Charlie Strong’s hiring has been posited as a transformational moment for Texas and the South in general. Texas was a member of the slave-holding confederacy. Strong is Texas’ first African-American head coach. The story dovetails nicely with the anecdote about Strong purportedly losing out on an SEC job because of his white wife. That all may be true. But, the reality is the hiring record for African-American head coaches in college football has been terrible, in every part of the country. This is a transformational moment for the sport.
Since Willie Jeffries was hired by Wichita State in 1979, there has been no statistically significant variation in the hiring of African-American head coaches among the major FBS conferences.
Pac 12 (6/60) – 10 percent
Big 10 (5/54) – 9.3 percent
Big 12 (5/56) – 8.9 percent
SEC (4/66) – 6.1 percent
ACC (3/55) – 5.5 percent
Even those paltry numbers may overstate the true number of opportunities. Private schools such as Stanford (3) and Northwestern (2) account for a disproportionate number of African-American coaches hired. Dennis Green (Northwestern, Stanford), Ty Willingham (Stanford, Notre Dame, Washington) and James Franklin (Vanderbilt, Penn State) were hired multiple times. The Big Ten, for instance, has had one African-American head coach, Michigan State’s Bobby Williams, coach his team in a bowl game.
As the jobs get better, the opportunities have been fewer. Using the top 15 football profit programs as a rough gauge of “elite” jobs, just three of the 70 head coaching hires made (before this offseason) by those programs since 1979 were African-American. Reducing it to the top 10 schools, the number drops to just one out of 50 hires, Ty Willingham at Notre Dame. African-American coaches have received opportunities at Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. That’s not the same as Alabama or Georgia.
The 2013-14 winter marks an apparent turning point. Three jobs in that top 15 pool came open. The two biggest, Texas and Penn State, went to African-American head coaches. Hip-hop or not, Strong now holds what most consider the nation’s best job. Race, at least in media coverage, was not viewed as a significant factor for either position.
College Football remains far from being “progressive” or even “up to date.” But Texas hiring Charlie Strong is, nonetheless, a major step forward. So long the emblem for African-American college football coaches not being considered – 24 years as an assistant and coordinator before Louisville – Strong may be the perfect figure to make it.
[Photo via USA Today Sports]