Andre Powell set goals for himself once he entered college football coaching in the late 1980s, but soon he was traveling down a winding, unpredictable path. He was always determined to coach at the highest level, to be a head coach. But sometime in the 1990s, those goals gave way to a singular purpose: to become the best coach and recruiter he could possibly be, wherever he was.
He started as a student assistant at Indiana in 1988 and made eight stops before joining Randy Edsall’s staff as a running backs coach at Maryland in 2011. The following season, Powell became the team’s special teams coordinator. It was his third time holding that title, yet it also marked a rarity. With Powell joining offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, Maryland had three minority coordinators in 2012 — and two years later the trio is still together. Maryland enters this season as the only school in Division I to hold that distinction.
“Thinking back to 15 to 20 years ago, when I was beginning to coach, I don’t even remember black coordinators. I’m sure there were a few. I wasn’t aware of them,” Powell said. “I just think that things are changing. I think some of the stereotype’s lifted, and people see that you need to just find the best that you can hire.”
A report released last month by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) found that 15 of the 125 Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches were minorities in 2013. That number is 14 heading into this season — and alongside Texas, Vanderbilt and Tulane, Maryland is one of four schools in the country to have three minorities in the top four positions on staff.
“The triple [minority coordinators] is rare,” said Floyd Keith, who served as a head coach at Howard and Rhode Island and is a former executive director of the nonprofit organization Black Coaches and Administrators. “I think it’s unique. I give credit here to [Edsall].”
While there have been inroads to minority coaching hires in the past decade — there were just four minority head coaches and 29 minority offensive and defensive coordinators to begin the season in 2005, according to TIDES — Maryland is an outlier in a coaching landscape still dominated by white men. Keith recruited Powell and hired him as a running backs coach at Rhode Island in 1993, attracted to the young assistant’s attention to detail and passion. Those were the qualities Edsall also saw in Powell in 2011 — and he soon also found unique characteristics in Locksley and Stewart during the interview process. Both were longtime coaches and had taken very different paths to Edsall’s staff.
Stewart had spent time as an assistant in the NFL. Locksley was coming off a stint as head coach at New Mexico. Stewart is meticulous and rarely raises his voice. Locksley is demonstrative and “doesn’t sugar-coat anything,” Edsall said.
“I just happened to hire guys that I felt were the best fit for what we want to do here and what we want to be able to accomplish,” Edsall said. “I’m color-blind.”
The fact that Maryland has three minority coordinators is not lost on Stewart, although he said it’s not discussed among the staff, which also includes Lyndon Johnson, the African American assistant head coach/outside linebackers. But Stewart said the significance of his position will be correlated with success.
“I know that I have to do well if other African Americans want to have that opportunity. I have to do well,” Stewart said. “I just think it’s great for anybody to have an opportunity. If you’re a coach — white, black or Hispanic — if you have an opportunity, take advantage of that opportunity.”
The Rooney Rule, an NFL policy that requires teams to interview minorities for head coaching positions, doesn’t exist in the NCAA. According to the NCAA’s Web site, Division I athletic directors adopted similar hiring guidelines in 2008, although that practice is voluntary. Locksley said Maryland’s coordinator staff is a reflection on Edsall as a person — and as a coach looking to fill his staff with the best fitting candidates.
“I don’t necessarily know if it’s good for the program because of having three minority coordinators. I think that what it shows is that this university and this area, what it represents . . . the D.C. metropolitan area is a very progressive area,” Locksley said. “Hats off to Coach Edsall being able to look beyond and just hire the best guys, I would hope, to do the job.”
Powell grew up on a farm in Lockhart, S.C., and he’s “country” when it comes to coaching.
He can relate to many of his players on special teams, a unit composed of players who aren’t usually starters and are looking to capitalize on the opportunities they’re given. There have been some schools in Powell’s coaching journey that were afraid of “black leadership,” he said, but Maryland hasn’t been one of them. It’s the most diverse staff he’s ever been on, which in his mind is both a point of pride and a sign of progress.
“I think in the past, there’s been some guys across the country that were probably the best guy available for coordinator jobs and they were passed over because some of the stereotypes or some of the backlash that could’ve taken place,” Powell said. “I think head coaches are more comfortable with that idea now.”