Of the dozen years Fitz Hill spent with the Razorback football staff, 1993 to 1997 were most grueling for him because Danny Ford was head coach. In these years, which former assistant coach Hill describes as a "living hell," Ford regularly referred to black men as "boys" and didn't understand why they would be offended, said Hill. The racially insensitive comments didn't end there. Once, during discussion of a school health care plan, Hill told the staff he had three dependents: himself, his wife and a daughter. "Yeah, he's like all the black guys," Ford chimed in. "He's got babies all over the place." Although disturbed, Hill chuckled. "That's what you do when you're scared to speak up. I wanted to keep my job. I knew I was expendable."
"I truly believe in his mind, he didn't mean any harm," Hill wrote in an e-mail. "But unfortunately at that time, he didn't know any better." Hill later told Ford the comments hurt. Ford apologized, and stopped saying such things. Hill forgave, and moved on, eventually landing in his current job as president of Little Rock's Arkansas Baptist College. But the experience further strengthened his resolve to study the dynamics between minority coaches and college football. While serving as head coach at San Jose State from 2001 to 2004, he interviewed hundreds of black and white coaches around the nation to complete a doctorate dissertation on the scarcity of legitimate head coaching opportunities for minorities. The culmination of his research is "Crackback! How College Football Blindsides the Hopes of Black Coaches," a new book Hill co-authored with San Jose Mercury News sports columnist Mark Purdy, which Tate Publishing will distribute nationally on April 24.
When the 2012 season begins, 15 of 120 major college programs (Football Bowl Subdivision) will employ black head coaches, according to Hill. That's two fewer than last year. Whatever progress has been made along these lines in the last couple decades hasn't been enough, Hill and Purdy contend.
There are a number of reasons for the enduring disparity between the number of black coaches and black players, who constitute roughly half of Division I. At the heart of the issue is severe disagreement between races regarding whether minorities are treated fairly in the coaching ranks or not, Hill discovered in the course of polling more than 500 white and black college football coaches who worked from 1988 to 2001, and after speaking with many other coaches at various clinics and conventions. "I found out white coaches and black coaches are in two different worlds," Hill said. On one hand, 90 percent of the 175 black coaches who responded to one of his surveys said they felt "a diversity plan to increase the number of black coaches is necessary." On the other hand, many white coaches told Hill that blacks are getting far more breaks and have a much easier time getting good jobs, despite statistics to the contrary. There are about 1,200 coaching jobs at elite FBS schools and many white administrators and coaches believe equality for black coaches means less equality for white coaches, Hill said. "Thousands and thousands of men want those jobs," Hill and Purdy write. "Backbiting and politics are inevitable. Toss in the racial component, and you are brewing a dangerous stew."
Hill believes progress will be made only if whites and blacks listen to each other. He is eager to listen to white coaches' concerns, and believes dialogue on a wider scale will stop pigeonholing for both black and white coaches. Many black coaches Hill surveyed believed their success with white employers was based more on their perceived ability to recruit black players from inner-city neighborhoods than the ability to "coach." Hill said his research also indicated black assistant coaches weren't getting as many jobs as offensive or defensive coordinators, or even offensive line coaches — strategy-intensive positions that demand critical thinking and often serve as launching pads to head coaching positions.
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