NCAA Tries New Approach to Old Issue

Diversity in hiring among coaches at the college level has historically proven even more a problem on campuses than among professionals. Despite the large numbers of Black athletes involved in Division I sports, that identical level of involvement and participation has NOT spread into the coaching ranks. 

The most recent NCAA stats show that only 19 percent of all Division I head football coaches were members of minority groups. When the breakdown focuses on Power Five Conferences, the numbers are even worse.

Despite 61 percent of the players on those Division 1 schools being members of minority groups, the percentage of head football coaches remains in single digits. Though there have been calls for the NCAA to institute its own version of the NFL’s Rooney rule that compels all teams with management or coaching openings to interview at least one minority member for every job, thus far that hasn’t happened, and there doesn’t seem much push within the ranks for that to occur.

Instead, the NCAA is trying something else. They’ve created the Champion Forum. This is designed to aid aspiring minority assistant coaches who want to move up in the ranks and eventually become either head coaches or athletic directors. The Champion Forum is a program that combines mock interviews, conversations with search firms, information about what’s contained in contracts, and general material regarding the expectations of coaches at the highest college levels.

Participants are given two steps of interview training, video clips that assess their strengths and weaknesses, then a follow-up in-person conducted by officials that include former Washington pro team  general manager Charley Casserly. The program even has asked on occasion the wives of participants to sit in and provide input. 

“You can’t shame people into hiring people,” ;former University of Virginia athletics administrator John Oliver told the New York Times in discussing this program. He stresses preparation and knowledge as the key things head coaching candidates need when pursuing available head coaching jobs. He acts as both interviewer and critic during sessions, initially posting questions, then later telling participants who well they’ve done in terms of their responses.

Curtis Holllomon, the director of NCAA leadership development, has been running the Champion Forum for eight years. “What we’ve seen is the awareness of these coaches,” he adds. “That’s one of the main things that we’re trying to do: Let them know that these coaches are out there, they’re in these positions, and they’re ready when the opportunities present themselves.”

Some of the onetime assistants who have gotten jobs with the help of the Champion Forum include Penn State’s James Franklin, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, Stanford’s David Shaw and former Texas A&M and now current Arizona  head coach Kevin Sumllin. This year’s current class includes Michigan assistant head coach (and former Indianapolis Colts’ offensive co-ordinator) Pep Hamilton, Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, LSU defensive coodinator Harlon Barnett, South Carolina offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon and Navy offensive coordinator Irvin Jasper. They are selected by their conferences and/or universities to be part of the program. Many like Elliott have never even been interviewed for a potential head job. 

“Having those tools in our toolbox now and know what people look for, now we can address those issues and work on getting better at it,” adds Jaspar, who has previously interviewed for jobs at Georgia Southern, Yale and Rice. While the Champions Forum isn’t working as fast as some would like, nor has generated as much change as desired, it’s at least offering both opportunities and information to minority coaches who want to move forward. That’s certainly a lot better than doing nothing and failing to recognize or address the problem, something the NCAA has done on too many other occasions for too many other issues.

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