Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

10 Jan 2011

NPR: African-American College Football Coaches

NPR's Mike Pesca took on the subject of African-American coaches at the FBS level of college football this weekend, talking both about their opportunities and lack of major success. I made a short cameo, in reference to my December 23 Varsity Numbers column on the topic.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 10 Jan 2011

32 comments, Last at 27 Nov 2011, 1:10am by Erik Kariya


by Fitzcarraldo (not verified) :: Mon, 01/10/2011 - 10:52am

"...big black mark on their resume..." Really!? You couldn't alter your phraseology a little there?

by Bill Connelly :: Mon, 01/10/2011 - 11:54am

Ha. There's a reason I'm better on paper than on the radio.

by navin :: Mon, 01/10/2011 - 8:14pm

Kudos for the callout, Bill

by JonFrum :: Mon, 01/10/2011 - 10:54pm

When I think sports, I think NPR.

Sports: Racist.
Sports: Sexist.
Sports: Homophobic.

by NotAredskinFanButWow (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 1:12am

Frank Deford apparently is a regular on NPR, so they do have at least some coverage.

by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 11:15am

What makes for a good football player?

Ability to run, pass, catch, tackle
Knowledge of plays
Time and research to perceive and adjust

African-Americans have a greater concentration of fast-twitch muscles (and less subcutaneous body fat). This allows for greater speed and agility and potentially quickness.

What makes for a good head coach?

Ability to coach
Manage players and coaches and rest of team
Recruit (in college)
Gain recognition from alumni and general populace
Call good plays
Make good decisions (not like Indy's Caldwell)

NOTE: Almost none of the aspects that make a great player are necessary to make a good coach.

African-Americans are more represented in players in great part because of their physical abilities. There are probably closer to the 10% of head coaches, just like the general public.

Head coaching is much more like Chess. How many African Americans are dominating the "sport" of chess? I suspect it is not 90% of the field, because it does not rely upon the physical advantages that African Americans have in football (and track & field and basketball).

by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 11:17am

Auburn's use of a timeout during opponent's possession was a good one. It was late down when transition to Auburn was likely. Caldwell's use of a timeout for Indianapolis was a horrible one. It was the last timeout, which should have been used before a 3rd or 4th down play.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 11:49am

I'm not trying to stir up a hornet's nest, but you do know that "African American" is a social designation and not a biological designation, right?

by JonFrum :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 1:16pm

"How many African Americans are dominating the "sport" of chess? "

Good Freaking God.

by William Lloyd Garrison III (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 2:03pm

I can't stand this topic.

by William Lloyd Garrison III (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 2:08pm

Color arguments in the ruthlessly efficient and competive NFL are obnoxious. They remind me of Bob Costas--not that I have ever heard him advance one that I recall, but I bet he does from time to time and in general, I can't stand him.

On the flip side, I once heard Sean Hannity advance a ridiculous reverse-racism accusation on the NFL, because in the pre-draft period it seemed that Tommy Vardell, ahem, I mean Toby Gerhart, wasn't going to be drafted in the first round because the league was racist. It all just so annoying.

by dryheat :: Thu, 01/13/2011 - 1:29pm

I think what you're using a lot of words to say is that there is no reason that the percentage of black coaches should mirror the percentage of black players in the league in question, like one hears espoused now and then, but instead should more closely mirror the percentage of the black population in the country.

If so, I couldn't agree more.

by jmaron :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 2:40pm

I think it was Bill James article I read once where he quoted writers in the 40's arguing that the Jewish athletes had an advantage in the NBA due to their innate cunning and ability to deceive - and things to that effect.

The "black's are superior athletes" argument is equally stupid.

by Joshua Northey (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 4:39pm

Except for the fact...that you know...they are (at least in terms of our traditional sports).

Also just because there is more variation between members in certain groups than there is among groups does not mean those groups are not useful.

Yes racism has been a horrible and destructive force, but lets not twist the science into saying something it doesn't actually say.

You would think on a statistics site people wouldn't be citing beliefs stemming from extremely sarcastically flawed claims. I read those articles when they came out and while the actual data was of course immaculate (as it typically is), the narrative claims accompanying it were border of active misinformation.

Trying to claim that generalizations like "West Africans and Scandinavians are generally taller than Dravidians" aren't useful is the height of PC idiocy.

Obviously as time goes by and transportation becomes cheaper and mores more progressive the traditional groupings of races will be less and less useful, but they frankly still wildly useful when attempting to make assumptions with limited information.

by tuluse :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 4:41pm

People of African descent are actually physically different though. The bone structure in their feet is different, which is helpful in basketball and football, but disadvantageous in swimming.

by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 6:24pm

This also has to do with fast-twitch muscle comparisons. African Americans are also more prone to cold injury (less subcutaneous body fat) while 3-5 times less prone to heat injury. Note that most "strong man" competitions are usually won by people of Nordic descent.

My point is that the physical abilities that give an advantage to people of African descent in football and basketball do not give them a comparable advantage in being a head coach in football or basketball. (which is more like playing chess during the game) Coach JoePa is in amazing shape for his age, but he still cannot compete on the football field right now. He is competing fairly well in coaching, however.

by Theo :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 9:39am

It's hilarious to talk about 'people of african descent'... since Africa is bigger than Europe, the US, India and China combined.

by tuluse :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 10:34am

You got me, I mean sub-Saharan Africa. Actually what I really mean is all the places in Africa that slaves were acquired from, and thus the majority of black people in the US.

There are still genetic differences.

by William Lloyd Garrision III (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 9:57am

No it's not. Ever play sports against black guys?

by William Lloyd Garrision III (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 10:11am

Why is the superiority of the black athlete debated? Why can't we just celebrate the fact that folks of this decent generally run faster, jump higher, and make sports more interesting to watch. Reality is that the superiority of the black athlete in sports has done more to advance race relations, possibly, than anything else. When the black athlete is your hero as a boy or young man, it makes it harder for Daddy's or Grandpa's prejudice to get passed on. Etc., etc. When someone is your hero, when you admire their god given gifts, it's harder to not realize God made us equal in the mind and the soul.

Debate that topic all you will if your desire to be politically correct is what governs your life. I have been dunked on by a 5'8" black point guard before. And it was in 9th grade. And the next 8 years of my sporting life was a reinforcement of the same general truth I witnessed that day.

by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 11:38am

Not all sports are dominated by blacks. There are physiological differences that generally help these athletes have greater consistent potential. These physiological difference also show up in comparison of heat vs. cold injuries and less potential/consistent ability in physical sports that do not stress speed and quickness, such as swimming and weight lifting.

However, the point is that these make them better suited to PLAY football and basketball. Being able to run fast is not a contributing factor in being a head coach. That is part of why blacks are over-represented in playing these sports, but the representation in head coaching is more representative of their place in the general populace (about 10-12%).

by William Lloyd Garrision III (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 12:50pm

We are in violent agreement on all points.

Saw an annoying statistic this morning on ESPN when I was in the gym; comparing average salaries of NCAA D1 football coaches: whites = $1.4, blacks = $1.0M.

Other similiar stats were rolled out. Such irresponsible journalism. Goal was to make it look like different pay for equal work, but the reality is that the majority of black coaches are younger, newer, less experience, and therefore don't command the same salary. If you want to compare guys with 10 year similiar track records, fine. But this was apples and oranges, and the authors of these studies know this, but they don't care because they have an agenda.

by JonD (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 2:08pm


by the original Guido Merkens (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 8:58pm

is it time to implement a kind of 'Rooney rule' for college football?

by Theo :: Thu, 01/13/2011 - 10:42am

or we could stop labeling people by color

by William Lloyd Garrison III (not verified) :: Thu, 01/13/2011 - 12:14pm

When it comes to choosing who to hire, sure. But when it comes to describing what happens on the field of play, color, like anything else, can be so usefully descriptive. "Big white stiff" just says so much, by saying so little. As does "latino shortstop, and perhaps even better, "white cornerback" or "black quarterback." When someone asks the question: "can an African American QB succeed on the pro level" to me (and I think most people) it is a shorthand for this intresing and tricky question:

"Can a quarterback who has showstopping explosiveness running the football learn to gravitate away from that skillset which made him great at the lower levels, and move more towards the pocket passing skills that the pro's require? After all, success is based on practice and repeition as much as anything else, and if you are running more, then you are passing less, and your peers who pass more are getting a leg up for the future. And even if you decide to make that transition--is there enough time? Are you too far behind? A traditional pocket QB has, through high school and college, probably tried to convert a 3rd and long by passing, oh, I don't know 400 times by the time he is an NFL QB. A running QB, probably half that amount, maybe less. They just haven't traveled along the experience curve in game situations, and can you really learn that on the job in the NFL? Is there a team patient enough to let you learn? Will your confidence suffer in the process because you are learning, in real time, against the pros and failing, etc. Does the explosive muscle power that a typical black QB have when throwing (i.e. Vick just seems to flick it) require extra repetition to ensure accuracy, in the same way that the guy who throws 100 mph might have control issues compared to the guy who throws 92? Will this extra repetition actually come about if running instead is such an easy alternative."

It's a comparative/competitive advantage question. No one minds when it comes to talking about Tim Tebow's never taking direct snaps from under center. But it's not the same when you talk about a black QB like Vick, or Pryor, or even McNabb--because Tebow's not explosive like them--and neither was Steve Young really, despite his 40 time. So the temptation to continue is not as great, and the neuropathways might not be set as ridgidly.

Race questions in (modern) sports are really economic questions. And very, very interesting economic questions.

I will get off of my soapbox after this, but affirmative action in sports drives me crazy. D1 and and the professional leagues are about winning and making money at all costs. It is the purest meritocracy we have on this planet.

by tuluse :: Thu, 01/13/2011 - 4:32pm

Only if we've already overcome racism to a degree where it becomes appropriate. I doubt we have.

Also, the Rooney rule says you have to interview a minority, it does not--as far as I know--specify anything about skin color.

by dryheat :: Thu, 01/13/2011 - 4:58pm

Correct. Norm Chow and Ron Rivera have satisfied Rooney Rule requirements.

by Theo :: Thu, 01/13/2011 - 8:36pm

Yeah I can't wrap my head around that rule.
Does being 6'3 make you a minority? Most people are not 6'3.
Isn't it saying that you interview people not because of their qualities but because of their skin.
Doesn't that define racism?
"Yeah you're good coaches, you black guys, but we need a rule to acknowledge that, you know because we're racist and everything..."

by tuluse :: Fri, 01/14/2011 - 3:08pm

I really don't know how they define minority, but that's what the rule says.

There are (at least) two kinds of racism. Overt blatant racism, and more subtle racism where a bunch of old rich white guys who are in charge of almost everything in the NFL keep hiring white guys because they don't want to leave their comfort zone. The Rooney rule was created to let coaches who aren't part of the old boys club get a foot in the door.

by dryheat :: Thu, 01/13/2011 - 1:25pm

You ever notice that black guys have names like Carl, while white guys have names like Lenny?

by Erik Kariya (not verified) :: Sun, 11/27/2011 - 1:10am

+1, this is awesome