Minority coach hiring should be priority for Big Ten

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has called league expansion a "back burner issue" more than once in recent weeks.

Well, here's one for the conference to put on the front burner.

The hiring rate of minorities to head coach and coordinator positions remains well below what it should be in college football, and it's reflected in the Big Ten.

The league has one minority head coach -- Michigan's Rich Rodriguez is Hispanic -- and only two minority coordinators in Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell.

The league had six coordinator changes during the offseason, including the departure of Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who became one of six black head coaches in the sport when he took over at New Mexico. But none of the vacancies was filled with a minority candidate.

The Big Ten has had only three black head coaches and only one, Michigan State's Bobby Williams, since 1991. Northwestern had consecutive black head coaches from 1981-91 in Dennis Green and Francis Peay.

Before Michigan hired Rodriguez, the Big Ten had only one other minority head coach in the last two decades -- Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez, one of the most successful coaches in recent league history.

"It's not more of a concern today than it was a year ago or two years ago, but it's a constant focus," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said of minority coach hiring. "We want diversity on our campus from the president's office to the faculty, including the athletic department. And the only way you get that is through purposeful recruitment. It's not just who applies. It's who you're looking at and who you're developing through your ranks."

The Big Ten co-sponsored a seminar for minority coaches earlier this month at the Fiesta Bowl Frolic, an annual gathering of coaches and administrators in the Phoenix area. Delany and Michigan athletic director Bill Martin were among those who taught at the seminar.

The discussions had little to do with recruiting or in-game strategy.

"We talked about, what are the other tools you need to develop as an individual to be a head coach?" Martin said.

It's not as if the Big Ten lags behind other leagues in minority head coaches. The ACC is the only other BCS conference with a minority head coach in Miami's Randy Shannon.

Arguably a bigger issue is the low number of minority coordinators in the Big Ten. Though the number of minority coordinators is on the rise in college football -- the SEC has seven, including two (Joker Phillips and Steve Brown) at Kentucky -- it hasn't translated to the Big Ten.

"When we started this seminar three years ago ... we had a lot of African-American coordinators," Martin said. "One of them was our defensive coordinator, Ron English, who's now a head coach [at Eastern Michigan]. Now we're dealing with [position] coaches who need to take that step to coordinator.

"You're not going to [hire a position coach as a head coach] at this level, so you've got to develop the pipeline from the bottom up, and that's what we're doing. It's just going to take time."

Illinois head coach Ron Zook replaced Locksley with Mike Schultz, who is white, but Zook also tried to hire a black assistant, Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, to be the team's defensive coordinator during the offseason. (Johnson decided to stay at Penn State.)

Despite having no minority coordinators on staff, Zook underscored the value of a black assistant, Reggie Mitchell, the team's assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and running backs coach.

"There's not a decision I make without going through Reggie," Zook said. "Even though he's not an offensive or defensive coordinator, he makes tons and tons of decisions. We're always communicating. And whether Reggie's black, white or pink, I don't care. He's an administrator, he's a coach and he's a leader."