When the Oregon Ducks come to Palo Alto this weekend to take on the Stanford Cardinal, something truly awesome will happen: Two African American coaches will face each other on the field. This isn’t something you see every Saturday folks.
Coach Shaw and Taggart are currently the only two black head coaches within the Pac-12 Conference and among only seven black coaches at power five schools. Taggart has spoke on the matter and what is the elephant in the room, for black coaches:
“My goal has been the same since I started coaching: be the first African American head coach to win a national title. I believe it can happen, I believe I can do it...”.
The Pac-12 along with the Big Ten are leading the way as of now, when it comes to having the most African American head coaches (two in the conference). Does that deserve praise? Of course it does - to some extent. There’s plenty of work to be done in college football as it concerns hiring black coaches, but these two conferences are certainly headed in the right direction. Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin along with Shaw and Taggart are likely the three coaches with the best chance in the very near future, to be the first black head coach to win a national title.
There are only 14 black head coaches in all of FBS, which is about 11 percent, versus the almost 60 percent of black athletes that represent those same schools on the field. The conversation around how and why there are so few black coaches has been a topic of interest and concern. There are plenty of known problems facing both the coaches and programs that keep these numbers low.
A flawed talent pipeline prevents coaching candidates:
Typically the path to head football coach is a long one. Usually that path involves playing college football, then going to graduate school and becoming a graduate assistant or “GA”. Being a GA can then frequently lead to spots as a position coach and eventually the possibility of becoming a coordinator before becoming a head coach. To get into this pipeline, however, one of the most common first steps is graduate school to get a job as a GA. While there has been a push for higher graduation rates among college athletes there has not been that same push to go to graduate school. Getting players into graduate school or into the pipeline in general may force a representation problem.
In a 2016 article from the Washington Post, NCAA President Mark Emmert says:
"A lot of our current minority athletes might like to become coaches or athletic administrators after college, but when they look around, they don’t see a lot of people that look like them. That’s a problem.”
The mere image of a black head coach is valuable as it helps combat the nefarious and false notion that coaches are white and athletes are black. It is a long and difficult road to becoming a head football coach and most who try fail at the endeavor. It is not hard to imagine many young African American athletes may be dissuaded from even starting on the arduous path to head coaching if it seems like that particular path is not available to them.
Prejudice still remains:
When a new coaching hire is made Athletic directors, college administrations, boosters, media and fans all have their say as well and prejudice in one of those groups can be an issue too. Red McCombs at Texas is a good example. Yes, I know, that donors don’t make the final decisions or at least don’t officially put pen to paper when hiring coaches, but don’t begin to think that major donors and alumni don’t have some clout and say at their schools when it comes to influence on football and basketball hires and fires. They absolutely do.
This doesn’t mean athletic directors should go out and hire a black coach just because he is black, no different than an athletic director hiring any other coach; in theory you try to hire the best candidate available every time. The media plays a huge part in this as well, as soon as a coach is fired, retired or leaves the program, they throw out names that fans and alumni love to get behind and completely disregard looking into and supporting who is the right hire versus the sexy one. There are other factors to consider such as fan hype or media speculation that can cause pressure on an AD to go a different way. Sometimes African American coaches don’t get that benefit.
This certainly is not a comprehensive discussion of this topic, but this weekend’s Stanford-Oregon game is important for more reasons than one. It represents progress at a time when the country seems very divided on and off the field and it may just end up being far more than just another game of college football.