Letters to the Editor

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why are the Sidelines so White?

Six black coaches in the major college ranks - what a Chizik that is....

Look, loyalty isn't something you even expect in Division I sports any more. Players will jump ship at will in college sports, and coaches will leave you flat first chance they get to grab a little more cash or notoriety. Fans are expected to support their university to the death and the last dollar, but don't expect an ounce of anything resembling commitment from the sidelines, where a lot of coaches are able to change loyalties as quickly as they switch ken-doll sportscoats.

I imagine that a year ago, Steve Alford was a cuss word synonym for Iowa fans. "Dude, take out the garbage, it's starting to smell like alford in here."

These days, the "C" word is not mentioned much around the Cyclone-loyal Larsen household, except in such context. "What the chizik is going on in there? Turn that geney music down!"

In reality, you can't be too surprised, or even upset. You know when an upwardly mobile young coach is hired, they may see the team you so rabidly love as just a quick stepping stone, and when they leave, it is likely to be without any particular exhibition of class or crocodile tears.

Nothing against Gene Chizik, Steve Alford or their ilk. They were a part of Iowa's fabric for a while (well, except for Alford's hair, too perfect for Iowa sensibilities), and since Iowans are bred to be nice, we must wish them well wherever greener pastures may take them. Well, mostly we do. Sometimes we remember how they whined at any suggestion that they raked in obscene reams of cash without really living up to expectations or contributing all that much beyond the field or gym, before spurriously begging for a job elsewhere and then suddenly laying rubber as they leave their programs and their athletes and fans in a tailspin of doom. Good thing I'm too nice to say something like that.

Frankly, we don't miss guys like Alford and Chizik all that much. We miss guys like Johnny Orr and Hayden Fry, who gave their souls to the games we loved.

So I'm not here to complain about Gene Chizik leaving my Cyclones, not really. But I would like to pick a bone with the school that came a courtin'.

Auburn picked Chizik over Turner Gill, by almost any measure a better candidate. I don't know how to say this in a politically correct way, but Chizik is snow white, Turner is black.

Turner was an unstoppable player, he's a media "name", and has been assistant coach on three national champion Nebraska teams.

Chizik's teams at Iowa State won a total of five games in two years, and he sure wasn't headed uphill (unlike his earlier success at Auburn) though nice Iowans pretty much were giving him a free pass on that.

Turner inherited a pitiful University of Buffalo team and made it into a contender that won eight games this season - the same number it had won total in the five years before he took over. Turner took his team to a bowl game this year. Chizik couldn't have gotten his squad into Applebee's.

In this month's ESPN the Magazine, Stephen A. Smith compares the plight of minorities in sports administration to that of Rosa Parks - way back in the bus.

That might be a bit extreme, I think, but the facts are the facts. There are six black head coaches in 119 FBS programs - six! And if not for hirings in the past few weeks, there would have been but three.

Are there really no minority individuals qualified to lead college sports programs? Look at the Division 1 teams - they sure aren't shy about recruiting players of any color or nationality to give their sweat while the colleges rake in the riches for their labors in basketball and football. I presume there are plenty of these people studying in majors that would suit them for leadership, or doing good work as assistants.

So in a world where we do not hesitate to elect a black President of the United States, can't we see our way to being fair when it comes to hiring head coaches or athletic directors? Or is the problem, as Smith suggests, that there are few minority people around the tables that make the hiring decisions - university presidents, AD's, boosters directors, corporate sponsors, image crafters, influential alumni.

I would like to think that it isn't racism, but 6 of 119? That's tough to explain, especially when it doesn't seem to be getting any better. Sports, so long and so visibly integrated, is a very strange place to have the last glass ceiling, but so it may be.

When Sylvester Croom (black) is forced to resign at Mississippi State after going 4-8 this season, and Gene Chizik is sought after while barely winning that many in two years, you have to wonder.

No, no one today is a Rosa Parks, civil rights have thankfully evolved and we are not called upon to have that kind of courage. But if Smith's article is right, we haven't come as far as we think. Prospective minority coaches who file complaints about being unfairly overlooked, it says, are likely to be blackballed and may never coach again.

We've long since stopped noticing the ethnicity of athletes, maybe someday it won't be an issue in the leadership, either.

Until then, good luck Mr. Chizik. No hard feelings. But you're off the Larsen family Christmas card list, just the same.

And isn't that the Chizniks?