Marcus Freeman Hiring: New Landscape For Coaches Of Color?

Marcus Freeman (35 years old) will be the 3rd-youngest FBS head coach in the country. Only Kane Wommack (34, South Alabama) and Sean Lewis (35, Kent State) are younger. Per: Mike Monaco (@MikeMonaco_) December 2, 2021 tweet to @d_farmer

Marcus Freeman
The Freeman Family at the press conference, photo courtesy of ND Insider

The Problem

There have been Black head coaches at the FBS level since 1979 when Willie E. Jeffries took the job at then D-1A (AKA FBS), Wichita State. However, they shuttered their football program after the 1986 season. While there Jeffries went 21–32–2 and was a pioneer. In the forty-two or so years since the hiring of Jeffries, the high-water mark was 19 for Black head coaches at the FBS level, during the 2011-12 season.

Currently there are still some open jobs, but just 12 of 130 FBS jobs have Black head coaches. That’s 9.23%, which is actually below the percentage in recent years [the lowest since prior to 2012]. If Jimmy Lake, Derek Mason, Lovie Smith, or Kevin Sumlin do find head coaching jobs, three or four new Black candidates being hired in the FBS could lead to the average trend.

Recently, the University of Washington dismissed Jimmy Lake after only fifteen months. In doing so he became the Power 5 head coach with the shortest regime of the last decade.

Lovie Smith was 17–39 in five seasons at Illinois and has returned to a defensive coordinator position with the Texans of the NFL. Kevin Sumlin was 9–20 after three seasons with Arizona, but he has an overall record of 95–63. Derek Mason was 27–55 after six and three quarters seasons at Vanderbilt and is now the defensive coordinator at Auburn.

The Solution

We’ve identified the problem, so what’s the solution?

There’s no lack of available candidates entering the system. Over 54% of the starters at Power 5 programs identify as Black. Over 49.2% of FBS players identify as Black. However, only 37.63% of the assistant coaches, 14.72% of the coordinators and just 9.23% of FBS head coaches are Black. [Per: The Glass Ceiling of African American Assistant Football Coaches by Eli Aaron Keimach].

A reasonable number of Black candidates can successfully transition to position/quality-control coaches or analysts. The bottleneck would appear to be the coordinator position.

As with the NFL, the most attractive current candidates are very often drawn from the offensive coordinator/play-caller role — and as with the NFL, this is clearly a place where improvement is needed. Even with the FCS included, which includes many HBCU programs, there were only 57 Black offensive coordinators. That’s 57 out of 258 positions in Division 1 football, that’s 22.1%, even with several HBCU programs included. [Per: the NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Database]

In good news, Mel Tucker’s 10-year, 95 million dollar, contract extension announces that he’s now under consideration among the elite coaches in the FBS. Elsewhere, young coaches on the rise include Thomas Hammock at Northern Illinois and Charles Huff of Marshall. Finally, there’s the highly respected and established Penn State’s James Franklin and Stanford’s David Shaw.

Some Numbers

Black coaches at the 65 Power 5 schools hold the following positions: Five offensive coordinators, six co-offensive coordinators, seven defensive coordinators and eight co-defensive coordinators. Black men hired in coaching are mainly involved with running backs. Second most often to coach defensive backs.

There are 49 running back coaches among the 65 Power 5 schools but only eight Black passing game coordinators. [Note: these numbers are currently changing as we speak since the coaching “carousel” is still spinning.]

This begs the question: why aren’t Black coaches hired as offensive coordinators? Josh Gattis, Michigan’s offensive coordinator, just won the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach in college football. Brennan Marion, Pitt’s highly regarded wide receiver’s coach, has been identified as a possible future offensive coordinator.

Defensively, another future coordinator appears to be current Notre Dame cornerbacks coach, Mike Mickens. Whether this comes with the Fighting Irish or elsewhere, he’s on the trajectory to becoming a head coach.

Pitt WR Coach Brennan Marion is a top WR and a possible OC or Head Coaching candidate

In the NFL we have co-offensive coordinator Eric Studesville in Miami and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn in Detroit. They join Eric Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich, bringing offensive coordinator total to four. However, 25% of the offensive coordinators in NFL being Black is actually an improvement.

This would be the equivalent to having 32.5 Black offensive coordinators in the FBS. The majority of White head coaches (17 of the 27), have a primarily offensive coaching pedigree. Two out of the three Black NFL head coaches were primarily defensive coaches. It has traditionally been easier for Black coaches to become defensive, rather than offensive, coordinators.

Overall

Race and American culture make the quarterbacks coach, offensive offensive coordinator, and/or offensive play-caller role seen as a more cerebral and, by extension, more often a White coach’s place. While that is beginning to change, the change has been painfully slow.

Coaches like Kliff Kingsbury, a Power 5 head coach at age 33 and an NFL head coach at age 39, often experience a rapid rise through the ranks. That almost never happens for offense-oriented Black coaches. Because of fewer chances, Black coaches are most commonly required to spend more time proving themselves.

In the near future if Thomas Hammock, Charles Huff and/or Jay Norvell continue to have success, perhaps one, or all of them will get a chance to be a Power 5 head coach.

An impressive young Black Power 5 coordinator, Marcus Freeman will likely eventually become a Power 5 head coach. Maybe, with the success of Deion Sanders at Jackson State, the landscape is changing for Black coaching candidates. There was even apparent interest in former USC interim Head Coach Donte Williams. There are reasons for possible hope. Although, there are just as many reasons for concern.

Works cited: Wikipedia

NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Database

The Glass Ceiling of African American Assistant Football Coaches

TheUndefeated.com

ND Insider

@MikeMonaco_

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