College Football Programs Are Quick To Fire Black Coaches

College Football Programs Are Quick To Fire Black Coaches

Dabo Swinney, left, didn’t win his first bowl game until his fifth year at Clemson. Willie Taggart, right, didn’t even get to finish his second year at Florida State.
Dabo Swinney, left, didn’t win his first bowl game until his fifth year at Clemson. Willie Taggart, right, didn’t even get to finish his second year at Florida State.
Image: AP Photo

It’s become a trend in college football: When a black coach earns a spot running a Division I program, their expected timetable for turning the team around is significantly shorter than their white counterparts.

This week, the NFL’s public campaign for diversity was taken up a notch, when incentives could have been placed on the table for franchises if they hired coaches and GMs of color. It was ultimately tabled by the NFL owners during their meeting Tuesday, but it pushed me to look into what opportunities coaches of color are getting to prove themselves at the college level.

When a new head coach is brought on board, most sign for five years, but for black coaches the timeframe rarely aligns with expectations.

Five years allows a coach ample time to recruit their own guys and have them play through the system. It’s a long enough time to see if the coach is moving the program in the right direction.

Generally, black coaches get two to three years, max, before a decision on their future is made. Likely fighting through double consciousness — a phrase coined by W.E.B. Du Bois — as they lug the burden of black stereotypes while also facing the pressure of meeting an unrealistic coaching standard.

Which leads to many coaches fearing if they are fired they probably won’t land on their feet again in a head coaching role, and there is good reason to believe that.

A December article by fivethirtyeight.com found only seven cases since 1975 in which a black coach received a second chance at head coach at a top-division school after being fired from his first job.

Which points to an evident flaw in the pipeline of talent and system as a whole.

“White candidates are hired at a faster rate within the Power 5 conferences,” Dr. Brian Joseph said in 2018, “but this is partly based on the simple fact that there are more to choose from. As of the 2016 season, there were nearly three times as many White assistant coaches, 641 vs. 221, than Black.”

Tom Holmoe, Tim Murphy, Jim Wacker, Joe Avezzano, Terry Shea, Kliff Kingsbury and the list goes on and on. These are white coaches who had unsuccessful stints as head coach who were allowed at least five seasons to turn things around. And even when they didn’t and were let go, many turned the page into another head coaching/ athletic director gig.

Another example, Ed Orgeron who just won a National championship as the head coach of LSU, started his career 10-25 at Ole Miss.

Dabo Swiney and Nick Saban at the start of their coaching career weren’t competing for national titles. They were just vying for bowl eligibility. If they can get the patience in leading, the guys mentioned above as well as other coaches of color deserve to as well.

Here are just a few black head coaches who were not given legitimate time to show what they could do with their respective programs.

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Jon Embree — (2011-2012) Colorado

Jon Embree — (2011-2012) Colorado

Jon Embree lasted only 25 games at Colorado.
Jon Embree lasted only 25 games at Colorado.
Image: AP Photo

Jon Embree — (2011-2012) Colorado

Even in the midst of putting out one of the youngest teams in the nation — the team only had seven seniors — Jon Embree found himself getting the boot after 25 games as Colorado’s head coach.

His record with the program was 4-21 and 3-15 in Pac-12 play.

Embree knew before he took the Colorado job, if things didn’t go well, this would likely be the only shot he would receive to be a head coach. Sadly, he was right.

“I can’t believe it happened,” Colorado senior linebacker Doug Rippy told The Denver Post in 2012 following Embree’s firing. “Man, it’s crazy. I had no idea. I didn’t see it coming at all. I don’t think he had enough time to come in and do what he needed to do.”

Embree is now assistant head coach and tight end coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

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Willie Taggart — (2018-2019) Florida State

Willie Taggart — (2018-2019) Florida State

Willie Taggart was subjected to a ridiculous amount of hate at Florida State.
Willie Taggart was subjected to a ridiculous amount of hate at Florida State.
Image: AP Photo

Willie Taggart — (2018-2019) Florida State

Taggart caught the eyes of the Seminoles when his Oregon Ducks went 7-5 during the 2017 season exceeding many expectations.

However, his time in Tallahassee went very different. He had one season before he was on the hot seat, ultimately getting the boot in the middle of his second year. Taggart’s first season with the Seminoles the school finished 5-7 — and before Taggart took the job, it was reported the reason his predecessor, Jimbo Fisher, was looking to go elsewhere was because he knew the fall of the program was near.

Taggart went through a circus of hate from fans during his first season with one fan posting a Florida State football Facebook thread, Taggart with noose over his neck. Under the photo read, “Believe in Something Even If It Means Sacrificing Your Rep,” an reference to a Nike advertisement starring Colin Kaepernick.

“Black coaches in college football do not get any measure of patience,” ESPN’s Bomani Jones said after Taggart’s firing. “When it’s time to fire the black coach, when it starts looking shaky, people typically don’t waste much time before they do it.”

Taggart is now the head coach of Florida Atlantic University.

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Tyrone Willingham — (2002-2004) Notre Dame

Tyrone Willingham — (2002-2004) Notre Dame

Tyrone Willingham actually had a better record at Notre Dame than Charlie Weis.
Tyrone Willingham actually had a better record at Notre Dame than Charlie Weis.
Image: Getty Images

Tyrone Willingham — (2002-2004) Notre Dame

In the midst of needing some revamping Notre Dame turned to Tyrone Willingham. Willingham was doing a solid job at Stanford posting a 44-36-1 record over six seasons. He arrives at Notre Dame and his first season it seems he is receiving a fair shot but as his second season progressed, scrutiny and doubt were planted in the minds of fans as well as athletic administrators.

His successor Charlie Weis was allowed to coach five years after leaving his job as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots before he was terminated, but an odd point in his story was Notre Dame offered him a 10-year extension halfway through his first season.

“You’ve got to explain the numbers. There’s more than one answer. But it’s alive and well in certain places, yes,” Willingham, said in 2008 about the diversity issues in college football. 

Willingham went 21-15 over three seasons, giving him a slightly higher winning percentage than (.583) than Weiss, who went 35-27 (.565). So he had a point when he stated the head coaching job market is about more than wins and losses — even though many athletic directors will present it that way.

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Charlie Strong — (2014-2016) Texas

Charlie Strong — (2014-2016) Texas

The ’Horns gave Charlie Strong the hook after three years in Austin. He inherited a fading program from Mack Brown.
The ’Horns gave Charlie Strong the hook after three years in Austin. He inherited a fading program from Mack Brown.
Image: Getty Images

Charlie Strong — (2014-2016) Texas

Strong led Louisville to two Big East titles before heading to University of Texas. He was doomed from the start.

The Longhorns were reeling from the neglect in recruitment on the part of Mack Brown and his staff. While Brown had been a Hall of Fame worthy coach between 1998-2009, the program fell off following the departure of quarterback Colt McCoy.

To put it simply, Strong had to rebuild the UT talent base while simultaneously coaching for his job.

The 2014 coaching search for the Longhorns played out very publicly. It’s been widely reported the Longhorns were looking for Nick Saban to make the jump from Alabama to Texas. When that didn’t work, Jon Gruden’s name was thrown out as there seemed to be mutual interest. That fizzled out, which left Strong and a handful of coaches who initially interviewed for the job. Strong ultimately wound up in the position and before he even coached a single game for the Longhorns, UT boosters’ swooped in to vocalize their displeasure with the hire.

After a rollercoaster three seasons and a 16-21 record, Strong was bounced.

“This man gave me a shot when nobody else wanted me,” Longhorn receiver Dorian Leonard tweeted shortly after Strong was fired. “Has helped me grow as a football player and a man. Don’t know where I would be w/o him.”

Strong is now a defensive analyst for Alabama.

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Don Treadwell — (2011-2013) Miami (OH)

Don Treadwell — (2011-2013) Miami (OH)

Don Treaadwell didn’t get to finish his third season at Miami, Ohio.
Don Treaadwell didn’t get to finish his third season at Miami, Ohio.
Image: AP Photo

Don Treadwell — (2011-2013) Miami (OH)

When Treadwell took over the reins at his alma mater it looked promising. He played wide receiver for the RedHawks from 1978-81 and his second-ever coaching opportunity was with the school from 1992-93 as its running backs and wide receivers coach.

In his first two seasons, he posted back-to-back 4-8 seasons before he was placed on the chopping block, with the program ultimately firing him after an 0-5 start the following season.

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Ruffin McNeill — (2010-2015) East Carolina

Ruffin McNeill — (2010-2015) East Carolina

Ruffin McNeill had a winning record in six seasons at East Carolina but got fired anyway.
Ruffin McNeill had a winning record in six seasons at East Carolina but got fired anyway.
Image: AP Photo

Ruffin McNeill — (2010-2015) East Carolina

The way McNeill was thrown out of East Carolina was virtually a travesty. There are arguments made that if you win your job is secured. But what if you win and that still isn’t enough? And in East Carolina’s case, they’re a mid-major school wanting to be in the mix for the college football championships it seems.

McNeill was fired from East Carolina after posting a 42-34 record over 6 seasons, leading the program to four bowl games over that span.

Three years later, McNeil has still not gotten another head coaching opportunity, and East Carolina hasn’t returned to a bowl game.

McNeill is an assistant head coach and outside linebacker coach for Oklahoma.

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