Charlie Strong ran a quick three and out with the Texas Longhorns.
One day after a 31-9 loss to TCU capped another losing season in Austin, the Longhorns opted Saturday to ax Strong, who was 16-21 in three years at the university.
Whether or not he deserved another shot can be debated until the cows come home. The impact of his hiring as the first African-American football coach at the University of Texas was significant, but didn’t result in wins.
The positive impact he had on his football players, who supported him until the end, but never performed to the level that a demanding family of fans, boosters, faculty, alumni and media projected for his tenure, will unfortunately be a smaller footnote in his legacy at Texas.
Strong leaves Texas with the worst winning percentage all-time by a head coach at the school. The last person to coach for three seasons or less at Texas was Jack Chevigny from 1934 to 1936, the only other coach with a losing record for the Longhorns.
Texas (5-7) again failed to clinch a bowl bid in 2016, instead finishing with its third seven-loss season under Strong, who was 12-15 in Big 12 play.
Strong insisted that he left the program in solid shape and they were poised for a breakthrough.
"The foundation has been laid here," Strong said. "The thing is, we've been building it for three years. Even when I looked at it, I said the third year we'll make progress, the fourth year will be our year. It's just like baking a cake. The cake has been baked. The only thing you need to do now is put the icing on it and slice it."
Charlie Hustle will never get to put the icing on, cut it or experience the sweet taste of victory.
Strong was another African-American coach who fell victim to the quick hook, making some wonder if the opportunity he was awarded was more politically motivated and framed for reality show perfection than a shining moment for diversity and inclusion in the white-dominated college coaching ranks.
Numbers Still Don't Add Up
Although Blacks were 53.4 percent of Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) players going into the 2015-16 football season, only (10.2 percent) of the head coaches were African Americans, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of South Florida.
To make matters worse, says seattlemedium.com, "Black and White coaches with similar records often face starkly different futures."
In early 2016, Washington Post writer Donald H. Yee wrote:
"Last week, one of the few black head football coaches in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, Ruffin McNeill at East Carolina University, was fired. His record was 42-34, along with a 30-18 conference record. The winning percentages, respectively, are 55 percent and 63 percent.
Around the same time, college football writers were praising the University of Iowa for its patience with head coach Kirk Ferentz, who is being lauded for his performance this year. Ferentz has an overall winning percentage of 60 percent, and a conference winning percentage of 56 percent. Ferentz is in his 17th season at Iowa. Before this current 12-1 season, his overall winning percentage was 58 percent – comparable to McNeill’s.
Iowa, however, had to endure seasons where Ferentz won one, three and four games. McNeill never won fewer than five. As any knowledgeable college football fan knows, East Carolina’s budget is not even half of Iowa’s. McNeill’s salary at East Carolina wasn’t even within the top 60 in the country, while Ferentz has perennially been one of college football’s highest paid coaches.”
It seems, Strong was a victim of this same trend, one that I have written about numerous times for The Shadow League.
Strong’s hiring in 2014 was a win for America. He cracked a once impenetrable ole' boys network and became the black face of a Republican-dominated, conservatively-prestigious university in The Lone Star State.
Despite Strong’s lack of success, he is still a pioneer of sorts. He at least got the rare shot to be the big wig at a major FBS powerhouse with realistic national championship hopes.
But his absence now leaves a void in the African-American college coaching ranks. And as the numbers of African-American coaches in the NFL and major college ranks show incremental to little improvement, concerns about the pipeline to head coaching gigs for qualified minority candidates and the double-standard between white and black coaches takes center stage again.
Chasing Tails At A Snail's Pace
In the 2015 football season, there were 12 Black NCAA Division I FBS football coaches: James Franklin, Penn State; Darrell Hazell, Purdue; Curtis Johnson, Tulane; Mike London, Virginia; Derek Mason, Vanderbilt; Trent Miles, Georgia State; David Shaw, Stanford; Charlie Strong, Texas; Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M; Willie Taggart, South Florida; Paul Haynes, Kent State and Dino Babers, Bowling Green.
Currently, in the aftermath of the usual musical chairs of hiring and firing coaches, the seven that still remain employed in 2016 as FBS coaches are Franklin, Mason, Shaw, Sumlin, Taggert, Haynes and Babers, now at Syracuse.
(David Shaw has won three Rose Bowls in six seasons at Stanford)
A handful of black rookie coaches joined the FBS ranks, ranging in age, experience and background. NFL coaching veteran Lovie Smith tried his luck at Illinois; Frank Wilson III, UTSA; Mike Jinks, Bowling Green and former Tennessee Titans defensive backs guru Everett Rowe Withers, Texas State Bobcats.
While all of these gigs are FBS schools, none of them would be considered plush or gushing with resources and recruiting appeal. Only Shaw and Franklin have jobs at “powerhouse” schools.
And these numbers are down from 2012 when there were 15 African-American coaches out of the 124 Division 1-A college football schools, according to an executive report by the Black Coaches Association.
For a while, on the surface, gains were being made. There were only five in 2008. The following seasons were considered high points with the addition of six new black head coaches at FBS schools before 2010 commenced.
The hiring of Jon Embree at Colorado, Darrell Hazell at Kent State, Don Treadwell at Miami (Ohio), David Shaw at Stanford and James Franklin at Vanderbilt brought the number of African‐American head coaches slated to start the 2011 season to a record 18.
But just as quickly as these coaches get hired, they often get fired. The snake pit of played-out cultural philosophies and improbable odds can require a superhuman coaching effort for them to keep these jobs. It looks like it’s going to take a Jackie Robinson of college coaches to win it all for these attitudes to change.
As celebrated as Strong’s hiring was, the magnitude of his firing strikes with an equal force of sadness and frustration. Africa-Americans were hoping he would be that Jackie Robinson of coaches and lead Texas to the promise land.
That’s why it was important for Penn State to find a way to creep into the fourth spot and into National Title consideration. It seems that beating Ohio State, 24-21 on Oct. 22 at Happy Valley was't enough. In any event, Franklin is knocking on history’s door and he has helped lift Penn State even further out of the darkness of the Sandusky scandal and back onto the national championship scene.
Strong’s firing comes at a time when the four African-American head coaches in the NFL (Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers; Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions; Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals and Todd Bowles of the Jets) and paltry number of elite FBS college coaches reflect the continued lack of diversity and racially oppressive hiring culture at these positions.
With Strong jobless, Lewis’ days numbered in Cincinnati and Bowles floundering with a Jets team that is under equipped and a mess at QB, the pipeline of African-American head coaches in the NFL and college, seems to be drying up again.
Where’s the new blood?
With all of the minority coaching programs and the Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship that the league offers, along with the diversity training that college programs speak so highly of, there should be more diversity in college and pro coaching by now.
The Rooney Rule's results have been up and down and lukewarm at best as far as African-American coaches getting elite opportunities. And in college, the pipeline still seems to be restricted by a racial inequity in those doing the hiring.
(Aazaar Abdul-Rahim served in the Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship with the Baltimore Ravens in 2015)
As Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, said, “This year’s increase is so discouraging. At a time when almost all colleges and universities say they emphasize diversity and inclusion as core values, the fact is that in the 2015-16 report, 89.8 percent of our presidents were white, 86.7 percent of our athletics directors were white, and 100 percent of our conference commissioners were white."
In those positions, 78.9, 79.7, and 90 percent were white men, respectively. Overall, whites held 342 (88.8 percent) of the 385 campus leadership positions reported in this study, which was an increase from 88.2 percent in 2014. Whose America do these statistics reflect?”
Since 2003, The Fritz Pollard Alliance has worked with the NFL to get more qualified brothers a shot at coveted coaching positions. In 2014, Chairman John Wooten provided me with an exclusive "Ready List for NFL," that they compiled to assist owners and executives around the league in their hiring process. The list highlights minority candidates that the organization feels is capable of running an NFL team or front office.
Just three (Hue Jackson, Bowles and Caldwell) of the 11 coaches listed as “ready” to lead an NFL squad have been hired since the list was released to us in January of 2014.
The four college coaches on the list ?
Sumlin, Strong, Shaw and Franklin.
There’s no new black blood making major noise at these leadership positions and NFL franchises aren’t checking for that list too much anymore.
There’s faint hopes of inspiration like Jim Caldwell’s NFC North-leading Lions squad and Mike Tomlin’s job security in Pittsburgh. But the numbers have flat-lined, and as much as African-American highers are touted and praised in the media, when the smoke clears, the problem of diversity at head coaching positions remains.