Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is New Mexico the Diversity Homeland?

Our attention should shift to Albuquerque, N.M. this weekend and the annual rivalry game between the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University. We should call it the Convention of African American Division I head coaches because exactly 29percent of the black coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision will present at University Stadium -- New Mexico coach Mike Locksley (left) and New Mexico State coach Dwayne Walker (right).

Only seven black coaches lead Division I teams, just one in the so-called BCS (Bowl Championship Series Division) -- Miami's Randy Shannon. The others are Houston's Kevin Sumlin, Miami (Ohio's) Mike Haywood, Eastern Michigan's Ron English, my old Mass Communication's classmate at UC Berkeley, and Turner Gill at the University of Buffalo.

Of the 120 FBS teams -- the highest level of college football -- seven have black coaches, a depressing number that continues to prove that diversity hasn't spread to all facets of athletics. While athletic directors seem to have no issue hiring black coaches to fill basketball positions, those same ADs hiccup when it comes to filling football posts with black men.

"I have a lot of respect for Dwayne," Locksley said. "For both of us to have our opportunity here in the great state of New Mexico to lead a program speaks volumes for the states, speaks volumes for both administrations and both places."

Yet, both major schools in New Mexico hired black coaches within months of each other, and let's face it, neither job is the envy of the coaching community. New Mexico State has long been considered one of the tougher FBS jobs because of the obscurity of Las Cruces, N.M. and the difficult of competing with Boise State and Fresno State in the Western Athletic Conference. New Mexico has always considered itself as a school that should compete with the major powers but never had the recruiting base to do so. How many premium high school athletes really come out of New Mexico?

So both of these men have been presented formidable tasks of rebuilding programs that haven't been national factors for years, if ever. But these are the jobs black coaches have to accept if they want to enter the coaching fraternity. Eastern Michigan has long been a downtrodden program in the Midwest with 13 straight losing seasons; New Mexico State has had one winning season the past nine years; Buffalo won 10 games in the previous seven years before Gill took over and guided the Bulls to a bowl game last season, considered a miracle turnaround for a program with no tradition.

Sumlin could be the next black coach to get a BCS job as he has the Houston Cougars ranked 17th with a win over then-No. 5 Oklahoma State. But black coaches shouldn't have to orchestrate a major resurrection of a dying program to be considered for a BCS job. Non-black coaches such as Tennessee's Lane Kiffin, Auburn's Gene Chizik, Washington's Steve Sarkisian and Syracuse's Doug Marrone were handed major jobs without previous head coaching experience or success, in some cases.

In other words, some AD liked these guys, were impressed with their credentials and vision and were willing to take a chance and stake their reputation on their success. That's what needs to happen more often with black coaches. So while Saturday's New Mexico State-New Mexico game ranks near the bottom of the college football landscape, we should take notice of the rarity of two black coaches facing each other, and hope that matchups like these happen more often.

I, for one, will definitely take note of what's happening in New Mexico.