Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When Keepin' It "Swirl" Goes Wrong.

I don't really care one way or the other about interracial dating. I happen to prefer black women, but to each his or her own. Like who you like, it doesn't make a difference to me, so long as there's not some underlying self-hatred of your own people fueling the decision to date exclusively outside your own race.

Anyways, I've kept an eye on University of Buffalo head football coach Turner Gill this season, because he's one of only a handful of black head coaches in Division I-A, or whatever they call it nowadays. Watching Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom implode and get canned this year was offset by the historic run of Gill's Buffalo Bulls. He took a perennial loser and in a mere 3 years as head coach, won his conference and has UB headed to a bowl game for the first time in 50 years. Ironically, the Bulls last received a bowl invitation to the 1958 Tangerine Bowl, which they declined because their two black players weren't allowed to play. Talk about symbolism. Go Obama!

Like most mid-major coaches who do big things, I figured this meant Gill would be at the top of the list when some major school had a vacancy. And sure enough, he's already been considered for jobs at Iowa State, Syracuse, and Auburn. He should have a new gig by now. But this being a black man in "post-racial" America, of course it's never that simple.

Especially because Gill's wife is white.

Ya'll know how much I hate quoting stories this heavily, but I need to provide full context. Read it all before commenting.
Gene Chizik deplaned at Auburn-Opelika Airport on Sunday night to find some 200 fans waving pompom, a host of cheerleaders and Mayor Bill Ham, who presented him with the key to the city.

A day later, it was Charles Barkley’s turn.

Having strongly recommended that his old school hire Turner Gill as Auburn’s first African-American football coach, Barkley blasted the Chizik hire as short-sighted at best and, at worst, racially motivated.

“It’s a comment on Auburn. It’s a comment on the state of Alabama,” Barkley said Monday night. “I just feel sadness because you know what people think of the South and Alabama, things like that. And you just hope that at some point that people are going to say we’re going to change this. Or it’s just going to stay status quo.”

But while initial reaction to the hire ran cooler within the Auburn community, Barkley took it personally. Following Tuberville’s departure, he called Gill, who has had a strong three-year run at Buffalo, to discuss the vacancy. In three years, Gill transformed Buffalo from one of the nation’s worst programs into the Mid-American Conference champion.

Barkley subsequently went on radio and television in Alabama to push Gill’s candidacy. “He is a hell of a coach,” Barkley said. “I never want them to just hire a black coach just because he’s black. I wanted them to hire a black coach for two reasons. No. 1, Turner Gill can coach his [butt] off. But also, with those [top-flight] coaches who are in the SEC now, we need a recruiting tool to bring to Auburn. We do need that.”

Jacobs quietly went about interviewing at least eight and as many as 12 candidates for the job, including TCU’s Gary Patterson, Tulsa’s Todd Graham, Ball State’s Brady Hoke and Georgia assistant Rodney Garner, an Auburn graduate. Only Gill and Garner are black.

Chizik was interviewed late in the process. A former member of Tuberville’s staff —- he was defensive coordinator for Auburn’s 13-0 season in 2004 —- he now must regularly compete against a strong stable of SEC coaches. In his two seasons at Iowa State, his only experience as a head coach, Chizik went 5-19.

“They didn’t expect anybody to call them out on it,” Barkley said. “But they don’t have the guts to say to me, ‘This guy is a better coach than Turner Gill.’ Ain’t no way they can say that with good conscience.”

Of the 119 programs that comprise Division I-A football, only four schools employ African-American head coaches: Buffalo, Houston (Kevin Sumlin), Miami (Randy Shannon) and New Mexico (Mike Locksley, hired Dec. 8).

Barkley said he discussed Alabama politics, race and sports history with Gill. He also dismissed that Gill’s mixed-race marriage should have been an issue and he wonders now if in the final run, Gill ever had a chance.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “But I got to tell you, if you just put their resumes side by side, it’s not even fair.”

According to Charles Barkley, Turner Gill himself had concerns:

“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.”

Also, Mark Schlabach, ESPN College Football Writer, reported two SEC coaches specifically told him that Turner Gill wouldn’t get the job because of his white wife.
I suppose Barkley has a great point here. On paper, there's no comparison between the job Gill's done at Buffalo and the lowly results Gene Chizik got for the Cyclones. But we all know jobs are seldom granted based on what's "on paper".

Chizik had the benefit of having been a coordinator with the school during an historic season a few years back, and likely was well regarded by school administrators who are willing to overlook his middling results as a head coach. And as for Barkley's assertion that having a black coach would help attract better black recruits, I only have two words: "Sylvester Croom".

Beyond all that logic, I wonder if Barkey's perhaps onto something with that whole "the white wife isn't helping you" thing.

It's common knowledge that Harold Ford's Senatorial campaign was deep sixed partially because his Republican opponent ran ads alleging that he was a playboy who loved himself some white chicks. Never mind the fact that Ford did indeed love himself some white chicks and even went on to marry one shortly after the loss, the point was made. And most black folks agree that Barack Obama would be a pencil pusher at some menial civil rights law firm if he weren't for the street cred his wife gave him. So why's it such a stretch to assume that in The Deep, Dirty Souf, an "uppity Northern" coach with a white wife might catch an "L"?

I'm not sayin' Barkley's onto something, but I'm not sayin' he ain't. What say ye'?

Question: Does Charles Barkley have a point? Could Turner Gill have indeed missed out on the Auburn job because of his white wife? Are you "down with the swirl" or do you like your coffee black and your milk... uhhmmm, milky?

Did Turner Gill Get Turned Down By Auburn Because He Has a White Wife? [BleacherReport]

Barkley blisters old school’s hire [Atlanta Journal Constitution]

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