Josh Kendall

'It's not about skin color.' USC stands alone in coaching diversity among Power 5

Bryan McClendon and Travaris Robinson are South Carolina's coordinators
Bryan McClendon and Travaris Robinson are South Carolina's coordinators

In 2006, the NCAA created the Minority Coaches Forum.

In 2016, South Carolina offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon attended the annual event, which was designed to increase opportunities for minorities at the highest levels of college football coaching and had changed its name to the Champions Forum.

In 2018, there is one Power 5 football school that has an African-American coordinating both its offense and its defense, and that’s the Gamecocks.

“I had no idea, but it’s not about skin color,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s about what kind of football coach they are. It’s about what kind of person they are, what kind of father, what kind of husband. Those two guys are outstanding people and have an outstanding future. I’m glad they are Gamecocks.”

Those two guys are defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson, who has been in that position since Muschamp was hired before the 2016 season, and Bryan McClendon, who was promoted to offensive coordinator in the offseason.

“It tells a lot about coach Muschamp, that he truly looks beyond all other things to find the best person for the job,” McClendon said. “The biggest thing is, it shows you’ve got a guy that regardless of whatever he’s looking for the best person for the job, not worried about much of anything else other than, ‘Can this guy do his job?’ Not many people can say that. I think it says a lot about him.”

It also says a lot about college football that one team among the 65 that make up the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 has minorities in both of its most high-profile assistant coaching positions despite the lip service the sport has paid to diversity for years.

“Increasing diversity in our coaching ranks ought to be continual conversation. That number suggests we’re not at a destination,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. “We've made it clear from a conference perspective that diversity among our leadership is important.”

However, Muschamp said he’s never heard from a conference or NCAA official about considering diversity during his hiring process, and there are no current initiatives in the SEC aimed at increasing diversity in college football coaching. There are six African-American coordinators among the SEC’s 14 schools and one African-American head coach, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason.

"I give a lot of credit to South Carolina, but then on the other hand I guess the rest of us need to get busy," said Vanderbilt athletics director David Williams, one of two African-American athletics directors in the SEC. "The fact that it’s the only one does surprise me. That still says, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a lot of work to do.’ You have to give them credit. For that, I’m grateful, I’m happy, I say, ‘Hooray.’ But then you stop and say, ‘The only one?’ "

The Minority Coaches Forum/Champions Forum was supposed to address that issue, “but it hasn’t,” McClendon said.

“That’s kind of where it is. Right, wrong or indifferent,” McClendon said. “The only way to change it is to keep bringing it up. Don’t ever let it go by the wayside, but it’s going to take a lot of people, just like coach Muschamp to be honest with you, that just go strictly by merit and what they think is best and not worry about anything else.”

While the SEC’s six total African-American coordinators seems like a low number, it’s higher than the ACC (four), Big Ten (four), Pac-12 (three) and Big 12 (two).

“We believe in diversity and inclusion at the University of South Carolina in a strong way across campus,” South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner said. “We haven’t sat down and made decisions based on diversity and inclusion, but those positions were filled appropriately.”

Tanner also was unaware of the Gamecocks' unique position until this week.

“I think it’s great that that’s where we are,” he said. “That’s great to know.”

It’s also good for the Gamecocks on the recruiting trail, Bryan Lamar said. Lamar is the African-American head coach at Tucker High School, one of the largest talent pipelines in the Southeast.

“The reality is he’s got two young, African-American coordinators, and I think that is a draw for kids,” Lamar said. “Whether it’s good or bad, kids try to find a connection, and I think they can connect and relate to those two coaches.”

Muschamp does not use the fact as part of his recruiting pitch, he said, but McClendon understands it does help in a sport where more than half of the players in the Football Bowl Subdivision are African-American, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

“Sure, no question,” McClendon said. Muschamp “is not worried about anything other than being as good as we can possibly be. I think that attracts people.”

Tucker wide receiver Josh Vann, who is African-American and signed with the Gamecocks in February, said the issue wasn’t a big deal for him, but it often does speak to parents, Lamar said.

“Every parent is different, but everybody wants to put their kids in the hands of someone they can trust, and for some African-American families … Every town is different and some areas you might not have great race relations and having an African-American coach come in and (the parents) say, ‘This is the guy that’s going to be making some major decisions in my kid’s life.’ You have higher-ups there that you know they can relate to,” Lamar said.

There are seven African-American head coaches in the Power 5, and increasing that number likely relies on increasing the number of African-American coordinators first, since most first-time head coaches are hired from coordinator positions.

Seeing South Carolina’s situation “does give you a sense of pride for the opportunities,” Lamar said.

“The reality is you don’t have a lot of minority coordinators and head coaches in college football, especially when you’re talking about Power 5. There are plenty of guys that are capable, a lot of times it’s about giving them the opportunity to be able to do it,” Lamar said. “I don’t think coach Muschamp has hired those guys just because they are black. I think they are really good coaches. I think they coach with energy; they coach with passion; they recruit hard.”

They also understand that there are more eyes on them than there would be if they were not minorities, McClendon said.

“We’re in special positions, and we need to make sure we do a great job of representing everything that comes along with that,” he said.

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