CU Coach Embree Fired, Race Debate Follows

29 Nov

I am not a Colorado Buffalos sports fan.  I don’t follow any of their teams, players, coaches, or records.  But the firing of football coach, Jon Embree, after his second year at CU has made some waves for a couple of reasons.

First, it was a rather tearful press conference.  He is certainly not the first or only coach to have an emotional press conference following his dismissal, but it was an emotional event, and those type of events seem to make headlines.

The second reason that this has begun to make some waves, is because of a comment that he made during this dismissal:

“You know, we [minority coaches] don’t get second chances.  That’s ok.  You know, you know that going into it.  I think Tyrone [Willingham] did.  Um…I don’t know if there’s ever been another one fired that’s gotten another opportunity at the college level.  But, every minority coach knows that going into it.”

I’ll start with this: CU had a terrible year.  The worst year in school history, actually.  Their overall record and their record in the PAC10 was bad, and they lost handily in many of the games.  There’s no debating that.

But Embree was put into a terrible situation for a bad team that was coming off similarly bad years…It took five losing seasons before Embree’s predecessor was finally let go.  Embree was brought in with the understanding that this was a 4-5 year rebuilding project.  Oh, and he was offered one of the lowest salaries in the FBS to accomplish this task (though they do have to buy out his contract for about $1.5 million now that he’s been fired).  And he had the rug yanked out from under him after two years.  Before any of his own recruits had much of a chance to do anything (and their star receiver was out for the year with an injury).  The CU athletic department said that they were already looking towards their next head coach and were willing to spend around $2.5 million to bring someone in – about 3 times what Embree was making when he was fired.

Recap so far: He was brought in to turn around a terrible team, was relatively low-paid for this job (ok, it’s hard to feel bad about this even if it is “low” by coaching standards), was unable to give his own guys a chance to work their way into his system, and was fired after two years – less than half of the time he thought he had.  Oh, and during his 3 semesters there the team had the highest GPA in CU football history.  But keeping putting the student back in student-athlete isn’t a priority. 

So far, this seems like a raw deal, but I guess I can see it – the worst record in school history at a time when coaches are expected to win and win now. Still, I find the firing questionable…

Regardless of Embree’s status as hired or fired as an individual, he did bring up a larger issue, and one that is always certain to stir up controversy – race.  People have jumped all over this story and have accused Embree of “playing the race card” saying that he is blaming his firing on being a minority.  Not true.  Embree made a statement about race.  So when you look at the facts – yes, I often like to deal in facts – how does his statement hold up?.

He said that only one black coach was ever given a second chance as a head coach at the collegiate level (Tyrone Willingham).  That’s absolutely true.  Fact.

So that’s a little disturbing.  It seems that black coaches aren’t really being given a second chance when it comes to coaching at the college level.  But hey, at least black coaches are being given opportunities to begin with…if they blow it then it’s their own fault, right?

Actually, this is where it gets even more disturbing.  It absolutely appears that black coaches aren’t being given opportunities.  Since 1979 (33 years), there have been a grand total of 41 black coaches in the FBS college football.  There are about 120 FBS schools.  I repeat, only 41 coaches of color in the past 33 years.  And only 1 has ever been given a second chance as a college head coach.  EVER.

Surprised?  Maybe, but it’s probably willful blindness if you’re truly shocked by this news.  When you examine the upper echelon of leadership at universities and consider that these individuals are the ones doing the hiring, it’s not surprising at all.  91% of university presidents are white.  100% of conference commissioners are white.  88% of athletic directors are white.  A lack of diversity at the top doesn’t lead to increased diversity of those whom they hire.  (PS. This isn’t unique to universities and coaches).  ESPN’s First Take crew had a productive debate regarding this issue making some important points (here is that debate – start around 1:11:00).  (Additionally, you can look at TIDE for race and gender stats in a variety of sports.)

How do we get more equitable opportunities for coaches then?  Well, the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule in 2003 and it has seemed to be at least somewhat successful.  It states that minorities need to be interviewed and considered for coaching and management positions.  Something similar will likely be debated at the college level due to this case.

The other thing that people will inevitably say is that black coaches need to seize these opportunities, and pave the way for those coming later.  This is true, but is it right to put individuals in those positions?  You’re not just coaching for your own job, but for the potential opportunities for your entire race to come. And PS. you get less margin of error to succeed.  Yikes, no pressure there.  Does this occur in both directions?  We’ve hired a white guy before and he didn’t do as well as we hoped so we’re going to go another direction.  (Yeah, I haven’t ever heard that either.)

So should Embree have been fired?  He had a terrible year, but I think that a strong case could be made to call his firing questionable.  But it’s not about him as an individual.  It’s about a broader issue that’s problematic.  Disturbing, actually.  And even those who like to look the other way cannot ignore the facts.  Because they are facts.  Only 41 black coaches since 1979.  And only 1 has ever been re-hired as a college head coach.  EVER.  Those are the unfortunate facts.  Black coaches simply don’t have the luxury of getting second chances; in fact, it’s rare for them to even get “first chances”.

But now those facts are out there, and the dialogue has hopefully gotten rejuvenated.  Unfortunately, it took Embree losing his job to do it…

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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in sociology, Sports, Uncategorized


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