Penn State and Washington have more in common than being two of the best college football teams with long traditions.
The No. 9 Nittany Lions and 11th ranked Huskies also have more diverse coaching staffs than other universities.
Nearly half of UW’s coaching staff is comprised of ethnic minorities. As for Penn State, its staff is at 50 percent and that includes James Franklin, who is one of 14 black head coaches at a Football Bowl Subdivision program during the 2017 season.
That’s a rarity. Less than 15 percent of the 130 FBS programs currently have a minority as its head coach.
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Nearly 27 percent of assistants are black while 1.2 percent are Latino, according to the 2016 Racial and Gender Report Card by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. Yet close to 50 percent of FBS players are either Asian/Pacific Islander, black or Latino.
Why the huge difference between players and the coaches who coach them?
“You’re asking me a question I’d prefer to sit down with you and talk for a long time,” Franklin said. “Because it’s a challenging subject.”
From Franklin to Huskies coach Chris Petersen, the opinions vary on why there aren’t more college football coaches of color.
Dr. Richard Lapchick, who is the director of TIDES, said some programs won’t hire a minority head coach due to the pressure it would face from alumni, boosters and fans.
Lapchick said a school’s football coach is often the institution’s most visible face. In all, there are 19 schools with minority head coaches.
“To have an African-American face, sadly, it’s still something that people don’t want to have happen,” he said. “Not only for them to be the face of the program, but in a lot of cases, to be the highest-paid person in the state.”
Lapchick said even though there’s a greater percentage of diversity among assistants, the real measure of progress is based upon head coaching hires.
“The assistants aren’t the decision makers,” said Lapchick, who is based at the University of Central Florida. “We just had our head coach (Scott Frost) at UCF leave to take a $5 million job. His assistants’ (salary pool) combined are making $5 million.
“They’re not comparable positions. So to say we have around 30 percent of assistants who are coaches of color, is nowhere near as many saying we have one head coach of color.”
It’s been suggested the NCAA adapt something similar to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which mandates school interview a minority candidate for a head coach opening.
Gail Dent, the NCAA’s associate director of external affairs, told The Washington Post the organization does not have the legal authority to create a hiring law.
Lapchick, who has fought the NCAA for years to get such a rule, said he’s resorted to pushing individual conferences to implement the practice.
In September 2016, the NCAA introduced a “Presidential Pledge” asking university administrators to commit to promoting diversity and gender equity.
Both Penn State and Washington have signed the pledge.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what color, what religion, where you came from, it matters what type of person you are,” Petersen said. “But I also think it matters that we as coaches create as much diversity on this team because that’s the world, that’s the city we live in.
“That’s the beauty of athletics and I don’t want it all one way. I want diversity here. That’s what college football is. That’s what our locker room is.”
Petersen said the amount of minority head coaches should rise soon considering there are a number of qualified candidates.
“Sometimes we can be stuck in the stone age before momentum takes over,” Petersen said. “Guys can get to where they need to be but I think we’ll continue to see that movement.”
Four of Petersen’s assistants – Keith Bhonpaha, Jimmy Lake, Ikaika Malloe and Jordan Paopao – are ethnic minorities.
Bhonpaha, who is black, was a four-year letterman at Hawaii. He got into coaching in 2003 and was a graduate assistant for his alma mater.
He joined Petersen’s staff at Boise State in 2006 and has moved up from director of football operations to being the team’s running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.
In all, he’s been around college football for nearly 20 years either as a coach or player. He attended a school that’s among the most diverse in the nation while coaching players of different backgrounds.
When asked why college football doesn’t have more minority coaches, he needed some time to ponder.
“I think the big thing is a lot of coaching/managing/president/CEO-type stuff over the years has not been minority-friendly,” he said. “I think probably in the last 20, 30 years it’s gotten a little more minority-friendly.
“It’s one of those things where it takes time for a transition to happen and slowly, it’s starting to make that change.”
Malloe, the team’s defensive line coach, has another perspective. He is Hawaiian and Tahitian, part of an even smaller pool. TIDES’ most recent study reports less than 1 percent of all Division I coaches across every sport are Asian/Pacific Islanders.
The group includes coaches such as BYU’s Kalani Sitake and Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo. Sitake is the first Tongan to become a collegiate head coach while Niumataolo, a Samoan-American, is the first person of his heritage to hold the same role.
Malloe said a handful of coaches recently created the Polynesian Coaches Association and its membership also includes Niumataolo and former Hawaii coach Norm Chow.
“We’re finally getting noticed. We really are the minority of the minority,” Malloe said. “It’s really good to see we’re being recognized at Polynesian coaches. We have our own association now, we meet together at the convention. It’s a pride factor for anybody in any culture.
“For us, we’d like to get more Polynesian coaches in the profession.”
UW’s staff will grow in diversity next season when former assistant Bush Hamdan returns as the team’s offensive coordinator.
Petersen, who coached Hamdan at Boise State, said his former pupil is half-Pakistani and half-Palestinian.
“I think you create diversity on your staff and guys can see how its done. That’s part of my mission of how to train guys,” Petersen said. “Being a head coach and being an assistant, it’s apples and oranges. It’s not even the same thing.
“I think if head coaches reach out to guys ... and really help prepare them, that really helps that cause and that’s one of the things I’m trying to do around here.”
Petersen hired Hamdan given his familiarity with Petersen’s system and his coaching credentials.
But by being a coordinator, it’s probably going to boost Hamdan’s chances of being considered for a head coaching job, should he want one.
Lapchick said a key to seeing more minority head coaches is for them to get hired as coordinators. He said coordinators typically have more responsibilities and it shows that a coach can handle that role.
Penn State currently has two minority coaches in coordinator roles. Tim Banks is the team’s safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator. Josh Gattis is the team’s passing game coordinator, offensive recruiting coordinator and receivers coach.
“When I got in this profession, there were very few of us on staff,” said Banks, who started in 1996 as a graduate assistant at Bowling Green. “Coach Franklin has done a great job giving people different opportunities who have earned it.
“Nobody wants to be given anything but if you feel like your resume fits, you want to have an opportunity like everybody else.”
Take Franklin for example.
His career began in 1995 at Kutztown, a Division II school in Pennsylvania. His first FBS job came in 1998 as the tight ends coach at Washington State.
Franklin made eight stops along his coaching career before he was named Kansas State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2006.
He stayed there through 2007 and then became the associate head coach/offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Maryland from 2008 through 2010.
Vanderbilt hired Franklin in 2011 as its head coach and he then left the program for Penn State in 2014.
Franklin said he wants his staff to have the kind of diversity that transcends race. His goal is to have coaches that each of his players can relate to.
“That’s why it’s so important and I think its getting better,” Franklin said. “It’s still not where it needs to be.”
Lapchick said diversity numbers among college head coaches should reflect the American population. The latest U.S. Census figures show ethnic minorities comprise around 25 percent of the nation’s populous.
That’s why for figures like Franklin, Stanford’s David Shaw or other minority head coaches, the need to succeed is great.
“I also understand that’s why my success and David Shaw’s success and coaches like us, there’s extra pressure on us besides just doing what’s right for Penn State and my players and my staff,” Franklin said.
“I have a responsibility to all of the African-American football coaches out there to show athletic directors and presidents that people who look like me and talk like me and come from my background, can run these types of programs and these types of organizations.
“The success that we have is going to open the door for others.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark