By JAKOB ENGELKE
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (March 14, 2012)—Following last year's 2-10 season, the University of Maryland football team made two key changes to its coaching staff.
Head coach Randy Edsall replaced offensive coordinator Gary Crowton and defensive coordinator Todd Bradford by hiring Mike Locksley from New Mexico and Brian Stewart from Houston to lead the team's offense and defense, respectively.
The two hires made Maryland the second of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) colleges to employ two African-American coordinators, and just one of two schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference with even a single African-American coordinator; the other is Clemson.
The hires were significant as well as novel. Few African-Americans hold head-coaching jobs, and those positions are often filled by promoting coordinators.
Edsall, for example, got his first head-coaching job—at Connecticut—after completing the 1998 season as the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech.
"It's the infrastructure in place," said Fitzgerald Hill, a black former head coach at San Jose State and longtime assistant at Arkansas. "(Locksley) was a coordinator at Illinois, and I'm certain he wouldn't of gotten the head job at New Mexico had he not been the offensive coordinator at Illinois first. There is a totem pole order to get a head coaching job."
Stanford is the only FBS college that has two African-American coordinators—Derek Mason and Pep Hamilton—in addition to a black head coach, David Shaw.
Four other FBS schools—New York at Buffalo, Middle Tennessee State, Houston and Pittsburgh—employed two African-American coordinators in 2011, but those pairs did not survive offseason staff changes.
"I got hired a week or two prior to [Stewart] and didn't think about it until you brought it up," Locksley said. "Obviously it speaks volumes to the character of coach Edsall to not even think about that and just hire the two best coaches, which I think he's done."
Edsall has set a high bar for other coaches across the country in hiring African-Americans as coaches. His Terps' football staff of 10 coaches now includes five African-Americans.
The hiring of two African-American coordinators represented progress being made in racial diversity in the coaching profession, said Floyd Keith, executive director of Black Coaches and Administrators.
"When we see these opportunities increase, there's a definite positive trend," said Keith, who was the head football coach at Howard and Rhode Island before taking over the BCA in 2001. "There aren't very many institutions that have two (African-American coordinators)."
According to the BCA, there were 19 coaches of color at the 120 FBS schools in 2011, including 17 who were African-American and six who were new hires. Eight of those coaches were at schools in elite Bowl Championship Series conferences like Maryland's ACC, up from five in 2010. The BCA reported 31 African-American coordinators in 2011 at FBS schools, or 11.9 percent of 240.
Despite the recent progress, Keith said work remained to be done. There have been only 42 African-American head coaches in the history of college football, he said, and in recent years African-American coaches complained they were passed over for head-coaching jobs due to race.
In 2009, then-Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong told The Orlando Sentinel he believed he was not offered a head-coaching position because he was African-American and his wife was white. Strong helped lead Florida's defense during both of its national championship seasons, but did not receive a head-coaching job until 2010 at Louisville.
"Still, the numbers aren't proportionate," Keith said. "The numbers of [black] head coaches are not consistent with the number of [black] participants on the field, nor are the number of coordinators. But the progress over the last three years is very noticeable. We're headed in the right direction."
The NCAA reported recently that 45 percent of college football players are black.
After 25 years of research, Hill, who is currently the president at Arkansas Baptist College, wrote a book scheduled for release in March 2012 on the obstacles African-Americans face in landing major college football coaching positions.
He argued that a true breakthrough will not occur until an African American coach wins a national championship. He pointed to what happened after John Thompson Jr. won the NCAA men's basketball championship with Georgetown.
"That is, unfortunately, because black coaches are evaluated collectively and white coaches are evaluated individually," Hill said. "When you have someone successful, then everyone thinks we can do this because it becomes a proven fact."
Unlike Keith and Hill, Stewart said he doesn't spend much time thinking about race or looking at the number of African-American coaches across the country. But he said he understands the significance of being hired alongside Locksley.
"I just look at is as me ... being an African-American coach that has to represent myself in a certain way so that young African-American players look at me and see me as a good leader and a good person and mock some of the qualities they see in me," Stewart said. "I think that you look at the content of a person, the content of their character, and not the color of their skin and go from there."