At the University of Texas, football is religion. At Penn State University, they need football for redemption. So when these storied programs hired black head coaches within days of each other to return them to past glory, it was a major moment for a sport that has been among the slowest to promote African-American leaders at the highest level.
There have been other black head coaches at top football schools — Notre Dame, Stanford, Miami, UCLA. But the recent hiring of Charlie Strong at Texas and James Franklin at Penn State sent a powerful message, because of the combined prestige, mystique and influence of those teams.
“It’s a historical moment,” said Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl and a former head coach at Grambling.
“We’ve come a long way in a couple weeks,” Williams said.
There are 125 colleges playing in the top-level Football Bowl Subdivision. In 2013, 13 of them had black coaches. That was down from 15 in 2012 and an all-time high of 17 in 2011. Franklin was replaced by an African-American on Friday when Vanderbilt announced it hired Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason to fill its vacancy.
“We’re making tremendous strides,” Franklin said. “The more opportunities that coaches get and go out and do well and succeed, it helps.
“It helps change perceptions, and perceptions are a powerful thing.”