Irish Coach's Raw Deal

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The firing of Tyrone Willingham from the position of head football coach at Notre Dame, is a stinging reminder that racism is alive and well in college sports in general, and at Notre Dame University in particular.

Willingham's premature termination reduces the number of Black head coaches at the 117 NCAA Division I-A football programs to a grand total of two. This absurdity is underscored by the fact that of only 32 National Football League franchises, there are more than twice as many Black head coaches-five-than there are in the college ranks. This and the dearth of Blacks in other key positions, such as athletic director, sends a very clear message: Blacks are welcome in college football as athletes who can perform on the field, but not as decision-makers off the field of play. It doesn't matter how many politically correct sports clichés are used to dress it up -- it's racism, pure and simple.
Why was Willingham fired? The decision was certainly not based on his performance. In his three years at Notre Dame, he compiled a 21-15 record. He had winning records in two of the three years, including his first year, when he coached a team outclassed by the powerhouses of college football to a 10-3 record and an appearance in the Gator Bowl. Willingham is the only first-year coach in Notre Dame history to deliver a 10-win season. This season Willingham coached Notre Dame to upset victories over Top 25 programs Michigan and Tennessee, and to a second bowl berth in three years, the Insight Bowl on Dec. 28 in Tempe, Ariz.

Willingham accomplished this with a program that had fallen to mediocrity long before he got there-and without compromising academic standards. Three years is simply not enough time to install a completely new system. In fact, it's not enough time for Willingham's first recruiting class to become seniors. As Black Coaches Association Executive Director Floyd Keith says, in three years, Willingham "has done everything, short of winning a national championship, and I don't think he inherited national championship talent.''
Prior to coming to Notre Dame, Willingham spent seven years as the head football coach at Stanford University, transforming a losing program into a winning one and leading the team to four post-season bowl berths. Given the opportunity, he could have done the same for Notre Dame-which, ostensibly, is what they hired him to do. Other than Willingham, Notre Dame has never hired a black coach in any sport during its entire 162-year history. It should be noted that Willingham was only hired as Notre Dame's head football coach after the university's original choice, George O' Leary, resigned less than a week after taking the job because he lied about his athletic and academic achievements on his resume. So, maybe it should come as no surprise that Willingham is also the first Notre Dame head football coach to be fired without being allowed to finish out his initial contract.

Notre Dame's firing of Willingham was not based on merit. The university's treatment of Tyrone Willingham is a travesty, and a textbook example of the plantation mentality of major college football, where African Americans have only one role -- as revenue-generating field laborers entertaining predominantly-white college administrators, alumni, donors, media, and fans. The erroneous and damaging message: Black men can run, jump, and even fly -- but they can't coach.

Graves Sr. is the Chairman, Editor and Publisher of BLACK ENTERPRISE. Since 1970, be has provided essential business information and advice to professionals, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and decision makers. The magazine is published by Earl G. Graves Publishing Co. 

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