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August 24, 2013
African-American coaches making strides
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.With the college football kickoff a week away, 13 African-American FBS head coaches are set to lead their teams into game action.
The fact that there are nearly three times the amount of African-American head coaches at the highest level entering this season versus just five years ago -- and more than 10 percent across the board -- should be a societal victory, but the tracking and publishing of those numbers show a lack of true progress on the always sensitive color issue across the landscape of the game.
Four coaches -- Paul Haynes, Darrell Hazell, Trent Miles and Willie Taggart -- will come out of the tunnels at Kent State, Purdue, Georgia State and USF, respectively, for the first time. Again, that number indicates progress because it represents more than 10 percent of the total number of FBS hires made this offseason.
Like every coach, performance on the field and in recruiting will dictate how long each stays in his position. All four understand how success is measured, and all said that progress has been made in the advancement of African-Americans.
"It is light years ahead of five years ago," Haynes said. "I have been through the process a couple of times, and I don't know how much color is looked at anymore -- at least in the final stages. I do think that there needs to be more attention paid to getting more guys qualified to be at that point.
"I think that (minority hiring) is still a problem, but it is one that the NCAA has addressed and made strides on. No one is ignoring it anymore, but there is still a long way to go."
Haynes worked his way up the ladder in his 20-year career, going from a graduate assistant at Bowling Green to defensive coordinator at Arkansas before he was hired to replace Hazell at his alma mater. He closed the class of 2013 recruiting cycle at No. 7 of the 13 teams in the MAC.
For 2014, the team has six commitments and is No. 9 in the conference.
His philosophy in recruiting is simple: stay local and hit the hotspots.
"With the coaches we have on staff, I am certain we will have guys recruiting in Georgia and Miami as well."
He said getting his first chance as a head coach is special and that he hopes more minorities will get similar opportunities.
"I hear too many times, 'we couldn't find any quality candidates,' and to me that sounds like there is some predetermined list of these so-called 'qualified candidates,'" Haynes said. "People in a position to hire need to be doing their due diligence to get familiar with who is really out there.
"I think that people making those decisions need to continue to look for candidates."
Hazell gave credit to Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke for following the line that Haynes illustrated.
Despite the fact that Hazell had nearly led Kent State to a BCS Bowl, Burke did not stop at his credentials before signing off on the hire.
"I think the biggest thing about hiring a minority coach is that the person doing the hiring needs to be comfortable with the candidate to do it," he said. "Morgan Burke went out of his way to search me out and get to know me -- he didn't just interview me. I never knew (Burke) before this process so he had to get comfortable with me, and I think that made his decision easier."
Burke told The Associated Press that it was not just getting to know Hazell that was important but that his former bosses -- including former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel -- gave him glowing recommendations.
"(Tressel) just said this is the perfect spot for Darrell," Burke told the AP. "He gets the work ethic and went on about a couple of other things. I just thought we wouldn't get the fan base excited if we line up and play like Wisconsin, you know, and (Tressel) said, 'You won't have any trouble with that. He was trying to get me to throw the ball all the time.'"
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said he believes Hazell will be successful as well.
"He was a good coach and recruiter at Rutgers, and then he carried that over to Ohio State," Farrell said. "He worked his way up the ladder and won on the field when he was given a chance at Kent State. This is the next logical step for him: going from the MAC to a midlevel job in the Big Ten."
When Hazell was hired to take over for Danny Hope, the program had 13 commitments. The class of 2013 lost four of those initial pledges, but the Boilermakers closed with 23 signees and the No. 56 class in the country.
Currently, the program has just eight commits and the lowest-ranked class in the Big Ten.
The slow start was by design because Hazell said he wanted to wait until the program got through spring football to start recruiting for this class.
He believes that recruiting Indiana, Illinois, Detroit, Ohio, Kentucky and Western Pennsylvania will be the key to success, as well as dipping occasionally into Florida, Georgia and Texas.
Hazell will use a three-tiered scale to measure the integrity of each recruit alongside his ability.
"Character is first," Hazell said. "If you are not a good guy and I find out that you mistreat people, it stops there. The other two things are important.
"The second thing I look at is academics. I believe there is a correlation between a smart kid who is willing to do his work and sound football players. You have to be disciplined enough to get up and get to class and turn in your work and listen to the teacher."
"The last thing I will personally sign off on is if they can play," Hazell said. "We need to have players who I believe will have the talent to succeed for us. But I only look at that once those first two criteria are met. In order."
Hazell said he is among those working toward colorblindness and ignoring the outside noise involved in the hiring process for majority as well as minority candidates.
"Honestly, I just worry about me and my staff and make sure we are doing our jobs, so I don't know if it is improving for minorities or not because I am not an expert in the process and I haven't studied it," he said. "Working hard has paid off for me and success has found me and I hope that if I am successful -- or if anyone is successful -- that they are getting opportunities."
Taggart walks alongside Hazell in his belief that success comes before work only in the dictionary.
"I knew I was going to be a head coach someday, so I got a plan to move toward that every step of the way," he said. "I knew that when I set my mind to something I get it done.
"I never worried about color or about any other coaches -- minority or not. I just worried about Coach Taggart and making sure I was doing what needed to be done. You have to work hard and do a good job at every level -- and probably get a little lucky -- to land a head coaching job.
"There are not a lot of them out there and I don't know how the process goes, but I don't look at it as being a color issue right now," Taggart said. "The goal is to win, and the expectation from everyone is to get the players, prepare them to play and win."
Farrell said players will be attracted to his style of coaching.
"He is young and energetic," Farrell said. "He will be more of a player's coach than even Hazell, and I think kids will relate to him and play for him.
The recruiting efforts at USF had dipped dramatically under former coach Skip Holtz, going from No. 29 in 2009 to No. 63.
The class of 2013 closed strong, with Taggart landing 18 commitments in his lone month on the job, and finished No. 49 nationally.
The current class has 15 pledges and is No. 5 in the American Athletic Conference.
Taggart said some of the perception of minority hiring is misleading in that not everyone has the same ambition.
"There are a lot of other duties that come with being a head coach, and there are a lot of guys who just don't want to deal with that stuff," he said. "I know for a fact that there are a lot of guys that are very happy being an assistant and being a coordinator because that is all football related.
"You can make a good living without the same pressures, and that is appealing. For me, I always wanted this position so I worked toward it. I don't make the decisions on who gets hired, but I want to make sure that I am working hard enough that I am getting the opportunities I want."
Farrell said the success being enjoyed by minority coaches is opening the door for many to follow.
"Guys like Sumlin, Franklin, Charlie Strong at Louisville and David Shaw at Stanford are helping make color a nonfactor," Farrell said. "It wasn't even a decade ago when Sly Croom was the first African-American coach in the SEC. That is a unique frame of reference from where we were to where we are.
"I don't think that any player is going to commit to a coach just because he is African-American -- and really most staffs are well balanced, so it becomes a little more of a nonfactor -- but I think that it is fair to say that we are making progress across the board and hopefully in another decade this won't be a story."