A New Coach in Town
By Kevin Faris
Charlie Strong has been an assistant coach at the University of Florida, the University of Notre Dame, and the defensive coordinator at the University of South Carolina for the past five years, putting together a unit that has led the revitalization of Gamecock football. He wants to be a head coach at the Division I-A level but, despite being mentioned for jobs at the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky, he remains a defensive coordinator, moving from USC back to UF in hopes of a higher profile.
Doug Williams is a former Super Bowl MVP and the head coach of Grambling University where he has an overall record of 43-15. His passing offense was number one in Division I-AA, number two in total offense, and 37 of the players on his team had a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. He has won three straight SWAC conference titles and two straight black college national titles. He also wants to be a head coach at the Division I-A level, but despite all his accomplishments he remains head coach at Grambling.
When former University of Oregon head coach Rich Brooks was named the University of Kentucky’s new football coach, the path that Strong and Williams must take became abundantly clear. They should get out of coaching for two years. Apparently, this makes you an extremely attractive head-coaching candidate. Or, they could follow the lead of Michael Jackson and try and turn themselves white. Because, despite Tyrone Willingham’s high profile success at Notre Dame, that is the only way to be a head coach at the Division I-A level. Brooks will be the 338th head coach in the history of the Southeastern Conference. He will also be the 338th white head coach in the history of the Southeastern Conference.
The search for a new football coach for the University of Kentucky has been embarrassing to say the least. While other schools filled their positions quickly, UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, the same guy who, while not kicking former UK coach Guy Morriss out the door, at the very least held it open, has spent the better part of the past three weeks conducting a top secret, one man, search for the next savior for UK football. When days turned into weeks, it became apparent that the “Golden Boy” from Oregon State was not quite as smart as he thought he was. The reason for the delay has now been revealed to be former NFL coach Bill Parcells. It would have been a coup for Barnhart, if he had come, but when dealing with Parcells you have to be aware that his ego likes being mentioned for a job more than it likes actually holding the job, (see Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year). So, as name after name came across the wire, the Wildcat Faithful were becoming restless, and it was clear that Jim Donnan or David Cutcliffe were not going to satisfy the masses. And then, like a ray of hope on a gloomy day, the news began to change. Barnhart, who had Charlie Strong on his list, although it was never clear if the two had ever talked, had met with Doug Williams and for most of the day Saturday it seemed he was going to be the new coach. All at once, ESPN and CBS began talking about the groundbreaking move UK was making. The press, which had always previously mocked UK football, began to sing its praises. There were comparisons to how Notre Dame and Willingham came to be after a couple of missed shots and how, in the end, Barnhart had made the right call. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com stated: “Doug Williams isn’t just the historic choice for the University of Kentucky, he’s the right one.” After all the bumbling and stumbling Barnhart had hit a home run. He had plotted a course that was not only a first for the University of Kentucky, but a first for the SEC. When was the last time UK was an innovator in football? When was the last time the national media looked at UK football with respect and admiration? When was the last time racial progress and the University of Kentucky were used in the same sentence? A long time.
And just like that is was gone. The chance to make history, the chance to blaze a trail, the chance to improve upon the embarrassingly low number of African-American head coaches (4), disappeared. Williams was not the new coach. Instead of a young and exciting coach with a proven productive offense, NFL playing experience, and a born and bred son of the South, Barnhart hired a 61-year-old who has not coached football in any capacity for the past two years, who has never recruited the south, and who was fired from his only NFL head coaching job. Despite all of this, I do not believe Brooks is a bad hire. He is a safe hire. He resume is pretty solid. He did not rebuild Oregon football, he built Oregon football and, judging by the reaction in Eugene, Oregon, home of that university, UK is getting a really good man as well as a coach. He could go on to be a successful coach at UK and his past contacts should make him able to assemble a very nice staff. But, I cannot get rid of the feeling that UK could have done better. Barnhart had a chance at a birdie, and instead decided to lay up and settle for par. Instead of going for it on fourth down, he decided to punt. Instead of taking a chance on an ambitious, young, up and comer, the way UK President Lee Todd did when he hired Barnhart as AD, he decided to follow the pack and simply recycle a previously successful coach. Williams and Strong will be head coaches someday, hopefully, and chances are they will be good ones, possibly even great. Unfortunately, it will not be at the University of Kentucky. Williams and Strong do not deserve to be head coaches simply because they are African-Americans. They deserve to be head coaches because they are extremely qualified candidates. It is sad when that is not enough.