Apparently Gary Parrish hit a sore spot with many SEC fans based on the reaction he received to his article on CBS Sportsline earlier this week. As we stated in our response to his article, not all of the criticism he received is without merit.
Parrish wrote a follow-up article today, which in our opinion, states the essential point that he should have made in the first incarnation. Namely, although it is unfortunate and a bit peculiar that three black coaches left SEC schools (whether willingly or unwillingly) in the past two years, it is not due to racism per se that these coaches are no longer with their schools. In other words, it is not their blackness alone that got these coaches in trouble, for these and other SEC schools have had successful black coaches in the past; it is their blackness in combination with a prevailing perception of not meeting the high expectations of the fans as head coach. As he put it simply, “minority coaches operate on a shorter leash.”
There is merit to this argument, and we wish Parrish had made it more clearly in the first article. There are valid concerns as to why a coaching clown like John Brady at LSU can continue with legitimate employment after ten years of mostly disappointing seasons. Or how a squirrelly little man such as Dave Odom can continue cashing SC’s checks after one NCAA appearance in six years (unless your goal as an SEC program is to win NIT championships, as he’s very accomplished at that). We have absolutely no doubt that black coaches at these schools would have been gone long before these gents. As we noted in our initial response, we’re still not past the point where “diversity” in the SEC amounts to much more than blondes and redheads. However, it must be stated that a very successful black coach at any SEC school – in football or basketball – would be warmly embraced by its fans despite the racial component.
As a final point, let’s also throw out another possible confounding factor in the cases of Tubby Smith and Stan Heath. We’ll leave Rod Barnes out of this discussion, because even Parrish concedes that his record at Ole Miss was lacking. Could part of the reason that Smith and Heath felt so much heat in comparison to coaches like Brady, Gottfried and Odom has something to do with how basketball is treated at those particular schools, rather than attributing all of it to race? Everyone knows that the expectations at UK are through the roof every season. Arkansas, while at heart a football school, could also fairly be described as a basketball school as well. Their fans have supported the hardwood Hawgs dating back to Eddie Sutton’s days there in the 1970s, and they’ve been to multiple Final Fours and won a championship in 1994.
Contrast that with LSU, Alabama and South Carolina, where football is absolutely and undoubtedly king. Basketball is by most fans still considered a stepbrother to the gridiron – sure, the fans want to see the program do “well,” but well is defined in the context of making the NCAAs fairly often, and maybe winning a game or two the years you get there. Those kinds of expectations get football coaches like Dennis Franchione , Gerry DiNardo and Mike Shula fired quickly (and they’re all white!). The level of expectations for basketball at these schools are far from what you see at UK, Arkansas, and as of now, Florida in the SEC. Perhaps this issue trumps all else when it comes to dealing with fan expectations at these particular schools.