Marshall University has hired Charles Huff as the next head football coach, replacing Doc Holliday who was fired after 11 seasons.
Some of the news stories about Huff included the fact that he will be the first African-American head coach in the program’s history. Others did not reference Huff’s race.
And thus, another example of the difficulty we have in this country of dealing with race.
On a practical level, Huff’s race does not matter. His hiring should be judged on his qualifications. He has coached 17 years in both the college ranks and the NFL. Most recently, he was running backs coach and associate head coach at Alabama.
He has not been a head coach or a coordinator before. However, he has the endorsement of the most successful college football coach in the country.
“He has done an excellent job for us, and we are pleased to see him get the well-deserved opportunity to run his program,” said Alabama head coach and West Virginia native Nick Saban.
The story could stop here, but it does not because of the current state of college football coaching.
Just 12 of the 130 Division I college football teams are led by African-American coaches. That is less than ten percent, even though about half of the student athletes at the Division I level are Black.
The simple math tells you something is amiss. Most programs have Black assistants, but only a handful have been able to advance to the highest ranks of coaching.
Senior ESPN sportswriter Ivan Maisel wrote an in-depth story last month about the dearth of Black coaches in college football. He said that while the game itself has changed dramatically over the last three decades, what has not changed significantly are the opportunities for Black head coaches.
“Nothing is more evergreen than the lack of diversity among college football head coaches,” Maisel wrote.
“Head coaches are hired by mostly white athletic directors, who run programs supported by mostly white donors,” said Maisel. “ADs are hired by mostly white university presidents, who report to mostly white boards of trustees. If we are waiting for those dynamics to change, we might be here awhile.”
Marshall leaders should be credited with making a bold decision that breaks down a barrier, as long as the choice was not made exclusively for that reason. As Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper told ESPN, “I don’t want to be hired because I’m Black. I just don’t want to not be hired because I’m Black.”
Perhaps it is significant that Marshall’s board approved Huff’s hiring on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, or maybe it is just a coincidence. Either way, the juxtaposition is notable.
Dr. King reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” One of these days, when a Black man is hired as the football coach at Marshall, WVU or any other college in the country, his race will not be relevant.
However, because of the disparity that exists in the college football coaching ranks now, race is still part of the story.