Whitt Deserves Shot As Head Coach

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about veteran Auburn assistant football coach Joe Whitt.

I think I was about five years old. I was in the back seat of the car belonging to the lady who worked for my family. She was taking my brother and me home with her to play with her son, who was around our age. I still remember the fear when I saw the blue lights flashing behind us. We were pulled over by a Birmingham policeman, who told her to take us back home. The reason? She was black and we were white.

We've come a long way since those times. It wasn't so long ago that Jason Campbell would never have had an opportunity to play for Auburn, because black kids didn't play quarterback. We are only a little more than 30 years removed from the first black players at any position being signed by Southeastern Conference schools. Like the rest of society, athletics has come a long way. And like the rest of society, it hasn't come far enough.

I got the inspiration for this column as I visited Auburn linebackers coach Joe Whitt in his office Thursday. He's an inspiring man, a man who gets the most from his players because he cares for them and they know it. He's man of integrity who will look you in the eye and tell you the truth, not most of the time, but every time.

Joe Whitt works with linebacker Dontarrious Thomas at football practice.

As we were chatting about football, family and other things, I wondered to myself why Joe Whitt is not a head coach. He has everything it takes--knowledge, work ethic, honesty, strength of character, loyalty, the ability to relate to players and to supporters. So why is he not a head coach? Whitt would never say it, because he would view it as making excuses. But I'll say it. The reason Joe Whitt isn't a head coach is that he's black. And there are a lot more out there in the same situation.

The majority of the players are black, but there is not a black head coach in the SEC and precious few in college football. There are only two in the NFL. That's a sad situation. The question is what can be done about it, and I don't have an answer. Whitt and others like him would be as disgusted at the thought being hired for their blackness as they are disgusted at the thought of being passed over because of it. What they want is a chance.

Notre Dame opened the door a little bit wider when it hired Tyrone Willingham from Stanford. He's opened it wider still by winning all his games. But before we praise Notre Dame too highly, remember Willingham wasn't its first choice. George O'Leary was. Sooner or later an SEC athletic director is going to have the courage to hire a black man as head football coach. It would be nice if a president at an SEC school would have the courage to hire a black man as athletic director. Or if a board of trustees would have the courage to hire a black man as president or chancellor.

Is it too late for Joe Whitt? I don't know. What I do know is that he deserves a chance. He's in his early 50s with plenty of good years left. I also know that deserving a chance and getting a chance don't necessarily go together. But there's another Whitt in college coaching this year. Joseph Whitt, who was a renowned spokesman for the concerns of student-athletes while he was at Auburn, coaches wide receivers at The Citadel. Maybe by the time he's old enough and experienced enough to be a head coach, he will be judged only on his qualifications and not on the color of his skin.

I hope so.

Predictions:

Your fearless forecaster has given up for the time being on picking against Georgia. I was convinced before the season that the Bulldogs were overrated. I think they still might be, but they are 8-0. Having wilted under the pressure, I'm going to pick Georgia to beat Florida Saturday night in Jacksonville, Fla., but I'm not sure I believe it. The Gators have had two weeks to get ready and the Bulldogs are crippled up as they look toward their eighth game without an open date. Here is how I see Saturday's games:

Auburn 34, Ole Miss 20;

Alabama 49, Vanderbilt 10;

Arkansas 33, Troy State 13;

Mississippi State 19, Kentucky 17;

South Carolina 20, Tennessee 17;

Georgia 28, Florida 27.


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