Did Illinois “Work Hard Enough” in Search?
By Paul Myerberg // Jan 20, 2012
Nearly everyone admired Illinois’ decision to hire Tim Beckman away from Toledo, even if some of the positive vibes stemmed from the fact that Beckman was not, in fact, Ron Zook. But the university liked his pedigree, from his time as a defensive coordinator to his successful three-year run as the head coach with the Rockets, and the general consensus was that Illinois could have done much, much worse. Perhaps the Illini could have done better; Beckman’s track record is nice, but he couldn’t win his own division with the Rockets, let alone the MAC as a whole. But again: Illinois could have done much, much worse.
The hiring process, whether at Illinois or Alabama, follows a familiar path. The university fires a coach and begins eyeballing a handful of potential replacements. The initial list, perhaps seven or eight deep, is eventually culled down to two or three names. Then the interview process begins, with the university and its athletic department coming to a final decision.
We found our guy. Next, the school and its new hire agree to a contract. After that, prior to signatures going on the dotted line, the university’s board of trustees must approve the new deal. This typically provides little holdup; members meet, drink some wine, eat some cheese — I believe this is what occurs — before granting the contract their approval.
Illinois’ board of trustees didn’t provide any significant push against Beckman, confirming the contract, but two members of the board did speak out against the hire. James Montgomery and Lawrence Oliver, both of whom are black, voted against adding Beckman based on race, stating that the university did not “work hard enough to find a black coach.”
Illinois has never had a black football coach or men’s basketball coach, as College Football Talk points out, so you can how Montgomery and Oliver might have viewed the potential opening as an opportunity of sorts. In addition, there are no black head coaches in the Big Ten, and the conference hasn’t had a black head coach since Bobby Williams was fired by Michigan State in 2002.
I respect the stance taken by Montgomery and Oliver, and fully appreciate the fact that black coaches are woefully underrepresented on the F.B.S. level. Not merely as head coaches, mind you, but also as coordinators — I touched on this a few weeks ago, citing a report from the organization of Black Coaches and Administrators.
The issue here is not that members of the board of trustees spoke out publicly on the matter. The dearth of black head coaches is a topic that needs to be discussed, and on a larger stage than following a meeting of the Illinois’ board of trustees. Good for anyone who does shine some light on the topic, in fact.
The issue is that Illinois did a better job of interviewing and approaching black coaching candidates than most, if not better than all Big Ten coaching searches over the last decade. In its search, Illinois interviewed and seriously considered two black coaches: Houston’s Kevin Sumlin and Pittsburgh Steelers’ assistant Kirby Wilson.
While neither party confirmed reports, Sumlin was rumored to have been offered a contract worth $3 million annually from Illinois before taking the job at Texas A&M. And Wilson, who graduated from Illinois, was also a legitimate contender to be Zook’s successor.
I agree with Montgomery and Oliver’s contention that it’s time for Illinois to hire a black coach — not just in football, but in any sport — but disagree with their statement that the university didn’t “work hard enough” to do so in December. Illinois reached out to two black coaches, both from outside the university. How many black coaches did Indiana interview before hiring Kevin Wilson a year ago?
If nowhere else, here’s where their case has holes: Sumlin, not Beckman, would be Illinois’ coach if he so chose. He didn’t, opting for A&M, but you can’t blame Illinois for aiming and missing. That the university aimed at all was a positive sign. In fact, it stands to reason that there would be far more black head coaches in the F.B.S. if every search involved as many black candidates as Illinois considered in December.
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Tags: Illinois, Kevin Sumlin, Kirby Wilson, Ron Zook, Tim Beckman
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