The number of African American head coaches in major college football is at its lowest total in 15 years, according to a study released Thursday -- a finding the NCAA's top diversity official described as "appalling."
With the firings in recent weeks of Washington's Tyrone Willingham and Kansas State's Ron Prince, just four black head coaches remain: Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom, Buffalo's Turner Gill, Miami's Randy Shannon and Houston's Kevin Sumlin.
It is the smallest number since 1993, when three African Americans held top coaching posts in what is now called the Football Bowl Subdivision.
"It stands in such contrast to the optimism a few days ago when America elected its first African American president," said Richard Lapchick, co-author of the study, which was released by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida. "Not to compare the two [situations], but to slide back to such a low number at this time has to be bad news for college sports."
The researchers polled all 119 universities in the bowl subdivision, asking the ethnicity of coaches, athletic directors, presidents, faculty, players and NCAA faculty representatives. According to the report, 56% of college athletes are minorities while 91% of athletic directors and presidents are white. Minority representation in all categories increased last year by less than 1%.
"I found it appalling. It's extremely disturbing in light of the fact there are a wealth of African American coordinators and a vast majority of football players are African American," said Charlotte Westerhaus, the NCAA's vice president for diversity and inclusion.
The study found that 12.2% of the 255 offensive and defensive coordinators are African American. USC running backs coach Todd McNair and linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. are black. So are UCLA defensive line coach Todd Howard and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker.
Walker was an associate head coach at USC and has held assistant spots with such NFL teams as the Washington Redskins, New York Giants and New England Patriots. The last few years his name has popped up in relation to several openings, including the job at UCLA that ultimately went to Rick Neuheisel.
Before practice Thursday, Walker said minority coaches aren't asking anyone to give them jobs, just a chance to interview.
"It's really about the opportunities," he said. "When you look at the opportunities we get, it's not even close. You never know what a guy can do unless you give him a chance."
Walker favors establishing a rule in college football similar to the NFL's Rooney rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for each job opening. The rule is credited with opening the door for Mike Tomlin, an African American who was unexpectedly hired to coach the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007.
Lapchick has proposed the NCAA adopt such a policy, but Westerhaus rejected the idea, saying 90% of college football programs have interviewed minorities for coaching openings in recent years.
USC Coach Pete Carroll said it's up to him and others in similar positions to help develop talent.
"There shouldn't be any reason why it doesn't happen but it still does have to be helped along, to be nurtured, so I'm going to do everything I can," Carroll said.
Last season, of the 22 schools that hired a head coach, only Navy and Houston selected a minority (Navy's Ken Niumatalolo is Samoan). Since 1996, the study said 12 African Americans have been hired for 199 head coaching jobs. Black representation was highest in 1997, with eight head coaches on the job, according to the study.
Harry Edwards, professor emeritus of sociology at UC Berkeley, finds it unlikely that current numbers will substantially increase.
"When you look at the amount of actual oversight power that the NCAA has, you find there is a tremendous amount of latitude for autonomy," Edwards said. "When you don't have an institutionalized process that guarantees a broad pool of candidates, it's left to an individual case-by-case initiative."
Despite the NCAA's objections to mandating hiring rules, Lapchick and Westerhaus agree the results have to change.
"It underlies the facts that we don't have the tools to get the job done and increase opportunities for African Americans," Lapchick said.
"We should be doing a better job, period," Westerhaus said.
Times staff writers David Wharton and Gary Klein contributed to this report.