Most of today’s black coaches are youthful products of generations before them. Generations that had to grind at college football’s lower-tier programs in order to prove that black college coaches could succeed at elite, predominantly white institutions. Kevin Sumlin, Charlie Strong and David Shaw (as well as Vanderbilt’s James Franklin and USF's Willie Taggart) aren’t pioneers, but they picked up the baton and closed the divide. The only party left to crash is the National Championship Game.
Glass ceilings are getting bulldozed every day. If Sumlin, Strong or Shaw reach the National Championship Game in January, they’ll be the first minority head coaches to ever shepherd an FBS team to the sport’s highest achievement. It’s surprising at first glance that it’s 2013 and no minority coach has ascended to the upper echelon yet, but upon further inspection, it shouldn’t be.
Jobs with AQ conference programs are where careers blossom and championships are won, but for years, it’s been a struggle for minority coaches to even get onto those sidelines. Sylvester Croom’s name will echo through the annals of history as the SEC’s first-ever black coach, but that Mississippi State program was subterranean compared to the SEC’s cloud nine programs when they hired him. The stakes were low.
Nine years after his hiring, the SEC boasts three coaches of color, but it'll take a Doug Williams/Tony Dungy type before the questions about the ability of black coaches gets the guillotine.
Strong experienced the least amount of turnover on the roster and in the coaching staff, but the road to the BCS is too straight and narrow for Louisville to become a major threat. While Texas A&M is getting pop-up tests every week in the SEC and Stanford is tasked with game planning for potent Pac-12 offenses, Louisville is in non-AQ limbo before they join the ACC in 2014. In what will be their final season before Teddy Bridgewater goes pro, their schedule doesn’t include a single ranked opponent.
Sumlin’s explosive offense nearly took the SEC by storm, but their defense has a few leaks that need plugging.
Chip Kelly skipping town and USC self-destructing with Trojan Horse Lane Kiffin at the helm, has put Stanford and Shaw in the driver’s seat within the Pac-12. Shaw doesn’t have the same name brand recognition as Strong and Sumlin, but his squad may have the best chance of reaching that final first for minority head coaches. Not only are the Ducks in transition, but the Cardinals have the formula for how to slam the brakes on the Ducks’ frenetic spread option, zone offense and a sophomore quarterback in Kevin Hogan, who is a sleeper for Pac-12 Player of the Year. As an added bonus, the 2014 title game takes place on familiar territory at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
The glass ceilings are vanishing for this generation of black coaches. The light at the end of the tunnel is about hoisting college football’s iconic crystal trophy. This year, it legitimately can happen.