Taking a look at the issue of race within Texas’ coaching ranks

Christian Corona

Everyone remembers the player that breaks the color barrier.

But what of the coach? The most famous African-American to defy a color barrier in the world of sports is the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson. For the Texas football program, it’s Julius Whittier, a lineman who became the first black Longhorns football player in 1970.

Neither the Dodgers nor the Longhorn football team have ever had a black head coach. All 14 of the Dodgers’ managers since Robinson made his major-league debut in 1947 were white, along with each of the four head football coaches to lead the Texas football team since the legendary Darrell Royal stepped down in 1976, seven years after the Longhorns earned the dubious distinction of becoming the last all-white football team to win a national championship.

It should be noted that former Lakers icon Magic Johnson recently became a co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and that less than 10 percent of all current MLB players are African-American, an all-time low.

UT women’s track and field coach Beverly Kearney is currently the only African-American head coach on the 40 Acres, a disappointing fact considering that nearly three-quarters of the Longhorns football squad’s two-deep roster is African-American and more than 90 percent of next year’s men’s basketball roster will be African-American players.

With no change in head coach of the football, men’s basketball and baseball programs in more than a decade, that could indicate a simple lack of opportunity. But women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky has hired three head coaches in the last five months — Carol Capitani (women’s swimming and diving), Karen Aston (women’s basketball) and Angela Kelly (women’s soccer) ­— all of them white.

Is that an indictment on the hiring practices of the Texas athletic program?

“I think it’s an indictment,” said Brian Jones, a former all-Southwest Conference linebacker for the Longhorns and current CBS Sports analyst. “Nothing’s going to change until we get more people of color in [administrative] positions. I’m not going to say that they should simply hire black people when they get in that position, but hire them on their merits.”

Mack Brown has spent the last 14 years guiding the Longhorns head football squad. Former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was once the head coach in-waiting, but since he bolted for a head coaching gig at Florida, Brown’s successor is uncertain once again. Texas has plenty of qualified minority assistants, including Muschamp’s replacement at defensive coordinator, 38-year-old Manny Diaz. Wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt and defensive tackles coach/ace recruiter Bo Davis, both African-Americans, are also among the top of Brown’s coaching staff.

While Wyatt and Davis probably can’t produce a resume that would command serious consideration from men’s athletic director DeLoss Dodds to lead the massive cash cow that is the Texas football program, there’s at least one other qualified minority candidate — Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. Gray, a two-time first-team All-American and four-time Pro Bowler, was briefly brought in to coach the Longhorns defensive backs before Duane Akina took his job back and Gray left for Nashville. He should be given a hard look, including an interview, when Brown steps down.

“My gut is there’d be more of a chance of it happening in [men’s] basketall,” said Michael Cramer, director of the Texas Program in Sports and Media, who also teaches a course called Sports, Media, and the Integration of Society. “It would probably have to be somebody that was perceived to be the equivalent of a Tony Dungy … They’re going to be looking for a high-profile candidate. It’s Texas. It’s a money machine.”

At Texas A&M, conference affiliation isn’t the only thing that’s changing as the Aggies recently hired Kevin Sumlin, an African-American coach who led Houston to a school-record 13-1 mark last year, as their first black head football coach. Other qualified candidates were considered, such as Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who was in charge of a unit that led the nation in scoring defense (8.2 ppg), total defense (183.6 ypg), rushing defense (72.2 rush ypg) and pass defense (111.5 pass ypg). The Crimson Tide held LSU to 92 total yards and five first downs in this year’s national title game, a 21-0 Alabama victory.

But the Aggies went with Sumlin, who is preparing to take his squad into a brutal SEC West that boasts each of the last three national champions. But Sumlin has recruited very well since being hired last December. Sumlin will be the only African-American head football coach in the SEC this year.

“This is historic,” said Jones, a friend of Sumlin’s. “What A&M has done can be looked upon as crossing a color barrier, because I never thought they would have a black head [football] coach. I never thought Texas would have a black head coach in football. For A&M to be the first in this area, I think it speaks volumes.”

Brown wasn’t fired after Texas went 5-7 two years ago the way Mike Sherman was when Texas A&M posted a 6-6 mark last season. But Brown, 60, won’t coach forever. When the time comes for his incredible tenure to end, let’s hope Dodds self-implements a Rooney Rule of his own so guys like Diaz and Gray get an opportunity to become the Longhorns’ next head football coach.

Printed on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 as: Coaching staff lacks diversity, could be due to few personnel changes