Cuonzo Martin left Tennessee for California earlier this week. Yesterday, in a surprise move, Frank Haith left Missouri and took the head coaching position at Tulsa. What do these moves have in common?
Well, both of the coaches/schools were from the Southeastern Conference. And both coaches are African-American. Pat Forde of Yahoo writes of Haith improbably taking a “lesser” job soon after Martin leaving:
In fact, it would be difficult to believe if it didn’t perpetuate a trend that should deeply concern Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive. African-American coaches keep leaving his league for lesser jobs.
This is a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t for the SEC when it comes to perception. The reality? Haith and Martin are basketball coaches, plain and simple, and this sort of action – looking out for Number 1 – is a long and engrained tradition in college basketball among the coaches. (Last year, I took a deep dive into the past to show that college basketball coaches have moved frequently going to the sports origins). Haith and Martin are no different than most of their predecessors, in a profession where coaches bounce frequently.
College basketball and football have a pretty poor history of minority hiring and opportunity. It’s a larger issue that needs to be addressed, in terms of whether there are barriers to getting in the door. Pardon me, though, if I don’t weep and gnash teeth over Haith making a decision he controlled, and bolting over $1 million a year and getting more years as a head coach.
The SEC had seven African-American coaches last year, but that’s just an opportunity for an article to be written now about how coaches are bolting the SEC. Do you think this gets written about the Big Ten?
The Big Ten had no African-American coaches last season in basketball (which is only changing because of the frequently-mocked addition of Rutgers, where Eddie Jordan is the head coach) and still has Bobby Williams as the only African-American head football coach to appear in a bowl game. And that only came after Nick Saban left Michigan State for LSU.
Still, for Forde, these departures raise “questions – and could create a perception – about the work environment for a black coach in the South.” No one is asking whether the alumni bases of other conferences with supposedly more enlightened alumni but far poorer hiring records when it comes to minorities are impacting the environment. I am not naive enough to believe that racism is dead, like the Supreme Court, or that there are not elements within each fan base that make life difficult for a minority coach.
That said, the SEC just cannot win when it comes to this issue. If they had zero African-American coaches, like the Big Ten, you would have never heard the end of it. When the conference actually has far more diversity than any other, and coaches aren’t even fired and choose to leave, well, that’s a problem too.