Strong Enough?

Let's play a game of make believe, shall we? You are the Athletic Director at a Division I-A school in the Southeastern Conference. You are in the market for a head football coach. Unfortunately, your team does not have a history of being competitive and NCAA sanctions are poised to hit your program like the 2003 Ice Storm. This limits the number of people that are interested in what you have to offer, so you begin to scour the market.

Choice A is an assistant coach with five years experience as a defensive coordinator in the SEC and 20 years collegiate experience overall. He has coached at Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Florida, proving he knows what it takes to succeed in the SEC and his track record shows he is very adept at recruiting the South. He is recognized in college football circles as one of the best defensive coordinators in the country and a hot head coach prospect.

Choice B is a coach who has no SEC experience and has not coached a collegiate game since 1994. He has not been a head coach at all since 1996 and has been out of football since after the 2000 National Football League season. His past experience as a head coach for over 17 years in the Pac-10 is impressive indeed, but he has never had to recruit in the South.

If you have not figured this out by now, (and to be honest this isn't a good job of disguising this), the AD is the University of Kentucky's Mitch Barnhart, Choice A is Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, and Choice B is Barnhart's hire and current UK head coach Rich Brooks. Now, not wanting to slam Barnhart and Brooks, like several other UK followers, but some aren't completely sold on Brooks and his staff. The question to raise is why Strong, who was publicly interested in the UK job, was never even brought in for an interview? And not just at UK, but at any of the other 19 NCAA D-IA schools with head coach openings. Why is the best Strong could do over the off-season pretty much a lateral move from defensive coordinator at South Carolina to the same position at Florida? Sad to say, but the answer, like beauty, appears to be skin deep. Charlie Strong is an African-American.

There are currently 115 head coaching jobs in Division I-A. Of these 115 jobs, only four of those are currently held by African-Americans. This is the same sport where 47% of the players are African-Americans. In the history of the top 100 teams that play college football, there have been 750 job openings. Out of these 750 jobs, less than 20 have gone to African-Americans. The lack of African-American head coaches by itself would be enough to fume over, but only 10% of college programs have African-Americans as coordinators, the main feeder pool for head coaches.

Strong is not the only qualified African-American assistant coach out there who has not been given the opportunity to prove himself as a head coach, but with his Florida Gators coming into Commonwealth Stadium this Saturday, he is the most visible. When the U of L and UK were on the lookout for new head coaches last winter, Strong's name was supposedly on the short list for both schools. However, being on the short list never translated into actual interviews. Louisville's hire of Bobby Petrino surprised no one, being a former UL assistant he was familiar with the job and what it entailed. If Strong hoped for an SEC job, those dreams were dashed when UK decided to recycle the veteran Brooks and a school like Alabama went with Mike Shula, a coach with no collegiate experience who has not been a head coach or coordinator on any level. In the political climate of 2003, having a minority on your short list is a must, actually hiring them, however, almost never happens.

There are many reasons given out there for the lack of African-American head coaches, but none that seem to make much sense. The fact is that football is the big money sport for most schools, the sport that most requires the head coach to "meet and greet," press the flesh, and work the alumni for contributions. There are many Athletic Directors and college presidents out there who are scared that their alumni and fan base might not embrace an African-American head coach, and in the South that fear is probably doubled. Another reason for the lack of minority hires has a lot to do with the men doing the hiring. Although several minority coaches in college basketball have managed to prosper, such as UK's Tubby Smith, there remains this lingering fear of placing a minority in charge of the school's cash cow.

So, what is being done for the Charlie Strongs of the world? The Black Coaches Association have several initiatives in the works or currently active. These include a "Don't Play Where You Can't Coach" campaign, targeting minority players. This campaign will attempt to influence players to decide against attending a school where hiring procedures keep minorities from being considered for the top slots. There is also a BCA report card on college D-I football coaches and a recommendation that the NCAA certify the hiring process as race-neutral. A move to install more minorities in the athletic departments is also afoot, as only 29 of the 836 Athletic Directors in the country are African-American.

Rest assured, Charlie Strong will get a head coaching job soon. His move to Florida was a wise one. Staying at South Carolina, any success would be given to Lou Holtz, a respected and admired head coach. At Florida, any of Strong's success will be credited to him, as head coach Ron Zook is pretty much a moron. If you doubt this, simply check out In the end, it was probably best Strong did not interview for the UK job. It would been embarrassing for Strong to be put in the position of a token interview, much like what Barnhart did with Grambling's Doug Williams, who, by some indications, was interviewed even after the job was offered to Brooks. The jump needs to be made from the short list to the final interview. It would be great to see some of the initiatives put out by the BCA have an effect on the colleges and their hiring practices. The world is changing, and college football needs to catch up. Four minority coaches out of 115 is not just embarrassing, it is disgraceful.