A theme has emerged in recent weeks as college athletes have begun to speak out against racial inequality both inside and outside their locker rooms.
At Oklahoma State, star running back Chuba Hubbard threatened to step away from the team after coach Mike Gundy was photographed wearing a T-shirt with the logo of the controversial OAN television network.
At Iowa, long-time football strength coach Chris Doyle left the program after facing widespread accusations of bullying and disparagement by former players, particularly Black men.
At Clemson, football coach Dabo Swinney had to defend how he dealt with assistant Danny Pearman uttering a racial slur during a 2017 practice.
All three of those coaches are white.
Even many of the positive stories of college coaches supporting their Black athletes — like Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops leading a Black Lives Matters march for his team in Lexington — have centered around white coaches.
All too often absent from the conversation about college sports and race have been Black head coaches.
Not because they are silent, but mostly because colleges still have woeful records of hiring Black coaches, especially at the highest levels across the Power Five conferences.
To gain a better understanding of the racial makeup of college coaches, The Courier Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, counted the Black head coaches and other head coaches of color in each Power Five athletic department (including Notre Dame, which is a member of the ACC in basketball), then confirmed the numbers with each school.
Washington State, Duke and Iowa declined to confirm the racial demographics of their head coaches, and Miami did not respond to multiple emails.
While the number of head coaches at each program varied from as few as 12 to as many as 27, the analysis revealed a disturbing lack of Black head coaches in almost every sport.
Of the 1,073 head coaches in NCAA sports at Power Five programs, only 79, or 7.4%, are Black.
Of the 65 Power Five schools, 15 do not employ a single Black head coach in any NCAA sport, though seven of those schools do have at least one other head coach of color.
Alabama, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Washington State do not list any head coaches of color on their online staff directories. All but six Power Five programs have two or fewer Black head coaches.
In Kentucky, the University of Louisville has just one Black coach, women’s tennis coach Mark Beckham, and two other minority head coaches. The University of Kentucky has one Black head coach, track and cross country coach Lonnie Greene, and one other minority coach.
Meanwhile, 19% of athletes in the Power Five conferences were Black in the 2018-19 school year, according to the most recent data available in the NCAA’s demographics database.
Representation for Black athletes among their head coaches continues to lag in the NCAA and especially the Power Five conferences.
“I like to think that in the best-case scenario that we hire who we feel comfortable with. That’s not a bad thing,” Missouri men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin, who is Black, said. “The other part is, if you were raised a certain way to think that someone is less than you, how do you hire them in a position that is equal to you? If you thought they were less than you, how do you hire them to a position that takes intellect, experience, understanding, knowledge?
“… That’s hard to do, and that’s why I think we must be diligent and deliberate in our hiring practices, building our programs and continuing the growth. You have to be able to see the numbers over a course of time.”
Little progress over 20 years
Martin wasn’t surprised when he was told there are just 79 Black head coaches in Power Five conference sports.
“I see it every day,” Martin said.
Only one sport has more than 15 Power Five Black head coaches — track and field.
Football has 11 Black head coaches, women’s basketball has 12 and men’s basketball has just eight Power Five Black head coaches — despite the sport being dominated by Black athletes.
According to the NCAA, 51% of men’s basketball players in the Power Five conferences were Black in 2019.
That’s a disparity that is concerning to many, including Martin.
In Kentucky, one of Louisville coach Chris Mack’s three full-time assistants is Black, Mike Pegues. At UK, two of coach John Calipari’s three full-time assistants are Black, Kenny Payne and Tony Barbee.
“We’re basically not far from where we were 20 years ago,” said Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, which publishes an annual Racial and Gender Report Card for each American professional sports league and the NCAA. “The numbers for head basketball coaches, men’s basketball coaches of color, are literally within a percentage point of where they were in 2004, which is the first year we did the modern Racial and Gender Report Card.
“Football coaches are about flat. When you go to other sports obviously, there are even less coaches of color represented. Women’s basketball is doing a little better than 20 years ago, but it was doing awful 20 years ago.”
While there’s a need for more Black coaches in every NCAA sport, track and field and cross country lead the way among Power Five programs with 25 Black coaches. Track and field coaches can be in charge of as many as six teams (men’s indoor track, women’s indoor track, men’s outdoor track, women’s outdoor track, men’s cross country and women’s cross country), although some Power Five schools separate those responsibilities among multiple head coaches.
Greene oversees all six of the Wildcat track and cross country teams.
It takes no time for Greene to rattle off a list of the many Black coaches who have developed national championship contenders in his sport, including former UK coach Edrick Floreal, who now coaches at Texas. But he thinks Black coaches still face greater scrutiny.
“Is that an easy job for them? No, because in my mind we’re analyzed a little deeper, under the microscope,” Greene said. “We don’t have room for error, we don’t have room for mistakes. … In my experience, in my time, it isn’t easy.”
The number of Black head coaches drops off substantially in the remaining sports around the country. There are three coaches in women’s soccer, softball, volleyball, women’s tennis and wrestling; two in gymnastics and one in baseball, beach volleyball, men’s soccer, fencing, men’s tennis and swimming and diving.
The need for increased racial diversity is not limited to coaching staffs. In a recent webinar hosted by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, panelists highlighted the need to hire more administrators of color as well.
During that panel, Auburn athletic director Allen Greene, one of just nine Black athletic directors in the Power Five conferences, said the discussion can’t be about hitting a quota.
“Your motivation to hiring diverse staff should be to put talented people around you and your team so that your team can be better and you can better serve,” he said. “Don’t do it just because, ‘Oh we need to have a person of color or we need to have a female.’
“No, the more diverse perspectives you have, the better decisions you are going to make, which is going to prevent you from getting into trouble and which is going to keep your job longer.”
The impact of diverse representation on coaching staffs and in administrations goes farther than putting together a strong team.
“You have a majority of the team is African American, so it’s important for those guys to see people of the same color as them to be in a leadership position to where they know if at some point I want to be a defensive coordinator or a Fortune 500 company CEO, I can do that,” Louisville defensive coordinator Bryan Brown, who is Black, said. “But until they are able to see people of color in those type of roles, I think they have doubt in their minds, like, ‘Maybe I can’t do that,’ so it’s important to have African Americans in leadership roles.”
Working to improve diversity
The Courier Journal also asked Power Five schools to share any diversity hiring initiatives within their athletics department.
Several noted the creation of positions within the senior leadership staff focused on diversity or diversity and inclusion committees. Many of the schools with no Black head coaches acknowledged work to be done in their athletic departments in improving diversity.
A Texas spokesman told The Courier Journal the Longhorns have adopted a policy similar to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, requiring minority candidates to be interviewed for job openings.
Oregon and Oregon State are subject to a state law requiring qualified minority candidates to be interviewed for head coach or athletic director openings.
Martin, though, isn’t a fan of the Rooney Rule.
“I think it’s disrespectful to say, ‘OK, here’s a Rooney Rule to put stuff in place to hire somebody when probably the majority of, or especially in the sports where the majority of the players on the field and court are players of color,’” Martin said. “Why do we have to do that? You see it in all the major sports and professional sports too? The ones that are coaching the sports are in most cases not Black men or Black women.
“It shouldn’t be whether it’s male, female, white, Black or brown, all right, then I’ll decide how you’re paid. That shouldn’t matter.”
Proponents of policies like the Rooney Rule note that hiring often is built on existing relationships, which limit the number of minority candidates considered for jobs.
Even in track and field, with more Black head coaches than other Power Five college sports, more weight in the hiring process should be pointed toward the resumes of assistant coaches of color, Lonnie Greene said.
Lapchick has proposed college sports adopt its own version of the Rooney Rule, which he calls the Eddie Robinson Rule in honor of the legendary Black football coach from Grambling State.
That rule would require two candidates of color be interviewed for each position at the senior levels of athletic department administration, as well as mandatory representation across genders in the hiring process.
“If you have a white president, white male president, which a huge percentage of the colleges do, and a white male athletics director, they’re going to know white male football coaches,” Lapchick said. “That’s who would naturally come to their minds in a search process.”
Several schools The Courier Journal surveyed cited strides made in hiring more assistant coaches of color, especially in football and men’s basketball.
There is hope that increasing the number of Black coaches in top assistant positions will lead to a more diverse pool of head coaching candidates moving forward.
But while the first step is getting these coaches into positions of power, the next step is retention.
“You have to see change in jobs and opportunities in the recruitment of people of color, mainly Black and brown people, and the retention, because oftentimes they find subtle ways of moving them out,” Martin said. “So, you have to be able to retain them, and then the promotion, because they want to be rewarded like their counterparts.”
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Even with the current focus on race issues, change could be slow.
Lapchick noted it is difficult to dramatically change the racial makeup of head coaches quickly due to the relatively low number of job openings each offseason.
As evidenced by the change brought about by the comments of Hubbard and other Black athletes in recent weeks, incentivizing more diverse staffs by shining a light on them in the recruiting process could be a particularly effective catalyst for change.
“I think the thing that is going to make the difference now as opposed to everything that’s happened before and gives me hope is the voices of athletes are being raised,” Lapchick said. “I think that’s going to be an irresistible force on some college campuses to bring about the changes that are being asked for.
“… We have a moment in time where we can really bring about change here. If we miss this opportunity, it might not come along again for a long time.”
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