Mentorship program could help minority coaches

The National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches is announcing its inaugural group of 12 assistant coaches for its first Coalition Academy, which has been assembled to help aid them in acquiring head coaching jobs.

The group, founded by Maryland coach Mike Locksley in August 2020, is launching its first year-long mentorship program in the hopes that a combination of mentorship, networking, leadership training and advocacy helps “advance the next generation of minority head coaches.”

The Coalition Academy is matching some of the country’s most promising minority coaching candidates with boldfaced-name athletic directors like Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick, Alabama’s Greg Byrne and Vanderbilt’s Candice Lee with the hope that the one-on-one mentorship better prepares the coaches for the next hiring cycle and beyond.

Entering 2021, just 20 of the 130 head coaches in college football are minorities. (If Kansas interim coach Emmett Jones is kept full-time for 2021, that number grows to 21.) In the last college football hiring cycle, just two of the 15 full-time jobs went to minority coaches.

The goal of the Coalition Academy is to match coaches with high-profile athletic directors to help the coaches with what National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches executive director Raj Kudchadkar calls “soft skills.” The athletic directors aren’t going to focus on X's and O's, but rather skills like interview preparation, networking and how to engage the media. The goal of the Coalition Academy is for the coaches to expand their reach, connections and visibility in their quest to become head coaches.

Maryland Terrapins head coach Michael Locksley founded the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches in August of 2020. (AP)
Maryland Terrapins head coach Michael Locksley founded the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches in August 2020. (AP)

Kudchadkar calls this initial effort a “pilot program,” with the hopes to build it out and connect more coaches and athletic directors as the years pass. The concept of the Coalition Academy was hatched by Locksley and UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois.

“We want to include as many coaches as we can,” Kudchadkar told Yahoo Sports. “If we can scale up, we want to scale up as much as we can without compromising the integrity of the program. If that means next year we can do 40 members, then we’ll do that.”

Part of Locksley’s theory on founding the NCMFC is that coaches aren’t selected anymore, they’re elected. The idea of the Coalition Academy is to enhance the skill set and network of qualified minority coaches in order to promote the coaches in a manner that “makes these coaches a part of the conversation.”

The group is stressing connection, mentorship, leadership training and interview preparation as keys to equipping the coaches to help them get jobs. They’ll also use metrics to analyze the hiring landscape to further aid the coaches.

“What people need to understand is that we still want the best candidates selected regardless of color, race and gender,” Kudchadkar said. “We’re hoping to diversify the applicant pool.”

The initial coaching class includes a mix of head coaches, coordinators and former head coaches that Kudchadkar says “covers the spectrum” of age and experience.

They include current coordinators Tony Elliott of Clemson, Marcus Freeman of Notre Dame, Josh Gattis of Michigan and Ryan Walters of Illinois. There are also former head coaches who are back as college assistants — former North Carolina Central coach Jerry Mack (Tennessee RB coach) and former James Madison and Texas State coach Everett Withers (FIU DC).

There are a pair of current FBS coaches — Nevada’s Jay Norvell and UNLV’s Marcus Arroyo — and an FCS head coach in Willie Simmons of Florida A&M. There are two NFL assistant coaches: Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, who was the offensive coordinator at the University of Florida prior to departing to the NFL, and Houston Texas quarterback coach Pep Hamilton. (Hamilton brings offensive coordinator experience from Stanford and the Indianapolis Colts). And there’s a college position coach — Miami defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson.

Each coach will be paired with an athletic director to mentor them. That group includes Swarbrick, Byrne, Lee, Reed-Francois, retiring Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, Virginia Tech’s Whit Babcock, Washington’s Jennifer Cohen, Washington State’s Pat Chun, TCU’s Jeremiah Donati, Stanford’s Bernard Muir, Clemson’s Dan Radakovich, retiring Duke AD Kevin White and former NC State AD Debbie Yow.

“I think these athletic directors can push the coaches in ways that other people couldn’t,” Kudchadkar said. “Mentors are very undervalued in terms of grooming coaches and getting them hired. I think networking is key. There hasn’t been much emphasis on mentorship from an organized perspective. That’s why there’s a heavy emphasis on mentorship here.”

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