The Shadow League
At the beginning of the 2019 college football season, there were just 14 African-American head coaches out of the 130 schools in the NCAA’s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
The seasoned strategists represented just 10 percent of the total coaching hires, comprising a small, black fraternity of leaders at the highest levels of college football. Every hire crushes stereotypes while creating a coaching pipeline for black coaches to the NFL.
On the flip side, every firing hurts because there just aren’t many black head coaches, to begin with. The fraternity suffered three more casualties this season, dropping the overall number of African-American head coaches to a disappointing 11.
Frank Wilson was fired by University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) on Sunday after four seasons leading the Roadrunners. Wilson’s tenure ends after his team finished 4-8 (3-5 C-USA) this season and compiled a 7-17 (5-11 C-USA) mark over the last two years. The Roadrunners finished the 2019 season with a 41-27 loss at Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
South Florida fired Charlie Strong on Sunday after just three seasons in which the Bulls won fewer games each year. USF made the move two days after finishing a 4-8 season with a blowout loss to rival UCF. That left Strong 21-16 overall but 4-14 since starting a (10-2) 2018 season with seven straight victories. USF hired Strong, the former Texas and Louisville coach, to replace Willie Taggart after the 2016 season.
Ironically, Taggart was fired by Florida State a month ago, following a 27-10 loss to Miami. Taggart was given less than two seasons to put his imprint on the program.
With Bowls and CFB Playoffs about to pop, here’s the updated list of black NCAA FBS D-1 Coaches
Dino Babers (Syracuse)
Dino Babers is undoubtedly a success story for black head coaches. In just three years at the helm, Babers has transformed a fading Syracuse program into one of the ACC’s elite squads, exhibiting his ability to strategize and recruit against power conference schools.
The Orange went 4-8 in back-to-back seasons (2016-17) under Babers, but he turned that record around in 2018. Syracuse finished 10-3 and ranked No. 15 in the final Associated Press poll. It was the school’s first top 25 rankings since 2001.
Babers continues to produce winning results. His success at Bowling Green (18-9 with a MAC title) and Eastern Illinois (19-7), support his props as one of college football’s top offensive minds. Guys with those kinds of tags usually end up as NFL offensive coordinators or head coaches very quickly.
2019 Record: 5-7
Thomas Hammock (Northern Illinois State)
January 2019 jumped off the Thomas Hammock era at NIU as the former Huskie player and assistant coach, returned home to serve as the 23rd head coach and first African-American coach in the school’s history.
“This has always been my dream,” he said. “When I was a GA at Wisconsin [in 2003-04], I said I want to be the head coach at Northern Illinois University. The reason I wanted this job is to build a legacy,” he said. “A legacy is not what you leave behind. A legacy is what you leave within.”
Hammock is also the first alumnus to lead the Huskies as a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program, returning to DeKalb after five seasons (2014-18) as an assistant coach with the Baltimore Ravens.
In five seasons as the running backs coach with the Ravens, Hammock helped Baltimore’s rushing attack finish in the top 11 in the NFL three times.
2019 Record: 5-7
Herm Edwards (Arizona State)
Herm Edwards emerged from the broadcasting booth, endured criticism and jokes at his expense, about his decision to coach college football. He then exceeded expectations by finishing 7-6, including a 5-4 Pac-12 Conference record.
The former NFL head coach with the Jets from 2001-05 and Chiefs (2006-08), proved that he had a plan and now there is optimism in Sun Devil’s land as ASU seeks its first 10-win season since 2014. You play to win the game.
2019 Record: 7-5
Bowl Projection: Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Wake Forest
James Franklin (Penn State)
Franklin inherited a Happy Valley program dealing with the effects of NCAA scholarship sanctions and the aftermath of the Sandusky sex scandal that shook the college football world and created a civil war on the Penn State campus.
Franklin had it rough his first two seasons, going 14-12 (2014-15). In 2016, he assured the world that he was the right choice to bring the Penn State football program back to respectability and prominence, going 11-3 and winning the Big Ten title. He followed that up with an 11-2 record and talks of a National Title run in 2017
The Nittany Lions are coming off another solid (9-4) season, which boosted Franklin’s overall record to 45-21 entering 2019. Penn State is officially back.
2019 Record: 10-2
Bowl Projection: Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl vs. Florida
Mike Locksley (Maryland)
Despite going 3-31 in head coaching stints at New Mexico and Maryland in 2015, the Alabama OC was hired in 2018 to clean up former coach DJ Durkin’s mess and reunite the campus.
Locksley assumed the job at a tumultuous juncture. The University of Maryland’s football program and the campus was in turmoil following Jordan McNair’s death. The 19-year-old offensive lineman collapsed from heatstroke after an offseason campus workout and died two weeks later.
Most of the early blame for the deadly incident fell on Durkin for allegedly fostering a toxic culture of intimidation and verbal abuse. It eventually reached as high as the chairman of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents.
The chaos and indecisiveness at the top turned the Maryland campus into a war zone with students, faculty, friends, and staff divided about the university’s initial decision to reinstate Durkin. There were protests, social media assaults on the school and a strong public outcry against Durkin’s reinstatement and the underlying racial component that existed.
So, Locksley has had to deal with a laundry list of issues outside of football while preparing for a tough ACC schedule. He joins Jon Embree (2011-12) as the only African-American coaches in Colorado Buffalo history.
2019 Record: 3-9
Derek Mason (Vanderbilt)
After a 7-17 start, Derek Mason’s tenure at Vanderbilt has stabilized and the Commodores have won at least five games in each of the last three years and hold a 17-21 mark in that span.
The former Northern Arizona University wide receiver was introduced to high stakes collegiate coaching by Jim Harbaugh and then David Shaw at Stanford.
He’s had his challenges trying to build a school known for its academic prowess into a competitive SEC football program, but in 2016 and 2018 he earned bowl trips.
Mason is 24-38 overall since replacing James Franklin and his team has won three in a row over rival Tennessee. Mason is making progress with the program but he’s still seeking his first winning season.
2019 Record: 3-9
Jay Norvell (University of Nevada, Reno)
Norvell continues to build the program he took over in the 2017 season. Norvell played college football at Iowa (1982-85) and then with the Chicago Bears.
He has an extensive resume as an offensive coordinator for Nebraska (2004–2006) and UCLA (2007) and Oklahoma. In 2015, he handled play-calling duties for Texas.
After going 3-9 his first season at Nevada, Norvell is 15-10 with a Bowl win over Arizona.
2019 Record: 7-5
Bowl Projection: Cheez-It Bowl vs. FIU
David Shaw (Stanford)
David Shaw was promoted to head coach after Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL, and since his arrival, Stanford has consistently been in contention for a conference crown.
The Cardinal are 82-26 in Shaw’s tenure since the 2011 season. Shaw is recognized as the premier black HC in college football and has won three conference titles, even finishing No. 3 in the nation in 2015.
Despite the challenges that come with recruiting at the “Ivy League of the West,” the Cardinals have only one season of fewer than nine wins (2014) and just three years below 10 under Shaw.
2019 Record: 4-8
Lovie Smith (Illinois)
It’s safe to say that Lovie Smith is better suited for NFL coaching as he’s struggled mightily to recruit top-notch college players to a school that isn’t known for its football dominance.
He’s tied with Taggart as the highest-paid African-American coach ($5 million per year) which is 12th highest among all football coaches.
After a 3-9 debut in 2016 with The Fighting Illini, Smith went 2-10 in ’17 and 4-8 in ’18 for a 9-27 overall record since joining the college ranks. You’ve got to figure that a guy who has a winning record and a Super Bowl appearance in 11 seasons as an NFL head coach, will figure out a way to turn the program around.
2019 Record: 6-6
Bowl Projection: New Era Pinstripe Bowl vs. Florida State
Kevin Sumlin (Arizona)
You give him the right recruits and Kevin Sumlin is a proven winner. Unfortunately, talent has been inconsistent and Sumlin has gone 9-15 at Arizona, 6-12 in conference play. If the 2020 season is anything like the first two, Sumlin will probably get axed, completing one of the mighty falls in the history of college coaching.
Prior to taking over at Arizona, Sumlin went 51-26 over six years at Texas A&M. The Aggies won 11 games in Sumlin’s 2012 debut and he became a hot name in the NFL rumor mill. Prior to that, he had a stop at Houston from 2008-11 and posted a 12-1 mark with them in 2011.
A combination of his unwillingness to leave the college ranks and the fact that he hasn’t recorded a finish in the top 25 after the ’13 season has weakened his overall support as an NFL HC prospect, but he’s still one of the highest-paid head coaches.
2019 Record: 4-8
Mel Tucker (Colorado)
Mel Tucker, 47, is the Pac-12’s only new head coach for the 2019 season and it would be understating it to say that CU was able to nab a seasoned coaching superstar.
Of the 27 new hires in 2019, Tucker is one of only six with a defensive background. And few if any have his experience as a college coach for eight years and then a decade as a highly-regarded NFL assistant and defensive coordinator.
His resume is impeccable and he has a list of former bosses that include Jim Tressel, Nick Saban, and Kirby Smart. Tucker had the Midas touch as a defensive coordinator. He was part of a staff that won championships with Ohio State in 2002 and Alabama in 2015.
As defensive coordinator for the last four years with the Georgia Bulldogs and Crimson Tide, his units never finished out of the top 20 in total defense.
2019 Record: 5-7
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