Michigan’s promotion of Sherrone Moore doesn’t fix the reality of college football — Andscape
Michigan head coach Sherrone Moore was faced with a crisis of double consciousness ahead of the College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama. Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Milroe told the media that his offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien, told him that he “shouldn’t play quarterback,” and a reporter asked Moore how he “dealt with stereotypes of Black people in football and the limitations that are forced upon them.” Moore’s answer, like the number of Black head coaches in college and the pros, was tenuous:
“Yeah, really I don’t see color. My wife is Caucasian. My kids are mixed. I deal with Black, white,” Moore said. “I know it’s out there. I know it’s a stereotype. Coach [Jim] Harbaugh is a great example. His last offensive coordinators have all been African American, and that’s not something that’s big in this sport. For me, it’s not about color, it’s not about that, and we’re just trying to find the best players that play and know that that’s out there but not really worried about that.”
Of course Moore sees color – the second part of his answer is evidence of that. Sandwiched in his “colorblind” commentary is a bit about Harbaugh’s progressive hiring practices and how such diversity is lacking in college football. Even as Harbaugh left for the Los Angeles Chargers and Moore was promoted as Michigan’s head football coach, the individual success Moore experienced paled compared to the realities of college football.
Nearly two weeks before Moore’s promotion on Jan. 26, five iconic Michigan men’s basketball players met on campus for the first time in nearly 30 years on Jan. 15. The Fab Five rallied around their ailing brother, Michigan’s head basketball coach Juwan Howard. A hoodie worn by perhaps their most vocal and media-savvy member, Jalen Rose, had a message that captured the essence and defiance of the group: Black as Hail.
The University of Michigan looks like a bastion of progress. Its two highest revenue-generating athletic programs are led by Black men, and the athletic department itself is led by a Black man, Warde Manuel. This is consistent with Michigan’s liberal-minded history, as Samuel Codes Watson was the first student admitted to the university in 1853, more than a century before a number of colleges in the South integrated their campuses. It’s also worth mentioning that Watson, a native South Carolinian, passed for white. And yet, for close to 20 years, state legislation has disallowed the university from considering race- and gender-based policies in admissions and hiring.
In the unpredictability and celebrity of high-stakes college sports, we forget that athletics falls under the umbrella of higher education. The reasoning and culture behind the lack of Black college coaches is similar to the reasoning and culture behind disappearing diversity offices and initiatives across the country. What adds insult to injury is that those institutions continue to mine Black labor and talent as players while giving the lion’s share of taxpayer dollars to predominantly white coaches, who are often their state’s highest-paid employees. The message is clear: We value your bodies, but not your minds.
The resignation of Harvard University president Claudine Gay is perhaps the most recognizable dispute in diversity, equity and inclusion in recent memory, but that reminds me of the first Black student to earn a doctorate from Harvard, W.E.B. Du Bois, who introduced the term “double consciousness.” In his words, from The Souls of Black Folk:
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
Of course this is the plight of the Black college football coach – the Black professional. Back in August 2023, The Associated Press ran a piece about the lack of Black offensive coordinators in the sport, let alone head football coaches. Many Black coordinators are never promoted to head coach, which affects their finances and families. Some who aspire to become head coach at a major Division I program must take a step back to coordinator so they can advance.
In the last few weeks alone, coach Maurice Linguist left the University of Buffalo to become co-defensive coordinator and defensive back coach at Alabama and Willie Simmons left FCS school Florida A&M to become running backs coach at Duke. Both men have paid their dues. Simmons led the Rattlers from the embarrassment of an academic ineligibility saga to a Black college football national championship. Coincidentally, Linguist was on Harbaugh’s coaching roster in 2021, one of many stops during a career that has gone between the college ranks and the NFL.
Moore, the Michigan man. James Franklin of Penn State. Stan Drayton of Temple. Fran Brown of Syracuse. Lance Taylor of Western Michigan. Tony Elliott of Virginia. Deion Sanders of Colorado. Mike Locksley of Maryland. Derek Mason of Middle Tennessee. Marcus Freeman of Notre Dame. Kenni Burns of Kent State. Thomas Hammock of Northern Illinois. Jay Norvell of Colorado State. Charles Huff of Marshall. Ryan Walters of Purdue. Out of 133 FBS coaching jobs, Black men hold 15 of them. That’s it. That’s the list.
Harbaugh, no stranger to controversy in his own right, should be commended for his courage to speak up on race and his willingness to continue Black coaching hires. The NCAA and FBS athletic directors should have to answer for the lack of coaching diversity in their ranks. Too often, those questions are left to men such as Moore and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles, and while I don’t agree with their answers, I understand they are led by a double consciousness.
“I think the minute you guys stop making a big deal about [race], everybody else will as well,” Bowles said in October 2022 ahead of a coaching matchup with Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
He also mentioned then-Carolina Panthers coach Steve Wilks, one of just four Black NFL head coaches at the time. “Wilks got an opportunity to do a good job, hopefully he does it. We coach ball. We don’t look at color,” Bowles said. Wilks, who was fired after one year as the Panthers coach, is the defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl-bound San Francisco 49ers.
Race-neutral commentary is good for self-preservation and not much else. It isn’t helping Black coaches break through the glass ceiling, nor is it protecting quarterbacks like Milroe from racist perspectives on what a signal-caller should look like.
Without struggle, there is no progress, whether it’s the matter of getting a first down or being the first Black person to accomplish something. We just can’t afford to trivialize the ugly side of “first Black” achievements in 2024 – namely, the pervasive whiteness choking out diversity.