SEC Diversity = Blondes and Redheads?Posted by rtmsf on April 24th, 2007
One of the most amusing anecdotes in a book about Greek life in the South called “Pledged” goes something like this:
State U. is a pretty liberal, relatively tolerant school and when one sister at State U. was asked if there was diversity in the [sorority] house, she responded: “Oh sure, we’re diverse, we have blonde, red and a lot of brown-haired girls. I think we also have a Spanish girl.”
As anyone who has ever lived there recognizes, racism in the South is a lingering unspeakable that infests itself into nearly every situation (good and bad) whether you want it to or not. College athletics is no different, and in fact, team sports push the issues to the fore in ways that they otherwise would never be. Life in the modern SEC has fostered a peculiar “working relationship” between blacks and whites in that environment. The largely black football and basketball teams are expected to perform on the field and court, while the largely white coaching staffs are expected to harness the athletic talents of the players with discipline and structure, which will result in wins for the program and money in the university coffers. Some have gone so far as to conclude that what goes on in Tuscaloosa, Fayetteville, Athens and the like every fall and spring is nothing more than a modern-day plantation society.
To that end, as Gary Parrish points out in a recent CBS Sportsline article – with Tubby Smith’s recent departure from UK and the firings of Stan Heath (Arkansas) and Rod Barnes (Ole Miss) in the last two years – the SEC has taken a step backwards in terms of its head coaching diversity. He blames this “trend” on little more than racism shrouded in performance expectations. And while there is always some racial politics to any decision about hiring/firing of coaches in the South, a trend may not always be what it seems without appropriate context.
Shouldn’t it be worth noting that the SEC had four black head coaches at the same time (including Dennis Felton at Georgia) – more than the ACC (who had 3) just three short years ago? Or that Heath’s former employer broke the SEC head coaching color barrier by hiring Nolan Richardson in 1985? Or that when the ACC was still stuck on zero black head basketball coaches ever – all the way back to the mid-90s – there were three in the SEC (Nolan, Tubby & Rob Evans at Ole Miss)? Parrish brings up Mississippi St. football coach Sylvester Croom (the only black SEC football coach in history) to bolster his example, but does he also realize that the ACC just hired its second black football coach ever, in a city of amazing diversity (Miami), not exactly in the heart of the old tobacco fields of Carolina.
Look, we get what Parrish’s primary point is, and we fundamentally agree that it is disheartening from a race relations standpoint to currently see only one black coach remaining in the SEC. There’s no question that old habits die hard, as exhibited by the misguided coed quoted above. But with so many dollars at stake these days in college athletics, we just happen to believe that the timing of it (and the new hires) indicates more about real expectations at schools that want and crave success rather than institutional racism of some kind. For example, we wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see Anthony Grant on an SEC sideline as soon as John Brady or Mark Gottfried has another clunker of a year. The genie has already been let out of the bottle here. Black coaches have proven that they can compete, and more importantly – win – in the SEC, which is not to say that every black coach can, any more than we can say that all white coaches can. If anything, the black coaches who are no longer in the SEC are victims of their peers’ and predecessors’ coaching successes – both black and white – rather than solely the meta-racism that Parrish believes led to this situation.
Update (04.27.07): Gary Parrish responds to reaction from his article.
Update (04.27.07): We respond again.