NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Avery Johnson isn’t counting on anything at this point. Roaring back from 16 down to beat Mississippi certainly helps the Crimson Tide’s NCAA tournament cause, but the victory probably assures nothing. Beating Kentucky on Friday would be the one that cinches the deal.
“Proud of our guys,” Johnson said here Thursday night. “But there are no parades.”
If Johnson and Alabama don’t make the field of 68, the parade into the Big Dance from the nation’s top conferences could be really pale.
In terms of coaching diversity, here’s where we stand: There are roughly 35 bids expected to be doled out to the Power Six conferences Sunday, and at present only one of the Power Six teams assured of getting in is coached by an African-American. Florida State, led by Leonard Hamilton, is it.
“I’m shocked at that stat,” said Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock.
If Hamilton is the lone diversity rep from the power elite, the NCAA tourney might as well be lacrosse.
Johnson and Alabama are on the bubble. Kevin Keatts and North Carolina State are on the bubble. Latino Frank Martin of South Carolina may need to win the Southeastern Conference tourney to make the NCAAs.
The rest of the minority coaches from the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences are out of NCAA tourney contention: Patrick Ewing and Georgetown; Shaka Smart and Texas; Danny Manning and Wake Forest; Jeff Capel and Pittsburgh; Mike Boynton and Oklahoma State; Mike Anderson and Arkansas; Cuonzo Martin and Missouri; LaVall Jordan and Butler; Ed Cooley and Providence; Dave Leitao and DePaul; Ernie Kent and Washington State; Wyking Jones and California.
Yes, just 16 out of 75 jobs at the top of the sport belong to minority coaches, in a game dominated by minority players. And that representation number might be further decreasing. Kent was fired Thursday. Manning, Leitao, Anderson, Jones — and, yes, Johnson — also could be considered on the hot seat.
“Lack of diverse coaches and ADs continues to be an issue at the highest levels where the money is much more lucrative,” said former Northeastern athletic director and Harvard basketball coach Peter Roby. “It’s the presidents and chancellors who are accountable for that. As for representation in this year’s tournament, I think it’s an anomaly and not a trend. Need to follow it over a few years to see if trend continues.”
Roby may be right, but this could be a dramatic drop-off. Last year there were eight minority coaches from the Power Six in the tournament. The previous year there were five. In 2015 and ’16 there were four; in 2013 and ’14 there were three; in 2011 and ’12 there were five; in 2009 and ’10 there were eight.
That’s an average of 5.2 minority coaches from Power Six leagues in the Big Dance over the past decade. This year it seems likely to be just a couple, and for the moment potentially just one.
From outside the Power Six, just five minority coaches are assured of NCAA bids: Native American Kelvin Sampson and Houston; Johnny Dawkins and Central Florida; Ritchie McKay and Liberty; and the coaches of the winners of the Southwestern Athletic and Mid-Eastern Athletic conferences — the leagues comprised of historically black colleges and universities.
That’s bad optics for the sport’s showcase event.
“We need African-American guys to get interviewed, and get jobs and have time to turn around a program,” Johnson said Thursday night. “The more guys get a chance to interview, the more opportunities they’re going to get. And maybe then there will be better representation.
“Some of us just need a little bit more time. This is my fourth year coaching college basketball. I haven’t been coaching 24 years at this level.”
There have been advances made in terms of minority representation in college coaching, but it’s fair to ask where the next great black coaches are going to come from — the next John Thompson, Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith, John Chaney. The last black coach to make the Final Four was Kevin Ollie in 2014. (The last minority to make it was Martin in 2017.)
So you wonder whether some of the top rising talent is tracking more toward the NBA ranks.
“As an African-American coach, I think that there a lot of really good coaches out there that deserve an opportunity,” Keatts said. “I hope my success at Wilmington and here at NC State will be able to help someone else get an opportunity.”
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