Dawn Staley is the most important Black coach in college basketball history

No one has accomplished what Staley has, and she’s not done

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Dawn of a new era.
Dawn of a new era.
Image: Getty Images

You know those shirts that say, “I am my ancestors’ wildest dream”? That’s what Dawn Staley is.

On Sunday night, the leader of South Carolina’s women’s basketball program became the first Black coach — male or female — to win two Division I NCAA Tournaments. The list of Black coaches that have cut down the nets after the last game of the season is a short one. There is John Thompson at Georgetown (1984), Nolan Richardson at Arkansas (1994), Tubby Smith at Kentucky (1998), Carolyn Peck at Purdue (1999), Kevin Ollie at UConn (2014), and Staley at South Carolina in 2017 and 2022.

Tonight, Hubert Davis has a chance to join the list if North Carolina defeats Kansas in the National Championship Game. If he does, he’ll belong to a historic group that’s led by Staley.


“I felt a great deal of pressure to win because I’m a Black coach,” Staley said Sunday night, according to The Athletic. “Because if we don’t win, then you bring in … just scrutiny. Like, ‘You can’t coach, you had enough to get it done but yet you failed.’ You feel all of that, and you feel it probably 10 times more than anyone else because we’re at this platform. It really makes me emotional. It does. Because I am their hope. I am the person that they strive (to be because of) where I sit winning national championships. That’s what they want to do.”

What started in 1982 when C. Vivian Stringer (Cheyney State) and Thompson became the first two Black coaches to take a team to the Final Four, has evolved into something that has made Staley one of the hottest coaching names in all of basketball. Her resume checks all the boxes. She coached the Olympic team to a gold medal, was interviewed by the Portland Trail Blazers for their head coaching vacancy last year, and has created a dynasty at South Carolina, which seems impossible at a school that’s historically been linked to football. Before Staley showed up in 2008, the program had made only eight tournaments, been to three Sweet 16s, and made it to one Elite Eight. During Staley’s tenure, the program has made 10 tournament appearances, 9 Sweet 16s, 5 Elite Eights, and 4 Final Four trips to go along with 2 national titles.

A Black woman making something out of nothing in a southern state like South Carolina with its history is a miracle. But, that’s why Black girls are magic.


With all due respect to legends and icons like John McClendon and Clarence “Big House” Gaines who, along with Thompson, are often viewed as the godfathers of Black college basketball coaches, we already know that their contributions on-and-off the field may never be quantifiable. However, what Staley has accomplished at the age of 51 has put her in a position to be the leader in the clubhouse. But, this is bigger than her having more titles than the other Black coaches. It’s about a woman doing it, and what that means.

When Peck gave Staley a piece of her championship net in 2015, Staley promised that she would keep the tradition alive, as she sent a piece of her 2017 net to other Black female coaches across the country. But, this time, Staley has decided to send pieces of the 2022 net to another group of people that are far too often overlooked and working in an industry that greatly lacks diversity — black journalists.


“I just think just moving forward, like the net is going to represent something, something in our game, something that will advance our game,” Staley explained. “I’ve been thinking, some of our Black male coaches, they don’t get the opportunity, and I’m also going to – I’m going to take it a step further, some of our Black journalists don’t get an opportunity to elevate. So we’re going to try to cut this net up, give them a piece of it, and just hope that it will be something that they can utilize to advance in the area that their heart desires to in their field.”


Standing on the shoulders of the giants that have come before her, Staley has arrived at a point where she’s winning more than her predecessors while building a legacy off the court, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. And as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX this year, which was passed when she was just a toddler, Staley has become the face of what can happen when equality exists, as the law that allowed women to play sports has led to a Black woman being the most important college basketball coach that her race has ever produced.

So the next time a WNBA owner wants to make a coach the highest paid in the league, or an NBA franchise is looking to bring in the best candidate for the job, it’s time that they stop mentioning the usuals like Becky Hammon, the Van Gundy brothers, Mark Jackson, or Mike Brown. They should give Dawn Staley a call. She’s won everywhere she’s been, and there’s no reason to believe that wouldn’t be the case in the pros.