New Auburn head coach Gene Chizik has had his name mentions in several media outlets this week after being named Tommy Tubberville’s replacement.
One being that many believe Turner Gill, who just accepted an extension at Buffalo, was the man for the job, not Chizik. A major factor in the discussion comes in the fact that Gill is black, and was more qualified than Chizik, whose only previous head coaching experience was with a less than mediocre Iowa State team that he lead to 5-19 in two seasons.
Five wins in two years got Chizik an offer of a two-year contract extension at Iowa State. He reportedly will receive a five-year contract worth about $2 million a year from Auburn, about double his former deal which included a $750,000 buyout, according to ESPN.com.
The general consensus is that Chizik should not have been hired. Another conclusion that many have come to is that Chizik was hired simply because his closest competitor was black. None said this more bluntly than former NBA star and Auburn alum Charles Barkley.
“I think race was the No. 1 factor,” said Barkley, who played basketball for three seasons at Auburn during the early 1980s. “You can say it’s not about race, but you can’t compare the two résumés and say [Chizik] deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst résumé.”
When Gill took over at Buffalo, they sat in the basement of the MAC conference. In three years time, Gill turned Buffalo into an 8-5 team who upset upset previously unbeaten Ball State 42-24 in the Dec. 5 MAC championship. Chizik went 5-19 in two years at Iowa State, with his assistant coaching ties to Auburn, and race believed in some cases, as the only reason he was given the position.
Barkley said he had previously warned Gill about racial barriers he would face on the Auburn campus, in Alabama and anywhere else he chose to coach.
“We talked about the whole race thing in Alabama,” Barkley said. “I told him it’s there and it’s going to be anywhere you go. I told him you can’t not take the job because of racism. He was worried about being nothing more than a token interview. He was concerned about having a white wife. It’s just very disappointing to me.”
This wasn’t the first time Barkley was disappointed with his Alma Mater.
When they were searching for a head coach for the 2003-04 season, Barkley offered his services, adding he would only serve if the committee was ready to hire a black coach. Barkley told ESPN.com that he presented three high-quality candidates: former Indiana coach Mike Davis, then-Virginia Commonwealth coach Jeff Capel and then-UAB coach Mike Anderson.
They went with then-Chattanooga coach Jeff Lebo., who has gone 61-68 in his fifth season. Barkley said he was removed from the committee before the hire.
“Out of all the basketball coaches they interviewed, they picked the only one who hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament,” Barkley said.
While Barkley made a case on the basketball and football front for his former school, the nationwide number of black coaches in college football are far more sparse. There are only four African-American coaches of the 119 Football Bowl Subdivision. The number before this season was seven; that was before the resignation of Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State and firing of coaches Tyrone Willingham at Washington, Ronald Prince at Kansas State.
The players on of the FBS’ 119 teams are overwhelmingly black, on campuses that claim to foster diversity, so what gives? Auburn did interview two black coaches, a degree that many committees don’t reach in their search for a head coach. Only time will tell if the racial disparity among coaches will ever change, but for now there is a dearth of diversity and it shouldn’t take comments from Charles Barkley to spark conversation on racial issues in college football.