Black head coaches have had their difficulties making headway in NCAA football circles, but things are much better in basketball circles. Both the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments have seen teams led by Black coaches distinguish themselves, with one of them making history and another reaching the Final Four in his inaugural season.
The talk of the men’s field has been the Saint Peter’s Peacocks, who at one point in the year were only 12-11. But they went on a winning streak, reached the Tournament as a 15 seed, and then shocked the entire basketball world. Led by Shaheen Holloway, the Peacocks defeated second seeded Kentucky, then seventh seeded Murray State and third seeded Purdue. They became the first number 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16, but their run ended Sunday in a 69-49 blowout loss to North Carolina. That defeat didn’t take any luster off what Saint Peter’s accomplished, though Holloway acknowledged being disappointed afterwards.
“I really thought we were going to win this game,” Holloway told ESPN and other outlets later. “I’ll be honest with you. No disrespect to them. I just thought we could match up to them.”
Holloway is now expected to take the head coaching job at Seton Hall, his alma mater. Prior to the last four years at Saint Peter’s, he was an assistant coach at Seton Hall for eight years. Meanwhile North Carolina’s head coach is former star player and ESPN commentator Hubert Davis. In his first season there, he has already led the Tar Heels to their record 21st time. It also sets up a mammoth battle next weekend in the Final Four with arch-rival Duke, seeking to win one last NCAA title for retiring head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Duke is in its record 13th Final Four. After ruining Krzyzewski’s last home game, Davis and UNC would love to duplicate that feat in the Final Four.
But in terms of progress for Black coaches, there’s been far more on the women’s side. There were 12 Black head coaches in this year’s women’s Tournament, double the number from last year.
Besides Dawn Staley, head coach of South Carolina, the others were Adia Barnes, Arizona; Niele Ivey, Notre Dame; Kyra Elzy, Kentucky; Shereka Wright, UT-Arlington; Joni Taylor, Georgia; Yolett McPhee-McCuin, Ole Miss, Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, Missouri State; Natasha Adair, Delaware; and Tomekia Reed, Jackson State,
“When you give people opportunity that they don’t often get and they’re successful, this is kind of what happens. I think it’s popular now. Like it was popular probably … when Coach (Jolette) Law got the Illinois job,” Staley told ESPN in 2007 when her assistant was tabbed by Illinois. “A lot of Black coaches got opportunities during that time,” Staley added. “And then probably three, four years later, 75% of them weren’t head coaches anymore, and they don’t get recycled like other coaches. So I think now Black coaches are more prepared because they have had to be prepared.”
But the 12 in this year’s Tournament doesn’t mean things are perfect. Of the nine openings at Power Five schools this season, only two Black women filled those vacancies: Marisa Moseley at Wisconsin and Auburn’s Johnnie Harris. Counting the two hires, of the 65 Power Five schools, 12 had Black women leading their basketball programs this season. And though neither Wisconsin nor Auburn are in the tournament, they are trending in the right direction: both finished with more wins than they did last year.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the handful of Power Five openings for the upcoming season, including Texas A&M, Virginia and Syracuse. And there would seem to be a potential pool of candidates in the NCAA Tournament with six Black women from non-Power Five schools. One of them is Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack. She played for Syracuse, and has her jersey retired at the school. She’s been mentioned as a possible candidate for her alma mater, and believes the success Black women are having is breaking down barriers. “People are noticing they are Black and winning,” she said. “But also that their messages are so amazing. More doors are opening for at least getting interviews for Black coaches. Seeing so many be successful and reach the NCAAs can only help get more opportunities.”
So while things get marginally better for both Black men and women head coaches, there is still a long way to go before anyone can accurately say that opportunities for them are the same as for their white counterparts.