The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

At college football’s top level, diversity on the field but not the sidelines

Darrell Hazell went 9-33 in three-plus seasons at Purdue, a Big Ten school that has played in the Rose Bowl just twice. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

When Purdue fired Darrell Hazell as its football coach Sunday, it hardly caused a ripple outside of northern Indiana. Hazell was 9-33 in three-plus seasons, and the Boilermakers were coming off a 49-35 homecoming loss to Iowa in which they trailed 35-7 at halftime.

The significance of Hazell’s firing was this: He was one of eight African American head coaches among the 65 teams in college football’s so-called “Power Five” conferences. His departure means the number is down to seven, about 11 percent. There are no statistics on what percentage of players at Power Five schools are African American, but the most recent figures for the entire Bowl Subdivision are close to 60 percent.

This issue is not unique to college football. The National Football League’s “Rooney Rule” has been in effect since 2003, yet in a league in which 68 percent of the players are African American, five of the 32 head coaches — about 16 percent — are African Americans.

The numbers in college basketball are marginally better: 10 African American coaches among the 65, with about 60 percent of all Division I players being African American.

“Actually the basketball numbers were starting to get decent a few years ago,” said Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, one of only a handful of African American athletic directors at power schools. “In basketball, we’ve gone in the wrong direction recently.”

As recently as 2010, five of the ACC’s 12 men’s basketball coaches were African Americans; now, two of 15 are. None of the 14 Big Ten schools has an African American head coach.

That may explain why NCAA President Mark Emmert formed an ad hoc committee last February to work on the issue.

“We had a meeting during the week of the football championship game among the minority athletic directors,” Anderson explained. “Mark [Emmert] was part of the meeting, too. We looked at all the various numbers, and it was a no-brainer that something had to be done. That was when the ad hoc committee was formed.”

The committee consists of representatives from all three NCAA divisions, with Ohio State President Michael V. Drake the co-chair representing Division I.

“The data we had was so compelling it was clear we needed to try to do something,” Emmert said in a phone interview Wednesday. “When you look at the students who are playing games and then you look at the staffs, they look very different.

“This is also an issue in women’s sports, where the number of women coaching women’s teams has actually gone down a little in recent years.”

When Emmert was its president, the University of Washington was the only school in the country with an African American coaching football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. “I didn’t even realize it until someone pointed it out to me,” he said.

His concern now isn’t just about the present numbers but about future numbers.

“A lot of our current minority athletes might like to become coaches or athletic administrators after college,” he said. “But when they look around, they don’t see a lot of people that look like them. That’s a problem.”

The committee put together a “pledge” that asks schools to be more conscious about giving minorities opportunities in athletics. In part, the pledge reads, “Our institution . . . pledges to specfically commit to establishing initiatives for achieving ethnic and racial diversity, gender equity and inclusion with a focus and emphasis on hiring practices in intercollegiate athletics to reflect the diversity of our membership and our nation. . . .

“We will strive to identify, recruit and interview individuals from diverse backgrounds in an effort to increase their representation and retention as commissioners, coaches and athletic directors.”

The NCAA can’t compel schools to follow specific rules on hiring practices the way a professional sports league can, but it can strongly suggest ideas such as this.

The pledge was sent to all member schools Sept. 21. As of Wednesday, 42 of the 65 Power Five schools had signed it. “I think in some cases they just haven’t gotten around to it yet,” Emmert said. “In other cases, they might simply disagree with it.”

Or, they might sign it to be politically correct and then continue to do nothing tangible. Emmert understands that.

“This is a short-term and a long-term project,” he said. “We need to identify young people — for example, those at the graduate-assistant level — who have the potential to move up and help them, mentor them, so they get the opportunities that maybe have not been available in the past.”

Another problem is that many minority coaches — such as Hazell — get opportunities only at schools that haven't had much success. Purdue has represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl twice . Only one of the Boilermakers' six coaches since 1982 has left with a winning record.

Derek Mason at Vanderbilt, Lovie Smith at Illinois and Dino Babers at Syracuse are at schools that have struggled mightily over the past decade or more. James Franklin inherited a great tradition at Penn State — and also the lingering effects of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. Only David Shaw at Stanford, Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M and Charlie Strong at Texas took over programs that have enjoyed recent success. Shaw, in his sixth season, is the longest-serving African American head coach.

“I think there are some schools where the leash is very short, regardless of race,” Emmert said, when asked whether he had any theories on why there weren’t any African American coaches who have had lengthy tenures.

But he recognized the viscious circle nature to the hirings.

“A lot of schools just want the biggest possible name,” he said. “You see and hear it in the media every time there’s an opening. If you’re trying to hire only someone with a really top track record, that can eliminate a lot of people.”

The other problem, according to the NCAA data, is a lack of minority coordinators.

“There are plenty of minority assistant coaches but not nearly as many coordinators,” Emmert said. “That tends to be where people look when they’re giving someone a first-time head-coaching opportunity.”

In all, the numbers are depressing. The ad hoc committee and the pledge are, at least, a recognition that there’s a problem. It has been 37 years since Willie Jeffries became the first African American to coach a (then-) Division I program when Wichita State hired him in 1979.

Slow progress has been made since. It’s long past time for more.