Charles Barkley has made his feelings known about his alma mater hiring Gene Chizek, and Sir Charles is none too pleased. I can’t say I fault him one bit for his displeasure, but more on that in a second.
First, the comments of Charles Barkley, as reported by ESPN.com:
“I think race was the No. 1 factor. You can say it’s not about race, but you can’t compare the two resumes and say [Chizik] deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst resume.”
A quick note of background: Gene Chizek, Buffalo coach Turner Gill (who is black), and Ball State coach Brady Hoke all were reported to have interviewed for the opening at Auburn. Gene Chizek was the defensive coordinator at Auburn back in 2004 when the Tigers finished 13-0 and were ranked second in the nation. In two seasons as the head coach at Iowa State, Chizek compiled a 5-19 record, which included an 0-8 conference record this season.
Turner Gill, the former Nebraska quarterback, led the Buffalo Bulls to an 8-5 record this season that included an upset of previously unbeaten Ball State in the MAC title game. Gill’s opponent in that game was Brady Hoke, who has reportedly agreed to become the new head coach at San Diego State.
According to the ESPN report, Charles Barkley said that he spoke with Turner Gill before Gill’s interview with Auburn.
“We talked about the whole race thing in Alabama,” Barkley said. “I told him it’s there and it’s going to be anywhere you go. I told him you can’t not take the job because of racism. He was worried about being nothing more than a token interview. He was concerned about having a white wife. It’s just very disappointing to me.”
Barkley also said, “I’m just very disappointed. I just thought Turner Gill would be the perfect choice for two reasons: He’s a terrific coach and we needed to make a splash. I thought we had to do something spectacular to bring attention to the program. Clearly, if we’d hired a black coach, it would have created a buzz.”
Charles Barkley also discussed other questionable hiring by Auburn University in the past, including the hiring of Jeff Lebo to be the men’s basketball coach five seasons ago. Mike Davis, Jeff Capel, and Mike Anderson (all three of whom are black) were all among those considered for the job. Jeff Lebo, who is white, was the person chosen for the job, much to Barkley’s dismay.
“Out of all the basketball coaches they interviewed, they picked the only one who hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament,” Barkley said.
Charles Barkley is not alone in his disgust at the hiring of Gene Chizek by Auburn, and a lot of people are upset not just because of race, but because they simply feel that Gene Chizek was not the best candidate for the job. The following video has been making the rounds of sports blogosphere today, so I figured we might as jump on the bandwagon and show it too. It’s an Auburn giving Gene Chizek a not-so-warm welcome to town.
(If you using IE and just see a white space, here is the link.)
Now for a little commentary. I’ve seen a lot of people jumping on Charles Barkley for “playing the race card again,” but I personally feel like he has got a pretty good point on this one.
I think this whole story is disgusting for a reasons. First off, I am sure that Gene Chizek’s Auburn ties weighed heavily in their decision to hire him, but how can he be seen as an improvement over Tommy Tuberville? Tuberville had compiled a 6-1 record over Alabama in the last 7 seasons, and presided over that undefeated, second-ranked team in 2004, when Chizek was his assistant. Somehow, during the time in which Chizek compiled a 5-19 record in the Big 12 North (the weaker of the two Big 12 conferences) he became a better candidate for the job than Tommy Tuberville? Please. Auburn must think its fans and fans of college football are idiots to try to pass off that hire as a good decision. Sure, Auburn struggled a bit the past two seasons, but how can you justify firing Tommy Tuberville to bring in someone who is so clearly less qualified for the job?
The most disgusting aspect of the story, however, is a microcosm of the most disgusting (can you tell I think it’s disgusting?) and ugly truth about college football: despite the overwhelming majority of college football players being African-American, there are only four…FOUR…African-American head coaches in Division 1 (Football Bowl Subdivision) college football: recently hired New Mexico coach Mike Locksley, Turner Gill at Buffalo, Randy Shannon at the U, and Kevin Sumlin at Houston. Ron Prince and Ty Willingham were fired recently, while Sylvester Croom resigned at Mississippi State.
College football, and the good old boy network that runs it, has to be the most hypocritical bunch back slapping schmucks running any of the major sports in America. They rail against a playoff system by hiding behind a viel of “academic integrity”, yet they will pimp out the players for every last dollar they can make. African-American student athletes provide the backbone upon which the Great College Football Cash Cow is built, yet when it comes time to select qualified African-Americans to lead the programs, choices are made like a coach with a 5-19 record.
Now look, I am not saying that Auburn specifically made this choice because of race. I respect the opinion of Charles Barkley, but I don’t think you can look at each coach hiring individually and make a definitive judgment from a vantage point like I have, which is waaay on the periphery. However, taken in totality, the hiring record of college football is atrocious. Look at Notre Dame. They fired Ty Willingham after four seasons to bring in Charlie Weis and gave him a ridiculously big contract. After four seasons, with a worse record than Willingham, Weis is kept on as coach. Again, I’m not saying that this specific case is absolutely racism, but there a symptoms present that are indicative of a systemic disease that plagues college football.
I do not know the people who made the decision to hire Gene Chizek; and who knows, maybe he will be a great coach. But Charles Barkley is right when he says that Auburn had an opportunity to really make a difference by hiring a black coach to a school, and to a region, where such a choice would have been something of a surprise. Because therein lies the rub. Gene Chizek’s hiring was surprising because of his utter failure at Iowa State. Unfortunately, the bigger surprise would have been Auburn stepping up to the plate and giving an African-America coach like Turner Gill a chance at one of the top 20 or so college football coaching jobs in America.
It is not really fair to single out Auburn, because they are just doing what so many other college football programs have done before: passing over the opportunity to make a difference to make the same old tired choice of another white retread to be head coach. One of these days, perhaps we will get to a point where the choice of a guy like Gene Chizek is the surprise. The saddest part about this whole story is that Auburn’s choice was to be expected.
Change and equality of opportunity in college football will only come about when schools like Auburn are willing to step out of their caucasian-hued comfort zone and make the hiring of the Turner Gills of the coaching world the norm, as opposed to the extremely rare exception. Kudos to New Mexico for hiring Mike Locksley, and kudos in retrospect to Mississippi State for hiring Sylvester Croom. Croom may not have succeeded in the long term, but at least Mississippi State proved that they were willing to be a part of the solution.
As opposed to Auburn, who merely proved that they are comfortable continuing to be a part of the problem.
(Update: Thanks for the tip JT. Deadspin just posted a piece about this story with a lot more detail, including a hypothesis apparently put forth by other SEC coaches that Turner Gill would never have a chance at the job not only because he is black, but because his wife is white. Additionally, the Iowa State players are apparently pretty peeved at Gene Chizek as well. Check out the story at Deadspin.)