By Ron Wynn
There have been good and bad developments the past two weeks in terms of Black coaches at major colleges. Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Stanford’s David Shaw are enjoying the fruits of success.
Franklin was rewarded with a contract extension Monday for the second straight year. He guided Vanderbilt to an 8-4 record this season and a second consecutive bowl appearance, a school first. The Commodores will meet NC State in the Music City Bowl Dec. 31 in Nashville. The extension ended any chances Franklin might bolt for other locales. Considering his 14-11 mark over the past two seasons, including five wins this past year in the rugged SEC, the extension was well deserved and a smart move by Vandy.
Sumlin guided Texas A&M to a 10-2 inaugural SEC season, and ninth place finish in the BCS standings. They’ll face Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl Jan. 4, not a BCS game (which many feel is a double injustice to both schools), but still one of the postseason’s top bowl matches. Shaw took Stanford to another successful year at 11-2 and the Pac-12 title. They face Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl New Year’s Day.
But against that trio of high points there’s the ugly specter of Jon Embree’s firing at Colorado Nov. 25 after only two years. Embree, a former star tight end at the school in the ‘80s, inherited a program everyone agreed was in shambles. He greatly improved the school’s image (his players posted the highest GPA in school history) off the field. But a dismal 4-21 record (no home wins this year and 15 losses by 20 or more points over the two-year stretch) quickly ended his tenure.
Embree generated a national firestorm on the way out with his contention Black coaches get fired faster than their white counterparts and don’t get rehired. Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano praised Embree for the team’s academic performance and image improvement, but said his team’s record was causing widespread fan defection and dissatisfaction.
The bottom line is college coaches are expected to win immediately and consistently. Black coaches often inherit failing or sub-par programs, and are asked to turn them around quickly. Embree’s record made him an easy target, but it doesn’t explain why Tyrone Willingham is the only Black coach fired at a major school who’s gotten a second shot in decades.
No one will argue White coaches aren’t under identical pressures. Auburn sacked Gene Chizik two years after he won a national championship. Lou Holtz’s son Skip got the boot at South Florida after three years, despite giving him an extension after last season. But both have better shots at landing another job than Embree or Joker Phillips, canned at Kentucky after three years.
Franklin, Sumlin and Shaw’s track records show some Black coaches are beating the odds. But Embree’s treatment reaffirms there remain plenty of places where things aren’t quite fair and equal.