This Sunday, for the first time in the 41-year history of the Super Bowl, an African-American coach will hoist the Lombardi trophy in celebration of his team's win.
While some will view this historic moment as a triumphant one for the National Football League-and it will be-I think it also should be viewed as a major cue for the NCAA.
It's time for change.
There are just as many African-American head coaches in the NFL-seven-as there are Division I-A NCAA football. Except that there's one big-I mean, really big-difference. The NFL fields 32 teams; the NCAA 119.
This means less than six percent of Division I-A coaches are African-American, and that's in a sport where 46 percent of players are black.
The problem of disproportional representation in college football stands in stark contrast to men's basketball, where black coaches lead more than 25 percent of all Division I programs.
The Black Coaches Association recently released its third-annual NCAA Football Hiring Report Card, which found that in the 2005-2006 academic year, four out of the 10 Division I-A schools looking to fill vacancies received a D or an F in their approaches to giving minority candidates opportunities to fill those positions.
So although Lovie Smith taking on Tony Dungy on football's biggest stage may be a sign of the times, there are many other signs that cannot be ignored:
Between 1996 and 2006, only 11 African-American coaches were hired out of a total 175 vacancies. This year, out of 23 open jobs, so far only Miami (who promoted its defensive coordinator Randy Shannon to its top coaching spot) has hired a black coach.
In 2005, Tyrone Willingham went from being the first-ever black coach at Notre Dame to the first-ever Fighting Irish coach to have his contract terminated before it was scheduled to expire. Willingham didn't even get the chance to coach one of his own recruiting classes all the way through. The entire debacle begs the question that if Charlie Weis had been in the same position as Willingham (which he hasn't, thanks in part to the latter's recruits), would he have been fired as well?
The current NFL system, which has been in place since 2002, requires all teams to comply with the Rooney Rule, meaning they must interview at least one minority candidate before hiring a new head coach.
The system isn't perfect, but at least it has given minority applicants a voice, if not a chance.
Some critics claim that the Rooney Rule just delays the process of NFL teams inevitably hiring who they want by forcing them to interview a "token" minority candidate. For example, the Dallas Cowboys met Tuesday with former Bears linebacker and 49ers defensive coordinator Mike Singletary, even though Norv Turner has been reported to be the frontrunner for the job.
But regardless of whether the Cowboys hire Singletary, he is getting media exposure and attention in football circles he may not have gotten as recently as five years ago.
NCAA President Myles Brand needs to further investigate the hiring practices at colleges across the country and figure out how to start changing the collegiate coaching culture.
"We're not anywhere close to where we need to be in football," NCAA president Brand said Jan 6. "I'm encouraged that coaches of color are appearing as finalists for positions, but seven out of 119, that's just too darn low."
With massive turnover in head coaching jobs annually in the NCAA, making significant institutional changes, such as adopting its own version of the Rooney Rule, now could begin to make an impact in the very near future.
Fans only have to wait four days to see an African-American head coach win the Super Bowl. If the NCAA continues to perpetuate the status quo, it will be a lot longer than that before we can say the same about a black coach in college's biggest game.
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