With the end of the college football season in sight, the annual guessing game begins regarding which coaches will be moving on, others that will be canned, and what the staffs of those who move to other jobs might look like. Given the still thin ranks of Black coaches, especially on the college level, it’s always worth following to see which ones get opportunities, where those are, and whether they get the prestige gigs at Power five schools.
A prime example is at Texas A&M, where Kevin Sumlin is facing arguably his most critical off-season. You would think that an 8-5 season, and no year since he’s taken over that hasn’t included a bowl trip would be satisfactory. But the rumblings out of College Station are that the fans, especially the boosters, aren’t satisfied that he has only beaten Alabama once, and that the last two seasons the Aggies have faded badly after fast starts.
There were problems last season with personnel defections and QBs departing. The addition of high-priced defensive ace John Chavis also hasn’t paid off to the extent hoped. So if Texas A&M aren’t serious title contenders next year for at least the Western Division, Sumlin’s window of opportunity and the goodwill of the fans may be compromised.
Interestingly, Sumlin was viewed as a hot property with NFL opportunities during the Johnny Manziel years. Perhaps that would be a good move should things not work out so well next season, though Sumlin maintains he’s first and foremost a college coach and prefers to stay in a campus environment.
The same holds true for Stanford’s David Shaw, who isn’t under any heat. But the firing of Jeff Fisher by the Rams has led to his name being on the short list of candidates for that job. As a former member of the Oakland Raiders staff and the person who helped turn both Andrew Luck and Christian McCaffrey into NFL ready types, Shaw has lots of credibility and name recognition among NFL types. Perhaps he’ll depart, but he seems solidly locked in at Stanford.
Willie Taggart’s move to Oregon from South Florida will be closely watched, especially since that school sacked a coach who only a couple of years earlier had made it into the college football playoffs. Taggart’s reputation is also as an offensive guru, something that Oregon fans demand, and the thing that’s been their trademark. Few think there will be any problems with Taggart at Oregon, but it does bear watching.
Despite tough bowl losses, James Franklin at Penn State and Derek Mason at Vanderbilt seem both safe and established. Franklin won Big 10 Coach of the Year honors and was national Coach of the Year in some places. Mason steered the Commodores into a bowl game, overcame a 4-6 hole, and beat bowl teams Georgia on the road and Ole Miss and Tennessee at home. If his teams still have offensive difficulties, he’s a proven defensive wizard, and someday may well be a defensive co-ordinator in the NFL at the least.
Then there’s Charlie Strong, who ironically will replace Taggart at the University of South Florida. He’s only the fourth coach in their history. Strong only got three seasons at Texas, and was 16-21. He was never able to get things really turned around in Austin, but in Florida he’s back on familiar turf. Some may have forgotten that Strong was defensive coordinator at Florida under Urban Meyer for national championships in 2006 and 2008. He even had a stint with Steve Spurrier there in the early ‘90s. Plus at Louisville from 2010-2013 he won 11 and 12 games in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Both seasons were capped by bowl wins, with Louisville beating Florida and Miami. He might not have duplicated those feats in Texas, but it’s evidence he clearly knows how to coach winning football.
College football has no equivalent of the Rooney rule that forces NFL teams to not only consider but at least offer an interview for all management and staff positions to one minority. That rule clearly has its shortcomings, but it does get qualified candidates at least a chance to present their case. Thus far, the colleges still seem to be lagging behind in the areas of hiring, but these coaches are slowly and steadily making the case that Blacks can win at the highest coaching levels if given the chance.