Column: Sports world needs to be colorblind

Published 9:33 am Friday, December 3, 2004

By Staff
The Black Coaches Association (BCA) released a statement Wednesday, saying that Notre Dame's firing of Tyrone Willingham "sends an alarming message to African Americans who are persuing coaching at the Division I-A level."
Almost as soon as Notre Dame announced Willingham's dismissal on Tuesday, the race card was pulled. Black students at the university protested. ESPN devoted its entire Outside the Lines program to discussing how the firing would affect the hiring of minority coaches. And, of course, the backlash from the BCA.
Wednesday was the 49th anniversary of Rosa Parks' social and political stand on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. Although this country is light years ahead of the 1950s, somethings haven't changed - we're too preoccupied with race. Even when there's no reason to be.
Tyrone Willingham was fired because he didn't win, not because of the color of his skin. Whether he was given enough time or a fair chance to build Notre Dame back to prominence is debatable. But if the Irish thought he was the man for the program, he would still be on board as head coach.
The impatience of today's colleges and universities and their desire to win now and see instant results are what did in WIllingham. Look no further than the University of Florida for evidence of that.
Zook, a white male, found himself in a situation very similar to Willingham's. He was hired as Florida's head football coach three years ago, charged with the task of turning a perennial Top 10 team back into a national championship contender. He had quite a past to live up to, coming to Gainsville following the departure of the Gators' most successful coach, Steve Spurrier.
Like Willingham, Zook failed to bring his team back to prominence, and, less than three full seasons later, he was canned. Was he given enough time to reverse the Gators' fortune? Probably not. He didn't even get a chance to see one of his own recruiting classes go all the way through the program.
Sound familiar? On Tuesday, Willingham suffered the same fate. Fired because he couldn't live up to Notre Dame's impossible expectations from a storied past. The difference is, when Zook was fired, accusations of racism and questions of what this would do for the future of white coaches weren't wildly thrown around.
Willingham was the third black head coach to lose his job in nine days, leaving only two at the Division I-A level. It's unfortunate, but the other two coaches, San Jose State's Fitz Hill and New Mexico State's Tony Samuel lost their jobs because they didn't win. Not because of their race.
While just two of the 117 Division I-A schools have black head football coaches, it isn't because of rampant racism. Schools want to win, bottom line. They'll hire the best candidate available, whether he be white, black, yellow or green.
There is talk among the college ranks about implementing a rule similar to the NFL's that would require schools to interview at least one minority candidate when a job opens up. The proposed rule is unnecessary and wasteful.
Two years ago, when the Detroit Lions fired Marty Morningweg and hired Steve Marriuci, they were fined for failing to interview a minority for the position. When one of the best coaches in the league is available, there's no need to interview someone else. Truth is, they didn't interview any other candidates, white or black, because Marriucci was their man.
If the best candidate for the job is black, he is going to get hired. Forcing teams to do frivolous interviews is a waste of their time and money. No school is going to pass on the man for its job because of his race.
Just like no school would fire a coach, or even have less tolerance for a coach, because of his race. In the end, it all boils down to wins and losses.