Depending on who you talk to, many believe that Charlie Strong deserved his firing from the University of Texas.
Over three years, he compiled a record of 16-21. He had zero seasons with a record of .500 or better, and Texas lost to Kansas for the first time since 1938. For a program with the national prestige of Texas, the win total and fall from grace was intolerable.
In his defense, Strong isn’t the only coach who had a slow start to his coaching career at a Power 5 program. In 1999, when Kirk Ferentz became the head coach at Iowa, his record over three years was 11-24. The same could be said for Jim Harbaugh when he started at Stanford. In the same time span, his record was 17-20. To no surprise, coaches need at least four to five years to completely shift a program. As seen with Harbaugh and Ferentz, in year four, the program ascended. In their fourth seasons, respectively, Iowa and Stanford had a joint record of 23-3.
I know the pressure of coaching the Longhorns is a lot different from coaching at Stanford and Iowa, but who’s to say that Strong wasn’t slated to have the same jump in success? That’s something we’ll never know because of his sudden departure.
Although my beliefs are that he lost his job because of his efforts on the field, it didn’t help that he is black.
In addition to coaching in a pressure-laden capacity, program higher-ups didn't exactly hold Strong in high esteem. When coaching at colleges such as Texas, Ohio State, Alabama, USC and Notre Dame, the boosters, alumni, and fan base have a huge say in a lot of football-related issues.
For example, in 2014, popular booster and former Minnesota Vikings majority owner Red McCombs expressed his qualms with Strong’s hire. In an interview with ESPN 1250 San Antonio he said:
"I think the whole thing is a bit sideways, I don't have any doubt that Charlie is a fine coach. I think he would make a great position coach, maybe a coordinator."
"But I don't believe [he belongs at] what should be one of the three most powerful university programs in the world right now at UT-Austin. I don't think it adds up."
At the time, the statements were bold given the fact that Strong just revived the Louisville Cardinals football program. McCombs' clearly stated that he didn’t believe that Strong was able to be the head coach of a bigger name program. Would he feel the same way if Strong was the defensive coordinator? Probably not, but being a head coach brings a different level of responsibility and governance that many believe black coaches aren’t equipped to handle.
Strong's departure at Texas adds to an already problematic issue in college football.
The lack of black coaches in 2016 is alarming, and signs point that improvement is not on its way. At the start of the season, there were 12 black coaches for FBS programs. As of today, that number stands at 10.
The list of coaches consists of:
- Dino Babers (Syracuse)
- James Franklin (Penn State)
- Mike Jinks (Bowling Green)
- Curtis Johnson (Tulane)
- Derek Mason (Vanderbilt)
- Trent Miles (Georgia State)
- David Shaw (Stanford)
- Lovie Smith (Illinois)
- Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M)
- Willie Taggert (South Florida)
Missing from the list now are Strong and Darrell Hazell, formerly of Purdue. The two coaches didn’t help their cases with appalling coaching records, and they may have to start over as position coaches to get another crack at a head coaching gig.
When looking further into the numbers, seven of the head coaches are in Power 5 conferences, which would afford them to coach in notable bowl games. Outside of Shaw and Sumlin, none of the aforementioned coaches have won or coached their team to a significant bowl game victory. That could change this year given the fact that Penn State’s James Franklin has his team in contention for a College Football Playoff bid.
Despite the consistent success from Shaw, Sumlin, and now Franklin, one would believe that universities would try their hand at hiring black coaches, but the numbers say otherwise.
With the season still ongoing, it’s unknown who'll be hired or retained by season's end.
In FBS, there are 128 programs. I repeat: 128. As it currently stands at 10, black men make up just 7.8 percent of the head coaching ranks -- which is an underrepresentation in a league in which more than half of the players are of black descent. According to NCAA.org in 2011, the number of black head coaches in FBS rose from 14 to 17 (slow clap). Five years later, the number is trending downward.
From the NCAA:
“The NCAA is addressing the issue in two ways. First, the NCAA encourages schools to embrace diversity and to hire minorities. Great coaches come from all different backgrounds and schools only hurt themselves by not hiring the most qualified candidate. Second, the NCAA is working hard to expand the pool of minority candidates through career advancement and professional development clinics. These programs are tailored specifically to assist minority football assistant coaches and coordinators with career advancement through skills enhancement, networking, and exposure opportunities.”
While it’s easy to profess empty words, the numbers undeniably prove the issue of the lack of black coaches hasn't gone away so easily.
The NFL had a similar issue before implementing the Rooney Rule in 2003. The NCAA can’t adopt the same approach because they are technically a non-profit (stop laughing) and voluntary member association, which means they can’t influence individual campus hiring practices.
The sad truth is that the chances of an African-American becoming an FBS head coach are about the same as a black man being a president.
Barack Obama, the single black American president, represents only 2.27 percent of all Commander in Chiefs. In comparison, only eight percent of FBS coaches are black.
Thirty-seven years ago, Willie Jeffries became the first black head coach at a predominantly white university (Wichita State). The trend was later followed in 1981 when Northwestern hired Dennis Green.
Change is inevitable, but when it comes to black coaches in big-time college football, will that very change finally come? Yes, there has been minimal progress, but there is still a long way to go for equality among black coaches.
So how is this still a problem in 2016? Here's a hint: just look at the landscape of America to give you an answer.