A group of prominent black coaches headlined by Tubby Smith and Shaka Smart is forming an organization to address the dwindling numbers of minority head coaches in college basketball.
The National Association for Coaching Equity and Development is in response to the dissolution of the Black Coaches Association. Ten years after minority coaches held more than 25 percent of the jobs across the country, the percentage dropped to 22 percent last year. And another 12 minority coaches have been fired this season.
As the NCAA's crown jewel -- the men's Final Four -- descends on Indianapolis this weekend with all four teams coached by white men, Smith, Smart, John Thompson III and a growing list of some of the game's most accomplished coaches say they are answering the call from those who came before them to speak up with authority and address the issues that have bubbled back to the surface.
"There hasn't been a voice for people speaking out and saying, 'Look, what are you all doing administratively? What's this about? Why has this all happened?' And question it," Smith, who won a national title at Kentucky and now coaches at Texas Tech, told The Associated Press.
Smith was one of the charter members of the Black Coaches Association, a once-powerful group headed by trail blazers such as John Thompson, George Raveling and John Chaney to kick down the doors that colleges and universities slammed in the faces of minority coaches.
So it pained him to watch the BCA lose its influence in recent years while struggling to come up with funding from the NCAA and other sources. As the BCA started to disappear, so have the opportunities for black coaches across the country.
The new group, the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development, has more than 40 minority coaches on board and aims to replace the now-defunct BCA as the most influential advocate to push schools to give candidates of color more consideration for head-coaching jobs. It also wants to better prepare the younger generation of coaches to succeed in those jobs, and help athletes gain admission to college and excel when they get there.
"These coaches need to understand that guys like Chaney and Thompson and Nolan Richardson paid their dues," organizer Merritt Norvell said. "They're upset right now with us because nobody has continued to fight the fight."
Of the final 16 teams in the NCAA tournament, not one had a black head coach. So far only two vacancies -- Smart at Texas and Dave Leitao at DePaul -- have been filled by a black coach.
"The basketball coaches didn't pay much attention to it for a long period of time before the numbers started dropping and dropping," said Richard Lapchick, director of Central Florida's watchdog institute and an ESPN contributor. "The formation of a coaching group that has the influence these coaches do can be very important. They have a powerful voice."
The BCA wilted in large part because of a funding shortfall and ultimately was restructured by the NCAA as the Advocates for Athletic Equity, which is headed by Tyrone Lockhart. He said he has reached out to the new group.
"In our initial conversation, I realized that our missions may be different so the Advocates for Athletics Equity will continue to move forward with its goal to assist a wide range of coaches of color, which includes the concerns of basketball and football coaches, along with women and other sports," Lockhart said.
Members of the coaches' group will pay dues and seek corporate dollars for support, while maintaining autonomy from the NCAA, an important element for Smith and the organization's founders. It bills itself as an organization for coaches and led by coaches, and hopes to avoid the clutter that came when the BCA started to be helmed by college administrators later in its run.
"I think you have to have a separate entity that's not taking money from the NCAA and they're influencing you," Smith said.
Ricky Lefft, general counsel for the group, said the goal is to one day reach 1,000 members, including coaches from high school and AAU, and have three separate councils for men's and women's basketball and football.
Among the other ideas being considered are setting up legal counseling for players and coaches faced with NCAA infractions, and establishing a database of minority coaches for universities, search firms and other coaches to access when looking for qualified candidates to interview.
For Paul Hewitt, who led Georgia Tech to a Final Four and was fired at George Mason earlier this month, it's the chance to answer the call from Raveling, a mentor of his. Hewitt said his former boss at USC sent him a text message a few years ago "lambasting" him and other younger black coaches for not standing up for athletes and coaches.
Hewitt, for one, is as concerned with issues facing the athletes, including new admissions requirements set to kick in in 2016, as he is with the plight of coaches.
"They felt very let down by the younger group of coaches," Hewitt said. "They feel like a lot of the things they did to open up opportunities and try to make things better for student-athletes seem to have died down. As people stopped talking about the issues, there are some things that are creeping back in that have raised some old concerns."