Sunday, December 14, 2008

Please, no Rooney Rule

A recent article -- along with about 1,000 others with roughly the same premise -- discussed the obvious the dearth of black coaches in college football and presented a potential solution (which, again, has been presented dozens of times before).

Richard E. Lapchick, an administrator at Central Florida and head of a diversity and ethics committee at the school, argues for a so-called "Rooney Rule" in college football. This, of course, refers to the NFL's mandate to interview a minority coach for any opening or be faced with fines and/or loss of draft picks.

But what Lapchick -- along with all the others -- is neglecting to mention (or is simply not realizing) is that the real problem isn't the lack of black head coaches. The problem is the complete lack of quality black candidates.

There are currently four black head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision: Turner Gill of Buffalo, Kevin Sumlin of Houston, Randy Shannon of Miami and Mike Locksley of New Mexico State (recently hired away from Illinois, where he served as offensive coordinator).

Look around the country and try to name a top black assistant at any major school, or even a position coach who has demonstrated the ability to take over a program.

Yeah, it's a pretty short list. The only two names (besides Locksley) that have come up this offseason are Ron English, defensive coordinator at Louisville (he formerly held the same position at Michigan), and Mike Haywood, offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Haywood interviewed for the Washington job before it was given to Steve Sarkisian, while English has been rumored to be in the running at Eastern Michigan after the firing of Jeff Genyk.

Both of those coaches have solid track records, and I in no way mean to criticize the job they've done to get where they are. But when those are your top black candidates ... well, there's obviously a problem. Especially when you consider that English generated minimal improvement this year at Louisville, while Haywood had the play-calling duties, um, "taken over" at midseason by Charlie Weis.

Why would either of them be a serious candidate for a head coaching position when there are guys out there such as Tommy Tuberville, Phil Fulmer, etc. -- guys who have demonstrated that they can win at the highest levels?

Clearly, the problem lies in the lack of development at the lower-level positions. Why are there so few (13%, according to one report) black coordinators? There's a reason that nearly all head coaches were coordinators immediately before being put in charge, and the lack of blacks in these positions is directly correlated to the lack of blacks being hired for head jobs.

Randy Shannon recently made a statement expressing a similar sentiment and brought up the best idea I've heard yet in regard to fixing this problem.

"If they want to give minority coaches more of a chance, they should let there be three graduate assistants, and one of them has to be a minority," Shannon said. "At least then, you'd be giving a minority coach a chance to develop. If you want to address the issue, allow a third spot to be a minority position and if you can't fill it, then you can't fill it. But give them a chance."

Shannon is dead-on. Simply allow one additional graduate assistant on each coaching staff (for a total of three) and require that at least one of those three be a minority. If that person you hire doesn't pan out, you've lost nothing. If it does, you've got one more qualified candidate working his way up the food chain.

If the focus is placed on bringing blacks onto the coaching staffs and allowing them to prove their worth, there will be more blacks hired into head coaching positions.

Everyone agrees that the people with the power care about one thing: winning (now, not later). If they think a black candidate will provide them with the best opportunity to win, that's who they will hire. But until there are candidates who can meet that requirement, the status quo will prevail.

And a Rooney Rule that requires token interviews for unqualified candidates isn't going to change that.

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