NFL leads colleges in promoting minority coaches

The shameful disparity in progressive thinking between the NFL and college football will be as plain as black and white on Sunday.

Half the coaches in the NFL's final four are African-Americans -- and if the favorites hold serve, the Super Bowl will be an all-black head coaching affair: Chicago's Lovie Smith versus Indianapolis' Tony Dungy. That would be one more barrier broken, one more cultural advancement, one more uncomfortable truth that can transition into past tense.

In college football, meanwhile, 10 out of 10 BCS bowl coaches and 62 out of 64 bowl coaches overall were white. Which pretty much mirrors Division I-A football as a whole.

While the pro sidelines have increased their diversity, the college sidelines are almost as pale as pit road at a NASCAR race -- still.

The math in 2006 was pitifully imbalanced: There were seven black NFL head coaches out of 32 teams (21.9 percent) and five black Division I-A college head coaches out of 119 teams (4.2 percent).

For a sport with roughly 50 percent black participation at the athlete level, that's a joke. For that joke to be perpetrated on college campuses, where enlightenment is supposed to be part of the package, is perverse. And for the Pollyannas who want to believe the 21st century is a colorblind utopia, please explain the numbers.

"If you look at the formula, it's an obvious social injustice," said Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches Association. "It should not be. It does not fit, and it begs for more scrutiny."

It begs to be called what it is: covert racism.

"You put your name on it and call it whatever you want," Keith said, chuckling. "It is what it is. You name it, that's it."

The career paths of Smith and Dungy show the contrast between upward mobility in college and upward mobility in the pros.

After one season as an assistant at his alma mater, Minnesota, Dungy went the pro route. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in his fourth year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dungy has spent 20 of his 26 NFL seasons as either a coordinator or a head coach, and his regular-season record as the boss is 114-62.

Smith, meanwhile, gave it the old college try. After 12 years at Tulsa, Wisconsin, Arizona State, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio State, he was still a position coach. By his sixth season in the NFL, he was defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, and by his ninth season, he was head coach of the Bears.

Where he has done fairly well. Record: 30-20. Record the past two years: 25-9.

Somehow, the NFL decision-makers saw something in Lovie Smith that the college decision-makers missed. Willfully or not.

Same with Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. After 11 years working in college, he was still a linebackers coach. After four years with the Steelers, he made the jump to defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. By his 12th year in the NFL, he was the man in charge.

Why the difference?

"You're usually dealing with one person in the NFL: the owner," Keith said. "He's about business, and I think he understands you hire people based on productivity and what you think he's capable of doing. Maybe they're not as influenced by others.

"On the college level, there are more influences. And those influences are not all positive."

That's another way of saying that a black head coach can sometimes be a tough sell to a bunch of white boosters, who tend to get involved in the hiring process because they tend to write big checks to the athletic department.

One black longtime college assistant agreed that alums are perceived as a major roadblock.

"They want someone they're comfortable with," the assistant said. "We don't go to their country clubs or eat where they eat."

With the hirings of African-American Randy Shannon at Miami and Cuban-born Mario Cristobal at Florida International, the number of minority Division I-A head coaches has ballooned to seven. Woo-hoo. That's two out of the 21 hires made to date, not enough to appreciably move the needle toward equality.

It should be noted that colleges have done a better job in recent years of identifying promising minority coaches and giving them greater responsibilities and titles -- either as coordinators or assistant head coaches. (See: Tyrone Nix at South Carolina, Mike Haywood at Notre Dame, Mike Locksley at Illinois.) The University of Kentucky recently promoted defensive backs coach Steve Brown to defensive coordinator, giving the Wildcats two black coordinators.

But Joker Phillips, the other half of the African-American coordinator tandem in Lexington, points out that most black assistants are still trailing their white counterparts up the career ladder.

"We've been told we need to network more, and we are," Phillips said. "But they're networking with presidents and athletic directors for head-coaching jobs, and we're networking with coaches for coordinator jobs."

Perhaps that why, even with 21 openings, you rarely heard about black assistants being seriously considered for many of those head coaching jobs. Some were legit candidates. Some were offered token interviews to satisfy the BCA -- which issues an annual report card on how colleges handle their football coach searches. Some were uniformly ignored.

Charlie Strong continues to do great work as co-defensive coordinator at Florida -- anyone see the Gators' defense utterly crush Ohio State's offense in the BCS National Championship Game? -- but his shot at the big chair never comes. After 21 years as a college assistant, he's still waiting.

Phillips, UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English -- all their units had fine seasons and notable successes. Walker's defense shut down USC's offense and cost the Trojans a national title shot; Phillips' offense ranked ninth nationally in passing and was the driving force behind the Wildcats' surprising eight-win season; English turned Michigan's defense into a top-10 unit in his first season.

All of them will be right back where they were again next season.

"What more do I need to do?" the black assistant coach said. "If you put my résumé next to some of these others, with no names on them, mine will look better. Still I can't get a shot at it."

Maybe it's time to try the NFL, where they do more than talk about diversity. They put it into action.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.