Black football coaches, athletic directors seek solutions in face of dwindling numbers

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Before last football season, before the number of Black head coaches was slashed from 14 to 11 by December, Maryland coach Mike Locksley formed a nonprofit to prepare and promote qualified male and female coaches at all levels of the game.

Locksley — one of 11 current Black head coaches in Division I Football Bowl Subdivision and one of three in the Big Ten —  created the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches last August with a board of directors with some of the sport's biggest names, including Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Maryland coach Mike Locksley is one of the 11 current Black FBS head coaches and one of three in the Big Ten.

“This pandemic and then the social injustice climate all happening when we’ve been isolated gave me a chance for the first time in my career to maybe reset and do a full self-evaluation, quality control my life, my goals, where I want to be, what I want to be known for,” Locksley said in a phone interview with The Detroit News.

Locksley, who at 51 jokes that he is on the “back nine” of a coaching career that began in 1992, said there were about 18 Division I minority coaches when he began.

“And then I get a job 13 years later (at Maryland in 2018), and we’re down to 14," he said. 

"After this season, we obviously lose three. It really kind of smacked me in the face to say, ‘Man, as much as time has changed, things in this profession haven’t.’ I think back to what I told my players when some of the racial unrest happened — it’s easy to be a part of it and complain about it and talk about the problem, but I’ve always encouraged my players to be solution-based. So I looked at this and said, ‘What can I do to maybe be a solution to this issue?’”

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, like Locksley, wants to see more Black coaches become coordinators and head coaches. Manuel is one of 10 Black athletic directors of FBS programs. To increase the number of black coaches, the pool of available candidates also must be expanded. That means hiring Black graduate assistants and assistant coaches so they can build experience toward those higher-level positions. That also means, as Locksley said, promoting high school coaches to college jobs.

“The numbers can and should improve,” Manuel said of Black head coaches. “I wouldn’t go to the level of calling it racism that prevents it, but I think coaches, athletic directors definitely need to be more open in the hiring process and in the evaluation process to provide more opportunities for people to be able to interview.

“The important part with assistants is that they have the opportunity to grow and be put in positions to lead offenses and defenses, because the majority of head coaches around the country are chosen from the offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator positions. We as ADs look to results and success and how much somebody has participated in the game planning and has a hand in the success. That pipeline and establishing that pipeline is really important.”

Locksley believes the pipeline is well in place, and that qualified minority candidates with the skill set to become head coaches are available across the country.

“It’s not the pipeline that’s the issue,” Locksley said. “It’s the people that make these decisions, giving the opportunity to the people in the pipeline, that’s the issue. Do we need to continue to add to it? Of course. But the pipeline is there.”

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel

Manuel said the process is two-sided — head coaches have to develop their assistants, but the assistants also have to speak up to ensure their desires to be coordinators and head coaches are known.

“They can’t just say, ‘Well, the coach isn’t helping me,’” Manuel said. “You have to make sure in the offseason the coach knows and you’re spending time with them in the film room, you’re talking to the defensive coordinator about how they’re developing the game plan, not making assumptions. I always encourage assistant coaches to be active in the process of talking about and developing themselves when they have the opportunity. You can’t just sit and hope somebody will help you. They may not even know that’s your interest."

At the FBS level, 48.5% of the players are Black, while 34.8 are White, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) 2019 College Racial and Gender Report Card. Meanwhile, 7.3% of head coaches were Black. That discrepancy is what Locksley and the NCMFC are targeting.

“The coalition isn’t out to be adversarial; we’re out to create allies and create solutions and be solution-based,” Locksley said. “But we can become adversarial if we feel that we aren’t being taken seriously when it comes to this issue. I definitely think the record the last few years of being able to have minorities fill some of these openings in the NFL, major college football, even some of the top high school programs throughout this country is not representative in a manner that reflects the demographics of the people playing it. That has to change."

Twitter: @chengelis