Athletic Management, 15.2, February/March 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1502/wuhiring.htm
It’s no secret that NCAA Division I football programs are failing miserably when it comes to putting African Americans in leadership positions. There are only four African American head coaches (3.4 percent of the total) in Division I-A, and apart from the historically black colleges, only one African American head coach (.8 percent of the total) in Division I-AA. The numbers are similar for offensive and defensive coordinators.
In response, the Black Coaches Association (BCA) is stepping up its efforts to affect change. The group released a report last October that outlines plans to:
• Foster professional development programs for minority coaches.
• Increase the pool of minority candidates for head coaching positions.
• Provide athletic directors with lists of minority candidates for open coaching positions.
• Develop an NCAA program to recruit, train, and retain minority coaches.
• Achieve a 20 percent success rate in the hiring of minority head football coaches in Division I.
• Issue an annual “hiring report card” for college athletic departments.
• Encourage incentive clauses to reward athletic directors for hiring minority coaches.
• Create a political advocacy group to work with national, state, and local politicians.
• Use the media to heighten awareness of the issues.
• Advertise and market apparel to the general public, using recognizable sports figures and slogans like “Don’t Play Where You Can’t Coach” to discourage student-athletes from attending colleges that have no black coaches.
“I’m concerned about the number of minority head coaches in Division I-A, just like I’m concerned about the number of minority athletic directors,” says Gene Smith, Athletic Director at Arizona State University. “Over the years, there has been a lot of effort to increase those numbers, and it’s an issue that needs to be kept in the forefront.”
Calling himself optimistic, Smith points to gains made by women in coaching and athletic administration, and to the increasing number of minority applicants in the job pool. At ASU, he encourages the members of his staff to attend professional seminars, network with each other, and broaden their understanding of different aspects of the field.
Earl Edwards, Athletic Director at the University of California-San Diego, feels it’s critical for administrators to closely examine their hiring procedures. “If we are truly committed to the issue of diversity, as many of us say in our mission statements, then we need to look at the hiring process,” he says. “The best way to measure anyone’s commitment on anything is by looking at the actions that they take.”
At UCSD, Edwards has expanded his pool of job applicants by committing to an open search, creating a diverse search committee, and considering what he calls “disparity impact,” the lack of equal opportunities for minorities. When deciding between applicants with different levels of experience, to avoid further discrimination against minority candidates, Edwards evaluates the “disparity impact” and has a tendency to “go with diversity.”
At San Jose State University, Head Football Coach Fitzgerald Hill conducted a study of the problem last year and has additional suggestions. He recommends that colleges establish specific hiring criteria with clearly stated qualifications for each coaching position.
In his own program, Hill has tried to create objectivity when hiring assistant coaches by involving his entire staff. When candidates are interviewed, each member of the football staff has a chance to meet them and evaluate their performance at teaching, communication, and presentation. Hill then uses those rankings as the basis of his decision.
“On the field of play, there is equal opportunity for all, because it’s a very objective evaluation,” says Hill, citing a statistic that 53 percent of players in Division I-A football are African American. “But when you come to hiring, you’re dealing with a very subjective process, and oftentimes there is no system in place that allows for objectivity.”
Andy Geiger, Athletic Director at Ohio State University, believes the key is having diversity in your candidate pool, but leaving the issue out of the actual hiring. When Geiger was searching for a new head football coach two years ago, the process yielded a shortlist of about 16 candidates, one quarter of them African American.
“You go through the process of making sure you have the best candidate pool,” says Geiger. “You insist on having diversity in the pool, and then you make your decision from there.
“But when you hire a coach, your goal is not to raise the number of minorities,” he adds. “Your goal is to hire the very best person that you can. I don’t think that anybody should be hired just for the sake of making a statement. That’s unfair to everybody involved.”
Joe Baker, Director of Athletics at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, emphasizes the importance of creating a pipeline for young people interested in coaching, and breaking through the old boy network. “If we look back in history, one of the main ways that people were hired was through friends, or friends-of-friends,” says Baker. “All of us have a certain comfort zone with people we know, that’s just human nature. But we have to resist the temptation to use that as the sole method of selection. We need to enlarge our circle, to be willing to step out and meet new people—even if they’re a little different from us.”
“It’s too easy for people to stay within their limited circle, to hire people they’re comfortable with,” agrees Floyd Keith, Executive Director of the BCA and former Head Football Coach at the University of Rhode Island. “It takes courage to step out and get to know others. But in order to be diverse, you have to want to be diverse. You need to search for inclusion, rather than exclusion. You have to break down the barriers that make diversity an issue.”
The most recent statistics on minorities in coaching can be downloaded at: http://www.ncaa.com/library/research/race_demographics/2001-02/2001-02_race_demo.pdf.