With last week's passing of Stanford coaching icon Dennis Green, I lamented on the fact that when Dennis Green assumed the role of head coach at Stanford in 1989, he was one of the very few black head football coaches at the Division 1A college level. It was also in 1989 that Art Shell had become first black head coach in the NFL -- Green would later become the second.
But with Dennis Green's passing comes a reminder of something important for the Stanford community and for the football community as a whole - Stanford University has always embodied a progressive attitude and has been the leader in hiring blacks as head football coaches.
Despite a difficult 3-8 season during his first year, Green was successful at Stanford, notching a signature win over Notre Dame in 1990 and posting a 3-0 record vs Cal, finishing the '91 season with a top 25 national ranking. More importantly, he helped tutor two men who followed in his footsteps.
During Green's tenure at Stanford, Ty Willingham learned under Green, his friend and mentor, also becoming part of Green's staff in Minnesota. Undoubtedly Green served as a catalyst for Willingham's hiring at Stanford. After a dismal 1994 season, in which the Cardinal finished 3-7-1 and 2nd to last in the PAC 10, relatively unknown Tyrone Willingham was hired to replace Stanford and NFL icon Bill Walsh. In 1995, despite not having any previous head coaching experience, Willingham led the Cardinal to a respectable 7-4-1 record, going 44-36-1 during his career at Stanford, notching several signature wins, four bowl game appearances and a PAC 10 championship in 1999.
Presently, Stanford University has one of the best head coaches in all of football, he is also one of the few black head coaches in all of division 1-A football. David Shaw's success at Stanford places him on the short list for every opening in the NFL and major college football. It's not coincidental that Shaw wanted to go into coaching after playing for Dennis Green - he's widely praised him as a mentor and a coach.
Stanford is the only school of the power five conferences (PAC 12, ACC, BIG 12, BIG 10 and SEC) to have hired 3 black head football coaches. In the PAC-12, only three other universities (UCLA, Washington and Colorado) have ever hired a black head football coach, and one of those coaches was Willingham. Most of the universities within the power five group have ever hired a black head coach.
Green, Willingham and Shaw were not hired because they were black, they were hired because they were excellent candidates. Green, Willingham and Shaw spent a combined 37 years as assistant coaches prior to landing their first head coaching position. All three were successful position coaches; Green and Shaw both enjoyed success as coordinators at Stanford before moving into the head coach position at Northwestern and Stanford respectively. In addition to other factors, they all spent time in the assistant coaching ranks honing their coaching skill and football acumen.
All in all, Stanford has been a leader for encouraging diversity in coaching in a sport that is still struggling to find out how to do that effectively. But just like other things at Stanford University, that's just the way it's done around the Farm.