No easy solutions for coaching’s diversity problems



Noah Rohlfing

Editor’s Note: This is the third part in a three-part series about the diversity of coaches in the high school and collegiate ranks. The first part came out on Tuesday, April 10 and can be found here

Hiring coaches of color as assistants and head coaches can work and has worked often throughout recent history.

Willie Taggart (now at Florida State as the Seminoles’ first permanent African-American head coach) took over a poor football program at Western Kentucky and made them into the mid-major ever-present that the Hilltoppers are today.

Then, he went to South Florida and Oregon, where he became the Ducks’ first African-American head coach as well.

What’s interesting about Oregon?

They’re the first state to implement their own version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule.

In the 2010’s, there have been multiple ‘blue-blood’ programs who have made their first African-American football coaching hires, including Texas, Florida State, Oregon and Texas A&M. Only one of those coaches is still at the school that hired him (Taggart, who was hired by Florida State on Dec.1.), and two — Charlie Strong at Texas and Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M — were fired and replaced with white coaches.

Many schools’ reluctance to go from one coach of color to another, and the lack of head coaches of color in general, has led some to suggest a college sports version of the Rooney Rule, known as the Eddie Robinson rule (there is a Title IX counterpart act for women’s sports that has yet to pass as well).

The proposed rule would essentially serve the same purpose as the Rooney Rule, requiring athletic directors and administrators to interview a coach of color before hiring a head coach. The proposal has been brought forth multiple times, but it has never been put into law despite a push from NCAA legislators in 2016 “urging school presidents and chancellors” to sign the pledge into law.

Part of that has to due with issues in the proposal itself, in both the accountability and implementation departments. The NFL’s Rooney Rule has come under criticism at times in recent years, with multiple teams circumnavigating the rule and offering interviews to minority candidates simply as a way to follow the rule, and not as a serious candidate. The most recent example was the Oakland Raiders’ public pursuit of former ESPN commentator Jon Gruden.

Gruden was Raiders owner Mark Davis’s first and only target for the job, according to the Washington Post, but if he had hired him without interviewing any other candidates (much less any candidate of color) the Raiders could have been found in violation of the Rooney Rule. So, he gave interviews to Tee Martin, the USC offensive coordinator, and then-tight ends coach Bobby Johnson. But the Fritz Pollard Alliance believed that neither candidate was given a fair shot at winning the job, according to ESPN, alleging in a statement that the candidates were effectively “interviewing for second place.”

The NFL announced on Jan. 19 that the Raiders had complied with the rule.

That has led many to believe that it would be difficult to “catch” collegiate programs who were violating the proposed Eddie Robinson Rule. In 2016, Dr. Lapchick told Inside Higher Ed that the proposal needed sanctions, otherwise it “doesn’t have any teeth.”

The consensus at the high school level is that it would be even more difficult to enforce than at the college level.

Aundra Meeks, a former head coach and athletic director at Waterloo Columbus High School, doesn’t see there being a way for the Iowa High School Athletics Association to put any plan into action.

Meeks said that, more so than forcing schools to interview candidates of color, candidates have to be willing to make coaching their profession, as well as teaching. Specifically with head coaches, he said that it was very important that potential minority coaches know that coaching is something they are willing to commit themselves to before applying for jobs.

“It covers more than just coaching a position, being the head coach,” Meeks said. “There’s so much that goes with it.”

Iowa City High athletic director Terry Coleman agrees that implementation would be quite a challenge for many high schools, especially in sports that don’t get as many applicants such as bowling or tennis.

“That’s going to be challenging,” Coleman said.

That echoed the sentiments of Dowling Catholic head coach and athletics administrator Tom Wilson, who was very supportive of continuing to grow diversity in the Iowa coaching landscape but thought that trying to push legislation of any sort would be very difficult and that applicants “need to apply” so that they can get a fair shot.

At the college level, UNI athletic director and former associate athletic director under Jamie Pollard at Iowa State, David Harris has expressed doubt over the viability of such a rule due to the NCAA’s more decentralized chain of oversight.

“The NCAA doesn’t have the jurisdiction to dictate the hiring practices of institutions,” Harris said. He added that some of the results that the NCAA’s rule proposal hopes to create could be done by “working very hard to make sure [schools] diversify their applicant pool.”

Pushing a diverse, qualified pool of candidates was Harris’ main solution to the problem that coaches of color face. In theory, that could put more pressure on administrators to actually choose diverse candidates.

He mentioned that, while the lack of head coaches of color in football is discouraging, he’s been very encouraged by the growth and improvement on the administrative side of things.

According to Lapchick’s Gender and Diversity Report Card, only 12.5 percent of Division I athletic directors are people of color. The past two years have seen candidates of color win a number of high-profile athletic director jobs in Power Five conferences.

Lynn Swann at USC, Aleene Greene at Auburn and Pat Chun at Washington State are three of the most recent examples. Greene became only the second African-American athletic director in SEC history. Chun, who moved up from Florida Atlantic, became the first Asian-American to be an athletic director in a Power Five conference.

Harris hopes that the coaching profession will grow along with administrators, but he said that pushing legislation is not the only answer.

“It’s something I think, as an industry, we have the ability to improve upon every time we do a search,” Harris said.

Only time will tell if diversity makes its way to Iowa universities, but for now, the faces of college football in Iowa are white.