WSU should be serious about black candidates

IT'S BEEN 35 YEARS SINCE Washington State picked George Raveling to be head basketball coach of the Cougars. His hiring was fairly ground breaking. With Bill Doba's departure, WSU is in position to plow similar terrain in football. To think that hiring a black man as a football head coach would be anything more than a footnote, 35 years after Raveling was blazing a trail, is downright sad.

It's a stinging indictment of the nation's universities. And to find this in sports -- where we're taught that merit rules more than almost any place else -- makes it more troubling.

WSU, however, has an opportunity to make a statement, to strike a blow for social justice while landing itself a dandy new coach -- a coach who, purely because of the color of his skin, is part of an untapped pool of major talent.


Terry Bowden, the former Auburn coach, put it well: "A profession that so desperately seeks a level playing field offers nothing close to one for the black athlete who aspires to rise to the pinnacle of the college coaching profession ... Plainly and simply, folks, this is discrimination. More precisely this is one of the last and greatest bastions of discrimination within all of American sports."

Not overt discrimination, mind you. But covert.

Alex Brink, WSU's very own Apple Cup hero, did a thesis project on the subject and concluded that the problem is an "array of subtle barriers and burdens, mostly unintentional." The good old boys' network, perhaps unconsciously, tends to hire and promote people who remind them of themselves, Brink found in his copious research.

To put that into a crimson perspective, it's Dennis Erickson recommending his long-time friend from Everett, Mike Price, to succeed him at Washington State, and Price recommending his long-time friend, Bill Doba, to succeed him, and Doba recommending his close friend, Robb Akey, for the head coaching job at Idaho.

That's not to take anything away from all those guys. They're outstanding in so many ways.

It illustrates, though, how the exclusion of African American coaches at the highest levels is covert, not overt.

Historically, 50 percent of college football players -- the pool from which virtually every coach comes -- are black. Yet only 4 percent of head coaches are black.

Four percent. That translates to six people out of the 119 head coaches at Division IA schools. In the entire history of major college football, only 22 African Americans have been head coaches.

WSU athletic director Jim Sterk said Monday, in response to a question, that the Black Coaches Association would be contacted as part of his search process. That's a great first step.

The next step is to get African-American candidates on campus meeting face-to-face with the decision makers. Turner Gill, the former star quarterback at Nebraska who is now head coach at the University of Buffalo, said the only reason he's a head man today is because he was brought in a few years ago to interview for the top spot at Missouri. He didn't get that position, but he made a big impression and word spread fast. He's had quick success at Buffalo and is now a contender for the vacant job at his alma mater.

Mike Tomlin was considered more a courtesy interview, fulfilling the Rooney Rule, than a leading candidate last winter when brought in to interview for the Pittsburgh Steelers' head job. He wowed the brass and now is in the midst of a great first-season at the helm of the Steelers.

The bottom line for Washington State is that the next head coach be smart, dedicated, honest and personable. He needs to inspire young people and possess the management skills of a corporate executive. He needs to embrace Pullman, celebrating its virtues and uncommon geography. And he needs to stick around for five to ten years. Familiarity with WSU's most lucrative recruiting territory -- California -- would be a plus.

Whether that person is part of the "Cougar family" doesn't matter. WSU and its fans need to get over the three-decades-old jiltings by Warren Powers and Jackie Sherrill and think more broadly.

That means casting the proverbial net far and wide. It means seriously looking into the untapped talent that the Black Coaches Association is so familiar with. It means thinking out of the box, the way Glenn Terrell and Ray Nagle did way back in 1972 when they hired a young guy named Raveling from Lefty Driesell's staff at Maryland.

The odds of WSU hiring an African American aren't good for the simple reason that for every Charlie Strong, the esteemed defensive coordinator at Florida, you'll find nine Charlie White Guys. Indeed, while 25 percent of college assistant coaches are black, only 10 percent of the offensive and defensive coordinators are. That is the boys' club's covert pigeon-holing of black guys as receivers and running backs assistants.

Still, there are many potential candidates of color. Some top-of-mind possibilities are:

• Strong, the DC of defending national champion Florida. Former Notre Dame and South Carolina assistant.
Mike Locksley, Illinois offensive coordinator. He could be popular following the Ilini's big renaissance
Jay Norvell, UCLA offensive coordinator. Boston College was interested in him last year.
• DeWayne Walker, UCLA defensive coordinator. A good recruiter who has transformed the Bruin defense from ho-hum to intense.
• Garrick McGee, offensive coordinator at Northwestern. Previously worked at UNLV and in the NFL.

In basketball, Jim Sterk shocked everyone with his unexpected wooing of Dick Bennett and June Daugherty. That same willingness to step off the beaten path should help guide his search for Bill Doba's successor.

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