offensive coordinator) -- A perfect starter job for a hot OC. There is something about Wyoming if the right guy is there. This program has produced Joe Tiller, Dennis Erickson and Bob Devaney.
It's not impossible to win there, it just takes energy and a reasonable facsimile of Jeremy Maclin and Chase Daniel.
7. Utah State, Gary Andersen (Utah defensive coordinator) -- I was ready to put this one near the bottom until I realized Utah State has had as many coaches as Auburn (26). It's clear Utah State made a much more sensible choice.
The Aggies got a bit lucky. Andersen has been part of two BCS bowl teams at Utah and is regarded as an excellent recruiter. Going north to hire the enemy isn't common in Logan. The last Utah grad to coach the Aggies was E. Lowell Romney (1919-1948). Think of it this way: If everything falls into the toilet, the WAC's second-youngest coach can always go back to Utah where he spent 11 years as an assistant.
8. Bowling Green, Dave Clawson (Tennessee offensive coordinator) -- This survivor of the Tennessee debacle in 2008 landed in a good place.
Clawson, a I-AA wizard, could have had his career irreparably damaged. Tennessee's offense was a disaster from the start. Fortunately for him, Bowling Green concentrated more on Clawson's success at Fordham and Richmond (58-49) than his one-year folly in Knoxville.
9. San Diego State, Brady Hoke (Ball State head coach) -- A bit of an odd choice considering UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker seemed to be more of a fit.
Hoke is cashing in on a one-year wonder season at Ball State. The SDSU administration must have seen that he can make something out of nothing. If Hoke can do it in Muncie, how can he fail in America's Finest City? He'll start behind in a pro town that loves its football, just not necessarily the Aztecs.
10. Kansas State, Bill Snyder (retired) -- This would be a wonderful hire if not for Snyder's age (69) and the fact that he'll be chasing not only the rest of the Big 12 North but also the his own legacy.
It is disturbing that K-State didn't seem to have a plan other than Snyder after firing Prince. In his first go-round with the Wildcats, Snyder was hailed as a savior after going 27-28-1 in his first five seasons. If he does that again, well, he won't be around five years.
11. Toledo, Tim Beckman (Oklahoma State defensive coordinator) -- Beckman is an Ohio guy. He coached under Jim Tressel at Ohio State and Urban Meyer at Bowling Green.
I don't know Tim Beckman. I have nothing against him. I do know his defense gave up 61 points in its last game against Oklahoma. That puts him in a crowded room of d-coordinators who have faced Oklahoma this season.
I am willing to bet Beckman won't accomplish what the last guy did. Tom Amstutz won 58 games in eight years in leading the Rockets to four bowl games and two MAC titles.
12. Purdue, Danny Hope (offensive line coach) -- We've known about this for a while but we don't know much about the coach. Hope was hired in January as Tiller's coach-in-waiting. Purdue gets credit for continuity. Hope is a former Purdue assistant and was 35-22 in five seasons at Eastern Kentucky.
But in his return in 2008, the Boilers went 4-8. Hope's offensive line finished tied for 65th in sacks allowed and the offense was a pedestrian 51st in total yards.
13. Auburn, Gene Chizik (Iowa State head coach) -- This one is full of contradictions. Chizik was once was part of teams that won 29 in a row (Auburn-Texas, 2003-2006). But he comes to this job having lost 10 in a row as a head coach.
A defensive coordinator was brought in to cure an offense that is 110th in scoring. Upon getting the job, Chizik said Auburn was his home but in 2005 he bailed on the program. The Chiz wasn't exactly crying as he left for Texas, either.
It's clear AD Jay Jacobs wanted a white coach with ties to Auburn. If Chizik had said no, Jacobs would have been down to interviewing candidates who had driven through Auburn.
14. Syracuse, Doug Marrone (New Orleans offensive coordinator) -- I can't get past the fact that Syracuse just fired a former NFL defensive coordinator with no head coaching experience and replaced him with an NFL offensive coordinator with no head coaching experience.
"For me to sit here and say that Doug Marrone is the right guy is what I would love to say, but I can't say that because I don't know at this point if Doug is the right guy for Syracuse football."
That comes from Tim Green, a member of the search committee and a close friend of Marrone's when they played at Syracuse.