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It was one of the last games of a long weekend of football, with nearly 60 Division I-A games and 14 NFL games. The Arizona Cardinals were just a few yards shy of a great comeback engineered by quarterback Kurt Warner. Down 17-12, he drove the Cardinals to the St. Louis 5-yard line in the final seconds. But the drive failed after a sack and a false start.
Had the Cardinals won, the victory for coach Dennis Green's team would have meant that every single (nine at present) African-American NFL and I-A college coach would have won on the same weekend for the first time in the history of sports. It would have been a remarkable achievement indeed, in light of how few African-American coaches have had the opportunity to be head coaches either in the NFL or in college -- there have been only 19 African-American I-A head coaches, and only nine African-American NFL head coaches.
Oklahoma was beaten by UCLA (Karl Dorrell), Idaho fell to Washington (Tyrone Willingham) and Mississippi State (Sylvester Croom) defeated Tulane on Saturday; on Sunday the Jets (Herm Edwards) beat the Dolphins, the Colts (Tony Dungy) topped the Jaguars, the Bengals (Marvin Lewis) crushed the Vikings, the Bears (Lovie Smith) blew out the Lions and the Browns (Romeo Crennel) just beat the Packers.
As in previous years, none of the African-American college coaches were at schools picked in the preseason Top 25 by ESPN or Sports Illustrated. In the MSN Fox Sports preseason poll, UCLA was the first one listed, at 37th. Washington was 68th, and Mississippi State was 76th.
We are at the lowest point in college football in more than a decade, with only three African-American head coaches. At the end of last season Dr. Fitz Hill resigned at San Jose State, Tony Samuel was fired at New Mexico State and Tyrone Willingham was let go by Notre Dame. But Willingham was subsequently hired by the University of Washington, which became only the second school in the history of NCAA Division I to have African-Americans coaching its basketball (Lorenzo Romar) and football teams simultaneously. Temple was the first, with John Chaney (basketball) and Ron Dickerson (football).
The NFL has done far better in hiring African-American head coaches since the implementation of the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview people of color as part of their hiring process.
I have suggested to the NCAA, and it has been affirmed by the Black Coaches Association, that future hiring in college football should be subjected to the same process. In the new millennium, there have been 94 head-coaching vacancies in Division I-A, and only four African-Americans have been selected to lead those programs.
The eight out of nine victories on Saturday and Sunday will hopefully get the attention of people in key leadership positions, and encourage them to hire African-American head coaches at the college and pro level.
Those who get the chance also usually take over programs that are so downtrodden that winning seems almost Herculean. Croom took over Mississippi State after a 2-10 season; Willingham became Washington's coach after it went 1-10 in 2004. Dorrell started at UCLA after its 8-5 season in 2002, but just as crosstown rival USC began its total domination of college football.