There aren’t that many Black coaches at high profile programs, but the ones who are there find themselves facing the same high-octane pressures and often unrealistic fan expectations as their white predecessors and co-horts. That is certainly the case at four high profile programs across the country with Black coaches, all of whom have experienced a degree of success either at their current or past locale, but will still be under great pressure to keep things going in their new jobs.
The first and the one facing the greatest amount of heat is Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. Earlier this year his athletic director made a highly publicized speech in which he said among other things that Sumlin this season had to “win and win big. Eight games is not enough.” Now one might think that winning eight games and going to a prestigious bowl would be enough for most coaches and athletic directors. But in the Southeastern Conference’s West Division, many schools are sick and tired of being dominated by Alabama. During the Johnny Manziel heyday, A&M did beat Alabama, but since his departure, Texas A&M has been more noted for QB defections and late season losses than anything else.
Kevin Sumlin turned down NFL offers when Texas A&M was riding high, and he was building a reputation as an offensive mastermind. The school paid big money to lure John Chavis away from LSU as their defensive coordinator, and thus far the results have been mixed, at best. This year if the Aggies can’t at least reach nine wins, Sumlin may regret having turned down the NFL at one point.
The second coach who isn’t on the hot seat but is going to be under scrutiny for a different reason is Penn State’s James Franklin. The Big 10 Coach of the Year last season and winner over Ohio State now must prove to skeptics that last season wasn’t a fluke. Penn State travels to Ohio State this year, and it will be interesting to see if Penn State can overcome some major defensive losses and repeat their stirring results last year that included an amazing comeback win over Wisconsin and an impressive Rose Bowl triumph.
Armed with a contract extension and bolstered by his best recruiting class yet, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason is set to prove the doubters wrong and show he does belong at the helm of a major college. No one, not even his harshest critics, criticize his defensive acumen. The Commodores regularly are in the Top 10 in multiple defensive categories despite seldom getting the kind of premier physical talent other SEC schools regularly boast. But it’s the offense that has been the problem since Mason arrived, and he’s gone through multiple co-ordinators and also a lot of quarterback shuffles. The hope is that this season all that is straightened out.
The last coach is beginning his first season in the Pac-12. Willie Taggart established himself at the University of South Florida, frequently surprising teams with bigger reputations. Oregon hasn’t fulfilled anyone’s expectations the last couple of seasons, which is why the job was open in the first place. But Oregon fans like wide-open, explosive offensive football, not fully the Taggart style. Now if he wins, the fans will take 14-10 or 9-7 victories over 44-42 and 54-50 losses any day. Things weren’t helped with a preseason problem involving his strength coach, but that has seemingly been handled. Now we will see what happens when the season begins.
None of these coaches have national championship caliber teams. But all of them will soon be dealing with all the crazy and bizarre things that can happen in a football season, as well as the usual pressures and often unreal demands of fans.