Former Miami Hurricane coach Randy Shannon was fired immediately after losing to the University of South Florida in overtime over the weekend. It was a huge surprise.
Earlier this season Shannon was given a vote of confidence from the administration and awarded an extension in the summer.
Nonetheless the Miami administration decided to go in another direction. As athletic director Kirby Hocutt suggested, “Better days are ahead.”
Based on the state of the program before Shannon took over, exactly how much better do they expect days to get?
Shannon posted a 28-22 record as head coach. When he took over the team it was not in the best of shape. Without question Shannon has made the program respectable, yet he was unceremoniously fired after posting a 7-5 record.
Why does it seem like African-American head coaches at the Division I level are given a short leash?
Adding more insult is the fact there are not many African-American head coaches to begin with. Just nine African-Americans coach FBS institutions out of 120 institutions. This is a real travesty in American sports that does not get a lot of attention.
For me this firing triggered recent memories of how Tyrone Willingham was treated at Notre Dame. Willingham was unceremoniously terminated at Notre Dame after just three seasons.
Willingham was the first African-American head coach of any sport at Notre Dame and the fastest fired.
The Irish finally settled on Charlie Weis to restore the once proud tradition in South Bend, but he couldn’t do it. Weis was given a boatload of money and a vote of confidence that Willingham was not.
After three seasons Willingham posted a 21-15 record, while Weis posted a 22-15 record. Willingham was ousted, while Weis was given the benefit of the doubt and a new contract.
By firing Willingham the precedent was set as to what was acceptable and what wasn’t. If both coaches posted virtually the same record, why wasn’t Weis fired after three seasons like Willingham?
Notre Dame finally got a clue last year by firing Weis after five years. His final record was 35-27.
I have consistently stated race played a factor in the Willingham situation. If race was not a factor, then how do you explain Weis being given the benefit of the doubt and Willingham being fired?
Moving on, history suggests African-American head coaches get far fewer opportunities to lead teams and simultaneously are held to a higher standard than white coaches. The Willingham and Weis situation characterizes my assertion.
The Auburn Tigers are the No. 1 team in the BCS standings. Tigers head coach Gene Chizik is in his second year leading the team. Chizik and Turner Gill, who is African-American, were considered the leading candidates for the job two seasons ago.
Gill turned the University at Buffalo program around. His record was 13-13 with an 8-6 record and a bowl appearance in 2008. Chizik was head coach at Iowa St., where he compiled a 5-19 record in two seasons.
We all know Chizik got the job. Typically jobs go to the coach who has demonstrated some level of a winning track record and other intangibles. Based on Gill’s record compared to Chizik’s, one is left to wonder, did skin color play a factor as why Chizik got the job and Gill didn’t?
Was skin color Chizik’s intangible that sealed the deal for him while it factored against Gill?
Rumor has it part of the reason why Gill did not get the job is because his wife is white. It would be difficult to detect if who Gill chose to marry factored into why he didn’t get the job. But at the same token it cannot be totally ignored either.
Former Auburn Tiger basketball player and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley had this to say about the Gill situation as it unfolded: “I think race was the No. 1 factor. You can say it’s not about race, but you can’t compare the two resumes and say (Chizik) deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worse resume.”
The victims of race-based situations are often asked how race played a factor. Many will simply state, “Because I’m African-American.”
Because I’m African-American means opportunities are limited and skewed in society and sports.
In short: Racism can be characterized as the ultimate thief of opportunity.
Race is a very intricate and delicate topic for many reasons. But one thing is certain: Race always doesn’t hinge on skin color. Factors such as socio-economic status, access to power and media composition play pivotal roles.
In the case of Shannon, perhaps the institution felt more comfortable with a coach that reflects the hierarchy in collegiate athletics. According to The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports and the NCAA, 100, 93 and 90 percent of the Conference Commissioners, university Presidents, and Athletic Directors respectively are white.
In the sports media, whites are 94, 88 and 90 percent respectively of the Sports Editors, Columnists and Reporters in the media. In both the university and media levels African-American participation is clearly absent except on the field of play.
The latter is vital because when decisions are made and when stories are written, they often reflect the vantage point of the majority and not the minority.
Hence, when many of you digest this commentary, many will suggest I’m a racist playing the race card.
I’m looking beyond what I see with added clarity. I’m looking at it from understanding the intricacies of race, how information is disseminated and how the media lacks the vantage point I provide.
For there to be diversity in the coaching ranks, there must be diversity at the upper rungs of the system. The current number of coaches (eight percent) does not reflect the African-American player population on the field (46 percent). Therefore you must start at the top before change will be realized at the bottom.
The same holds true in the media.
Shannon was brought in to clean the program up and make the team competitive with the hopes of competing for BCS championship. The Hurricanes were not a perennial powerhouse under Shannon, but surely they were respectable.
It takes time to turn programs around. It takes time to build a recruiting base to generate interest in the program and win. But it appears if you are African-American, your time to ignite change is limited.
Shannon was seemingly held to a standard that was next to impossible. Attendance is not the greatest at Hurricane games, they don’t have their own stadium and their practice facilities do not measure up to the top-tier programs.
That being said, how is it possible to win right now yet have so many variables against you?
How can Miami expect “better days ahead” when the administration did not put their coach in a winning position?
At the end of the day this is not about better days ahead. It is about getting a coach in place they feel comfortable with that will likely have a lighter complexion.
It is what it is.