Chris Kingston went with his gut.
“No better predictor of future success than past success, and Mike has had tremendous success,” Bowling Green’s athletic director in an email this month after hiring Texas Tech running backs coach Mike Jinks to replace Dino Babers.
The world knows little of Kingston, Jinks or even Bowling Green. But all three are at the point of a little-known college football cutting edge.
Kingston is a 43-year-old retired military intelligence officer and paratrooper who endures what has become the biggest problem with overseeing a Mid-American Conference football program: turnover.
Kingston had the foresight to hire his last coach (Babers) out of FCS. Eastern Illinois hadn’t been to the second round of the playoffs since 1989. In his two seasons with the Panthers, Babers’ went to the playoffs, reaching the quarterfinals in 2013. The Falcons then went to consecutive MAC title games, winning in 2015.
When Babers left Dec. 5 for Syracuse after only two seasons, it took Kingston only a few days to hire not only a coach but a second consecutive African-American. That made him an outlier. As an administrator at the highest level of college football, he didn’t see skin color.
“You don’t achieve the things Mike has achieved without being successful,” Kingston said. “You aren’t named associate head coach at a Big 12 program in your second year of FBS, collegiate coaching without being special.”
Despite Jinks’ hiring, the number of black head coaches has dropped again as another round of the hiring carousel twirls through the offseason.
The rate remains shameful. The current 9.3 percent ratio of black head coaches is significantly worse than it was in 2011 (14 percent). Meanwhile, the number of African-American players in FBS is at its highest point in at least a quarter-century, 53 percent. (The United States' African-American population is approximately 13 percent.)
There were 17 black head coaches entering the 2011 season. There were 13 in 2015. There will be 12 in 2016.
|College Football Head Coaching Hires ('15)|
|School||Former Coach||New Coach|
|South Carolina||Steve Spurrier||Will Muschamp|
|Missouri||Gary Pinkel||Barry Odom*|
|Illinois||Tim Beckman||Bill Cubit*|
|Maryland||Randyy Edsall||D.J. Durkin|
|Minneosta||Jerry Kill||Tracy Claeys*|
|USC||Steve Sarkisian||Clay Helton*|
|Miami||Al Golden||Mark Richt|
|Georgia||Mark Richt||Kirby Smart|
|Virginia Tech||Frank Beamer||Justin Fuente|
|Memphis||Justin Fuente||Mike Norvell|
|BYU||Bronco Mendenhall||Kalani Sitake|
|Virginia||Mike London||Bronco Mendenhall|
|Syracuse||Scott Shafer||Dino Babers|
|Bowling Green||Dino Babers||Mike Jenks|
|Iowa State||Paul Rhoads||Matt Campbell|
|Toledo||Matt Campbell||Jason Candle*|
|East Carolina||Ruffin McNeill||Scottie Montgomery|
|Hawaii||Norm Chow||Nick Rolovich|
|North Texas||Dan McCarney||Seth Litrell|
|Central Florida||George O'Leary||Scott Frost|
|Tulane||Curtis Johnson||Willie Fritz|
|Georgia Southern||Willie Fritz||Tyson Summers|
|Louisiana-Monroe||Todd Berry||Matt Viator|
|Rutgers||Kyle Flood||Chris Ash|
|Coach with African-American heritage|
|* Coach promoted from within the program|
With that typical MAC turnover in mind, Kingston, who is white, spent parts of each Sunday during the season reviewing the backgrounds of potential coaching candidates. He was intrigued by Jinks, who was just three years removed from a high school job and was named associate head coach by Kliff Kingsbury two years ago.
Jinks is believed to be the only current FBS head coach without experience as a head coach or coordinator in FBS or FCS. But there’s a reason Bowling Green has been one of the most consistent MAC programs in the last 15 years, starting with a guy named Urban Meyer (2001-02).
“No crystal balls in this profession, but the formula that led me to Dino seemed to work out pretty well,” Kingston said.
There have been minority initiatives (the NCAA has several), promises and studies. But one fact is becoming increasingly clear: At that highest level of college football, there is little concrete can be done by the sport’s governing body.
“Legally, no, there probably isn’t [anything we can do],” NCAA president Mark Emmert said earlier this month.
“The biggest challenge is we’ve literally got 19,000 teams. The NFL has 32. [Our teams] all operate in independent labor law environments. All the hiring authorities [are] decentralized across 1,100 colleges and us.”
The NFL’s Rooney Rule is 12 years old. By all accounts, it has at least forced improvement in hiring practices. This NFL season started with a combined 19 black head coaches and coordinators. That’s the most since 2004.
The NFL had one black head coach in its history until 1979. The Rooney Rule mandates that teams consider minorities in the hiring process. There is no such mandate among NCAA schools.
The association isn’t liable for lack of inclusion, nor can it force a school to interview a minority coach.
The irony is almost crippling. NCAA schools are so different, diverse and in varying legal situations, there is no way for all of them to embrace a common way to approaching hiring diversity.
Not only would formal legislation probably not be passed, it most likely wouldn’t make it to the floor of the NCAA Convention. The best the NCAA can do is advocate best practices.
“There’s not really anything because the hiring structures are completely different,” Emmert said of a possible Rooney Rule. “We’ve talked a lot about it. I’d like to have something like that, but we don’t have any way of putting it in place.”
The stagnation is troubling. Three black head coaches lost their jobs after the season -- Ruffin McNeill of East Carolina, Curtis Johnson of Tulane and Mike London of Virginia. Babers moved from Bowling Green to Syracuse. Jinks replaced Babers.
“You want somebody to look like you and be around,” said Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker, an African-American. “It does help knowing somebody came from where you came from.”
The overall percentage of African-American coaches in Division I (including FCS) declined between 2012 and 2014 to 8.3 percent, according to the Institute for the Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
“We’ve got to start beginning to force people to do this,” said Merritt Norvell, executive director of the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development. “It’s more of a moral case. It’s an economic case now. This kind of systematic bullshit has gone on for way too long.”
The NACED was formed by coaches concerned about the decrease in minority coaching opportunities.
Conversely, in the last 15 years, the ratio of African-American assistant coaches has stayed fairly constant -- 22-26 percent. In what might be a first, two FBS black assistants this month became head coaches at schools where the previous coach had been an African-American.
In addition to Bowling Green, there was East Carolina, which hired Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery to replace McNeill.
Tyron Willingham remains the only black coach fired at a major program (Notre Dame) to get a similar job (Washington). This offseason alone, two white head coaches who had recently been fired were recycled - Will Muschamp (South Carolina) and Mark Richt (Miami).
Diversity advocacy has had its issues. The Black Coaches Association under former executive director Floyd Keith made strides but no longer exists. It’s not clear how many in the profession even know the NACED exists.
“I think we’re going to push it,” Norvell said. “The time has come when colleges and universities need to enforce their own rules that are on the books.
“Most of these people have affirmative action policy and diversity and inclusion policies. All the departments are campus are supposed to have diversified pools of candidates.”
But there are stacks of barricades against even getting close to a Rooney Rule in college. Schools are typically secretive about who they interview. Search firms hired to hide that process have become de rigueur.
“We’re not a hiring authority in any of those cases,” Emmert said.
Lincoln Kennedy, an African-American, is a former NFL All-Pro and collegiate All-American who just got elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
“The NCAA is trying to create as much autonomy, leave it up to the conferences to take the pressure off them,” said Kennedy, now a media personality. “When you break it down as a conference, you’re left scratching your head as to a reason why it hasn’t changed or some rule hasn’t been instilled.”
Schools are bound by federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in hiring. But how does one prove that discrimination?
These days, athletic directors are more likely to move quickly because of external pressures, such as recruiting or pure competition. For example, Georgia fired Richt after -- coincidence or not -- it became known that legacy Kirby Smart was reportedly the frontrunner at South Carolina.
Once Georgia opened, officials worked fast to wrap up Smart. There were no claims of discrimination in Smart’s hiring. In fact, Georgia once employed Damon Evans, an African-American AD.
The SEC had become somewhat of a leader in minority hiring under former commissioner Mike Slive.
On his watch, Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom became the first black head football coach in the SEC in 2004. Going into 2016, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason is the fifth such minority coach to lead an SEC program.
“We could never be part of a greater world that we needed to be a part of,” Slive said. “The hiring of Sylvester Croom was probably the most significant event of my time, the one I’m most proud of. The result was we ended five African-American football coaches.
“If that can happen in the SEC, that can happen anywhere.”