Dell McGee, other minorities want to ‘crack the door open’ for head coaching jobs
Three members of Kirby Smart’s first UGA football staff are now head coaches themselves at Power Five conference schools.
Another assistant who came aboard with Smart in 2016 wants to join them running a program of his own on the FBS level.
Dell McGee, who has earned a reputation as one of college football’s best running backs coaches and recruiters, is still waiting for his chance.
“I definitely think it’s part timing. I do want to be a head coach and I don’t control that narrative,” McGee said. “It’s definitely a tough deal for minority coaches to get that opportunity and I do feel like when that opportunity does present itself, for me, or even if it doesn’t, I want to be a great ambassador for the next man that is following me. In particular, a man of color just because those opportunities just don’t present themselves as much.”
The coaching carousel that spun this cycle saw the number of Black head coaches go from 14 entering last season to 12 now among 130 football programs on the FBS level.
Mike Locksley is one of them.
The third-year Maryland coach founded the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches last August which aims to spur action toward equitable hiring on all levels of football. Locksley said the nonprofit organization works to prepare, promote and produce the next wave of coaches.
“We feel like we’ve made great strides in a short period of time but obviously with the results of the most recent hiring cycle, there’s still a lot of work yet to be done,” Locksley said by phone last week. “It’s still really disappointing how we’re unable to just crack the door open and be able to get qualified guys opportunities.”
Mel Tucker, who also is Black, went from defensive coordinator at Georgia from 2016-18 to head coach at Colorado and then jumped to Michigan State after one season.
Offensive line coach Sam Pittman left the Bulldogs after four seasons at the end of 2019 to become Arkansas coach. Shane Beamer, who coached tight ends and special teams at Georgia for two years before spending the last three at Oklahoma, is South Carolina’s new coach.
South Carolina was one of four SEC head coach openings this year along with Auburn (Boise State’s Bryan Harsin), Tennessee (UCF’s Josh Heupel) and Vanderbilt (Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea).
The SEC now has no minority head coaches after Derek Mason was fired at Vanderbilt. Illinois’ Lovie Smith and Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin were the other FBS Black head coaches fired. Marshall’s Charles Huff was the only Black head coach hired. He was running backs coach at Alabama.
McGee’s name appears on FootballScoop.com’s minority coaches watch list as do two others with Georgia ties: former Bulldog players Thomas Brown (Los Angeles Rams running backs coach) and Christian Robinson (Florida linebackers coach).
McGee, a 47-year old Columbus native, has head coaching experience from 2005-12 in his hometown at Carver High where he went 88-19 with a state title, six region championships and twice was named state coach of the year.
He was interim head coach at Georgia Southern in 2015 for the program’s first bowl victory.
There were six Black offensive coordinators and seven Black defensive coordinators at the 65 Power 5 Conference schools in 2020, according to the Charleston Post & Courier.
McGee isn’t one of those, but neither was Pittman when Arkansas took a chance on him and it paid off with the program ending a 20-game SEC game losing streak in his first season and going 3-7 against a schedule with five top 15 opponents.
Three of the SEC’s 14 athletic directors — Missouri’s Jim Sterk, Arkansas’ Hunter Yurachek and Texas A&M’s Ross Bjork — are taking part in the Collegiate Coaching Diversity Pledge to include a diverse group of candidates for vacancies in men’s and women’s basketball and football head coaching hires.
Georgia athletics in a statement explained why it hasn’t.
“For some time, the UGA Athletic Association has been diligently invested in the spirit of what the pledge represents,” it said. “The University of Georgia is an Equal Employment/Affirmative Action Institution with a commitment to the composition of personnel that reflects the Athletic Association and the institution’s commitment to diversity in our coach, administration and staff ranks.”
UGA athletics says its standard practice is “to demonstrate to University leadership that special steps were taken to expand the prospective candidate pool and to include among the finalists qualified applicants from under-represented groups. The University System of Georgia defines policies for intentional search and hiring practices with guidance to advance and reinforce inclusive hiring practices beyond an external pledge.”
Georgia women’s basketball coach Joni Taylor, who is the school’s only Black head coach, is on the board of coaches for the Diversity Pledge.
“It’s about being intentional, that’s all I’ve ever said,” she said last month. “We’ve got to be intentional about looking around the table we’re sitting at and making sure they’re diverse. When I sit at my table at work, it needs to be diverse because if I am only getting the opinions of Black females, how does that help me? If I’m only getting the opinions of white males, how does that help me? I need the opinion of a white female, a Black female, a Black male. I want all opinions to make the best decision because that’s how the world is made and that’s how most organizations, the people that who work there, it’s a diverse group. The best person needs to get the job but we have to be intentional in the hiring process.”
Taylor was part of history last month when she and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley made up the first matchup of Black head coaches in the SEC women’s basketball championship game.
“You hire who you know and if most athletic directors are white males they go to their white male friends to get recommendations on jobs,” Taylor said. “And so your pool of candidates looks the same. We’ve just got to have diversity at the table and in the interviewing process and then who knows maybe that person still is not the right one for your job but you can now pass that name along to your AD friend when he calls and has a coaching job and that minority candidate might be the right fit for that job that they’re calling about.”
She said when she was growing up in Mississippi, the only Black female women’s basketball coach she remembered was Rutgers’ Vivian Stinger and when she played in the SEC at Alabama, there was Kentucky’s Bernadette Locke. In the SEC, half of the women’s basketball head coaches are Black.
In FBS football in 2020, 48.5 percent of players were Black with another 3 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders and 6.5 percent two or more races, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at UCF.
“Now, I’m a firm believer that the best person for the job needs to get the job, Black, white, brown, green, male, female,” Taylor said. “There are a lot of great male coaches in this league, there are a lot of great coaches in this division I period. I’m all about whoever’s best for the job needs the job. However, we would be remiss to not point out that there is a lack of representation.”
Locksley said the coalition he formed — which he called “a passion project,” — was able to engage with just about every FBS head coaching opening this time around through either ADs or search firms to advocate and push for qualified candidates.
“I think our focus, and as an organization we’ve become kind of more of a think tank as to how do we hit the target of a moving goal post as we like to say because the criteria of hiring, there is no clear cut, concise thing that they are saying you need to do,” Locksley said. “What we’ve got to do in my opinion as an organization and an advocate group is to campaign for guys like Dell McGee and these other minority coaches that have the qualifications. We’ve got to do our part to promote the great jobs that they do, they’ve done and get it in front of the decision makers that have the opportunity to make these decisions.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban, former NFL general managers Bill Polian and Ozzie Newsome, Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin are among board members.
McGee is hoping more opportunities are there for minority coaches.
In the meantime, he’ll continue in what he calls “the best job in the country to coach running backs.”
He said: “It’s my job as a position coach, assistant coach, to do the best job I can but at the same time, I’m comfortable with where I am and I understand I don’t have control of who wants to hire a minority coach. That is strictly up to that university or NFL organization and they have to feel comfortable with that.”