A new report on diversity points out that only 7.3 percent of Division I head football coaches in the nation are African-American — despite the fact that 45 percent of the players are African-American.
Arizona can take some pride in knowing that neither of its two Pac-12 football programs were included in that disappointing statistic.
According to a recently-released report from the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, there are 234 head football coaches at D-I programs. According to 2018-19 statistics, only 17 of those are African-American (13 at FBS programs) — which earned D-I programs an ‘F’ grade from the institute.
The Grand Canyon State contributes two coaches to that meager total — the only state in the Pac-12 that can lay claim to that distinction. The Pac-12 has five black head coaches.
Arizona State University hired Herm Edwards in December of 2017 and University of Arizona followed a month later when the Wildcats named Kevin Sumlin to become the program’s first-ever African-American head coach.
They join David Shaw at Stanford as the established black coaches, while Colorado just hired Karl Dorrell and Washington added Jimmy Lake in the offseason.
By virtue of their positions at Power 5 programs at major universities, as well as being minority hires, Edwards and Sumlin have been given a platform for addressing issues that effect the African-American community, both locally and nationally.
Edwards, who spent 10 seasons in the NFL as a cornerback and another eight as an NFL head coach, was the first graduate of the league’s Minority Coaching Fellowship. He is often asked for his thoughts on the continuing controversy over Colin Kaepernick, the African-American quarterback who was released from the 49ers in 2016 when he decided to kneel during the pre-game national anthem to make a high-profile protest against his considered oppression against minorities.
In Edwards’ opinion, Kaepernick’s message was “hijacked” and twisted in its meaning. He commended the quarterback, who has not been picked up by any other NFL team, for his effort, and has had discussions with his teams about his viewpoint on Kaepernick’s actions.
“As we know, when you think about social injustice, for some, they’ve never been involved in that,” he explained in a roundtable discussion during last week’s NFL Total Access. “But for people of color, that is kind of the norm, and that is something that has to be talked about.”
Sumlin, who was the head coach at Houston for four years, followed by six seasons at Texas A&M before taking the Arizona job, is often singled out for his views at the college level since he was not only the first African-American head coach at Arizona, but also the first black head coach to be hired at the University of Houston and, most recently, at Texas A&M. He brings a unique perspective to the conversation.
His view on race relations comes from personal experience that spans a lifetime. He was born in Brewton, Alabama, during a time when there was still deep segregation issues in the south.
Sumlin offered his take on the current nation-wide social unrest following the death of George Floyd, an African American, during Floyd’s arrest by a white Minneapolis police officer, joining his team in a Zoom meeting to discuss the incident before issuing a statement on the tragedy.
“You see a lot of young people who are just frustrated and angry,” he explained. “Right now, we have an opportunity to help people. What do you do with that? It’s up to us (coaches) to help young people know, to give them a path to do something with those feelings and create real, legitimate change, instead of just anger and frustration.”
It’s safe to assume that Sumlin was speaking for Edwards and other coaches when he pointed out how sports comes into play in situations like this. “There is probably not a better example of what you can do than a football team,” Sumlin pointed out. “We’re dependent on different races, different cultures, different countries to make a first down.
“There’s no better melting pot than that.”
(Photo: ASU Athletics)