Nepotism, Not Racism, Is the Real Problem in College Football's Hiring Practices

On PTI Wednesday, Mike Wilbon complained about the naming of "coaches-in-waiting" at Texas, Florida State and Oregon, insinuating it is a form of racism because it denies black coaches the opportunity to interview for those positions, and thus increase the number of woefully underrepresented African-American head coaches in college football. ↵

↵Wilbon is half-correct: the practice is in itself exclusionary and bypasses the normal hiring process, and could be termed racist. It could also logically be called sexist, as no women are considered, either. It's also ageist, as both are young coaches, and not one single elder-coach was considered. While we're at it, you could also consider it species-ist, since only humans were considered, and not similarly qualified elephants and ostriches. ↵

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↵This takes the argument to an extreme, but to a point: the practice itself is exclusionary, but not racist in design. Suggesting racism when looking for a solution to the dearth of black college football coaches ignores the supply problem, which may be a blend of both racism and harsh economics coming to a head. Young black men just graduating college after playing football likely face greater financial pressures -- or the lack of a safety net in the form of parents willing to bankroll the GA stage of things -- than their white counterparts. Affording the dismal pay handed out by the first rungs of the coaching ladder costs more for them, potentially, than for their white co-workers. ↵

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↵(This is economics, and not perfect economics. Chris Hatcher, Georgia Southern's white coach, told me stories of driving to his first job at Kentucky wearing almost everything he owned in a truck without heat praying the wreck would make it over Monteagle in Tennessee. GAs everywhere are broke.) ↵

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↵There are real hiring issues in college football. Racism may be one of them, but there's greater evidence to suggest that nepotism is both a more widespread and corrosive "ism" than any other. Pete Carroll, Steve Spurrier, Bob Stoops, Bobby Petrino, Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno and Lou Holtz are just a few coaches who took family members and happily put them on the payroll. Some end up being successful coaches in their own right (Tommy Bowden, Skip Holtz) while some end up actually harming their teams thanks to their ineptitude (Jeff Bowden). The results are mixed, but the impossibility of objectively evaluating their performance as coaches not only complicates the dynamics of managing a staff effectively, but also takes up a coaching spot that could go to a more qualified and experienced (white or black) coach that's not part of the family tree. ↵

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↵Lane Kiffin's hiring at Tennessee may be the most visible manifestation of nepotism's long, festering reach in the sport. Kiffin, a former co-coordinator at USC with less than two year's experience coaching the Oakland Raiders in the NFL, is the son of Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and a protege of Pete Carroll. He has benefited immensely from his networking skills and his name, and extended the favor one step further by putting his brother-in-law on the staff: David Reaves, former recruiting coordinator for South Carolina. They undoubtedly have contracts drawn up for future fetal children, who will make fine receivers coaches and special teams assistants. ↵

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↵Both may prove to be good hires, but that is not the question. The issue of coaches' spawn taking up spots on the staff is, and whether they can ever really be evaluated for their work on the field while their old man is signing the checks. There need to be more black coaches, sure ... but there also needs to be more emphasis on hiring proven talent from the bottom-up in college football and not simply plucking junior from the couch and putting him to work running ladder drills on the field. Otherwise, they're taking up space that could otherwise go to talent that doesn't come wrapped in heartstrings and the stain of the genetic lottery. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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