Most football coaches are brimming with optimism this time of year, but few with as much Tom Williams, the first black head football coach at Yale University. It has little to do with his expectations about the annual grudge match with Harvard later this year. Williams has broken through one of the most insidious glass ceilings in sports. He’s a black man coaching at a well-known school.
There are only four black coaches at the 119 schools that comprise Division 1A, the highest level of competition in the NCAA. The Ivy League is in Division 1-AA, where Williams joins Columbia University’s Norries Wilson, the first black coach in the Ivy League.
The extreme lack of diversity became a major issue shortly before Williams’ hiring in January. Turner Gill, a former standout quarterback on a powerhouse University of Nebraska team in the ‘80s and veteran coach, helped turn around a moribund program at the University of Buffalo. But he was passed over for the head coaching job at Auburn University in favor of Gene Chizik, who coached an Iowa State University team in complete disarray. Chizik’s ISU team went 5-19 during his two seasons there, not exactly the sort of track record that qualifies you for a promotion. NBA Hall of Fame player Charles Barkley, an Auburn alumnus, called his alma mater racist for the decision. Meanwhile James Franklin, a top assistant coach at the University of Maryland was passed over for many openings before opting to take a coach-in-waiting position there. He will succeed current coach Ralph Freidgen whose contract runs until 2012.
The Ivy League has succeeded in diversity in ways that other conferences should envy. In addition to their high marks in football, half of the conference’s basketball coaches are African-American, which compares favorably to the 30 percent average in the NCAA.