Is it time to talk about the shortage of black head coaches in Division III football?

by John Davis, Special contribution to I-64 Sports

The NCAA D3 coaching carousel came to an unceremonious end on March 30, 2020 when Cleive Adams was named the Head Football Coach at his alma mater Ferrum College. His offensive coordinator at Averett, Patrick Henry was elevated to that top position and while the 2020 D3 hiring cycle typically doesn’t garner much fanfare, it has taken a backseat to the uncertainty surrounding football due to COVID-19.

Prior to the announcement of Coach Adams to Ferrum, there was a question from a young coach in Virginia asking how many D3 Head Football Coaches were black. More specifically, if a black coach had ever headed up an Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) program. A direct message to ODAC expert Keith McMillan of D3football.com, provided education on the long tenure of HC’s in the ODAC, but he was also stumped. Research led to several resources aimed at FBS minority hire tracking, but very little data at this level.

Much has been made of the ratio of black head coaches in FBS football in the past decade. The latest listing from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES), which serves as a credible resource on issues related to gender and race in amateur, collegiate and professional sports keeps a track of black head coaching hires in FBS. At the conclusion of the most recent hiring cycle, 14 black head coaches will lead programs in 2020 roughly 10% of the 130 FBS institutions.

Research was done on all 247 NCAA D3 football programs totaling the following: Black Head Coaches, offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators and a ratio of black coaches per staff.

(To calculate the ratio of black coaches per staff counted was any black coach that was not listed as a volunteer or student assistant. At the D3 level, it is not uncommon for the head coach to double as a coordinator. For the purpose of this study no coach was counted twice)

After a thorough review of the 247 NCAA D3 institutions that sponsor football, the numbers are staggeringly low especially with regards to the prime coordinator positions. At the NCAA D3 level there currently are 16 African American head coaches or 6.5%. The North region currently has zero Black Head Coaches, while the East and West each have five and the South has six currently. Listed here with their current tenure.

SchoolSTConfRegHead CoachYear
AlverniaPAMACEastRalph Clark3
BatesMENESCACEastMalik Hall2
Coast GuardCTNEWMACEastCC Grant1
SalisburyMDNJACEastSherman Wood21
William PatersonNJNJACEastDustin Johnson3
FerrumVAODACSouthCleive Adams1
GettysburgPACCSouthMaurice Banks1
JuniataPACCSouthJosh Carter1
LaGrangeGAUSACSouthEarl Chambers3
McDanielMDCCSouthDeMarcus White2
MillsapsMSSAASouthIsaac Carter1
ChapmanCASCIACWestBob Owens14
HamlineMNMIACWestChip Taylor4
Iowa WesleyanIAUMACWestMD Daniels1
LawrenceWIMWCWestTony Aker1
SimpsonIAARCWestMatt Jeter5

With six of these coaches looking to start their journey as first time D3 Head Coaches, this year could prove pivotal in turning the tide of success for black coaches at this level. Each first year coach with the exception of Grant (Coast Guard) and Carter (Millsaps) who take over for programs who finished .500 look to have their hands full with rebuilds as the combined record for Gettysburg, Juniata, Iowa Wesleyan and Lawrence was 4-35 in 2019.

Ralph Clark who is going into year three after being tabbed to start the Alvernia football program from scratch is hopeful after this year’s hiring boom with seven black coaches getting head jobs during this cycle.

“There is a high priority on black FBS hires at the national level,” Clark replied when presented with the research. “Young men need strong mentors on every level and getting an opportunity to lead on this level takes preparation.” Clark spent 21 years as an assistant with a career that spanned high school, D3, DII and FCS. Clark’s advice to young black coaches looking to be a head coach in D3. “Don’t get caught up in the chase to the next position and forget to hone in and master the skills of each position you have,” he stated. “Remember your job as an assistant coach is to advance the mission of the head coach and the institution your personal agenda should always come second.”

Only 15 D3 schools are slated to have a black offensive coordinator (6.0%) going into 2020. The rate on defense is slightly higher as 35 D3 institutions will have a black coach as the defensive coordinator (14%). This drastically reduces the number of “qualified” black coaches as many D3 head coach jobs set some form of coordinating experience as a prerequisite. Currently the ten member American Southwest Conference (ASC) and the eight member Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) don’t have a single black head coach or coordinator.

The ratio of black coaches per staff shows that there is a wide gap in programs who value diversity. Across D3 currently there are 334 Black coaches publicized that equates to ratio of 1.35/per staff. Breaking the numbers down further 58 D3 schools don’t have a black coach currently listed on staff.

Currently only two programs have black coaches at both offensive and defensive coordinator, LaGrange and Defiance. Programs who come in with the highest ratio of black coaches (not led by a black coach) are:

Pacific Lutheran (NWC) Belhaven (ASC)

Mount Union (OAC) Defiance (HCAC) Bridgewater (ODAC) Bluffton (HCAC) Utica (E8)

Kean (NJAC) Buffalo State (LL) St. Olaf (MIAC) Macalester (MWC)

Dustin Johnson was named the head football coach at William Paterson in 2018 after spending five seasons as the defensive coordinator at Stevenson University. Johnson also worked for the ultra-successful Sherman Wood at his alma mater Salisbury University where he was a four-year starter at quarterback.

“The numbers are mindboggling and the number of opportunities are not as prevalent as I initially thought,” expressed Johnson after reviewing the numbers. “Playing at Salisbury Coach Wood was the first black coach I had ever met in a prominent role.” His advice for young coaches is “Coach multiple positions and don’t turn down potential opportunities because you want to stick with one position or side of the football.”

Stevenson head football coach Ed Hottle, who hired and later promoted Johnson to his first coordinator job, added his thoughts.

“I absolutely believe in cultivating a culture to develop head coaches and in particular minority head coaches,” Hottle responded when asked about his role in developing coaches. “Football programs throughout the country are often the most diverse student groups on a college campus, and are applauded for this” stated Hottle. “It is imperative that we work as diligently as possible

to balance our staffs similarly, and provide opportunities for young minority coaches to grow into leadership roles in our programs.”

The NCAA has diversity records for D3 dating back to 2012. According to their statistics, the 13 black head coaches, 37 defensive coordinators and 14 offensive coordinators who manned posts in 2019 represented great progress. The number of black student athletes competing in D3 football has been on a steady increase and now represents 21% of rosters at that level.  

So… has the ODAC ever had a black coach? The ODAC was founded in 1975 with eight member institutions, five schools sponsoring football. It has seen schools like Maryville and Catholic become short term members and allowed Southern Virginia and to be an associate member. So finding the correct answer on if the ODAC has had a black head coach proved futile. Michael Clark who has roamed the sidelines as the head coach of Bridgewater College since 1995 (25 seasons), could only confirm that with the hiring of Cleive Adams to Ferrum College it would be the first time in his tenure a black coach led an ODAC program.

2019 served as a banner year for black coaches when Demarcus White was named the head football coach at McDaniel and the first black head coach in the Centennial Conference. Which has now hired two more black head coaches. The 2020 cycle proved to be progressive as the NEWMAC, MWC, and the SAA will usher in new regimes led by black coaches.

Now… Is 16 the most black head coaches in NCAA D3 in one year?

Editors note: John Davis is currently the head football coach at The Apprentice School in Newport News, VA. Coach Davis can be reached at John.H.Davis@hii-nns.com.

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