Earlier this month, the biggest head coaching vacancy in college football was filled when former Louisville head coach Charlie Strong departed his quality Louisville football program for the University of Texas. The only head coaching vacancy this college football offseason that can compare to Texas' is that of the University of Southern California, which comes with the weight of NCAA sanctions from a few years ago. There is no disputing that Charlie Strong's head coaching resume is very good while looking over the progression of the program and considering that he had the Cardinals defeating Florida in a BCS bowl game three years after the Cardinals lost eight games under their previous head coach. But Charlie Strong's hire as the Longhorns' coach was surprising on a number of factors including the fact that he is black.
College football at the FBS (formerly called Division I) level has lagged behind other major collegiate and professional sports when it comes to minority hiring. There are obviously a number of factors at work to how there is a lack of black head coaches at the FBS level that is disproportionate with the percentage of black athletes playing on the field. The factors include a small number of black offensive coordinators when schools are trending to hire more offensive minded coaches, the relative lack of minorities that are athletic directors and college presidents that hire head football coaches, and plenty of other factors. Recently there are a growing number of successful and talented black head coaches who are doing very good and great jobs at their current institutions but for University of Texas to hire Charlie Strong still strikes as a major surprise.
Strong's hire as the University of Texas head coach is the most significant hire of a black man to any head coaching position in college football since Tyrone Willingham was hired as the head coach for the University of Notre Dame in 2001. Notre Dame, like Texas is one of the ten best college football programs historically and the benefits and outside pressures that come with being head coach of those programs aren't big, there are gigantic. Willingham was fired during only his third season at Notre Dame, which drew widespread criticism from a number of members of the media, including some that insinuated that race had something to do with the relative lack of time Willingham was given to build back the Irish program. Clearly, Willingham wasn't fired strictly because of his race at Notre Dame because the Notre Dame athletic administration knew he was black when he was hired but his race did play a factor in the lack of time he got especially when his hiring was not greatly received with warm greetings by some around the program when it happened. No one publicly voiced their displeasure with the hiring like Texas billionaire booster Red McCombs did when Strong was hired but it isn't a leap to say that there may have been some feelings like that behind closed doors at Notre Dame. McCombs has since apologized for the first public comments about Strong's hiring.
Decades ago, the fact that Charlie Strong was considered a candidate for a job like Texas head football coach would have been a noteworthy sign of progress and his hiring is a truly sign of progress in a potential trend that more progressive hiring practices are happening in major college football. Although college football fans, media, and boosters seem much more impatient now than a decade ago, those devoted to Texas football need to look for incremental progress for their program during the first four years of the Charlie Strong era at Austin.