A rare sighting of Black head coaches

Photos by Photos by Mitchell Palmer McDonald (l-r) James Franklin and Amaka Agugua-Hamilton

History was made last week on the University of Minnesota campus, but it was virtually ignored by the locals.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) has noted that Black head coaches have been in a slow but steady decline since the mid-2000s. Black male head coaches in all sports last year numbered 8%, and barely 7% for Black females in similar positions.

Black male head coaches in men’s basketball are at 22%, and 17% for Black females in women’s basketball. Yet Black males and Black females in the two sports are over 53% and 43% respectively. Better numbers among Black assistant coaches (45% in men’s basketball and 28% in women’s basketball) have not resulted in more Black head coaches. 

The first historical milestone took place at the November 5 season-opening basketball doubleheader at Williams Arena that featured Black head coaches at non-HBCU schools. “We always want to punch first. That’s our game play,” first-year Missouri State Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton told reporters after her club’s start-to-finish 77-69 victory over Minnesota.

It is her first head-coaching job after spending the last six seasons at Michigan State, four as associate head coach. She has been an assistant coach since 2007 (VCU, Indiana and Old Dominion). 

Agugua-Hamilton now is 2-0 at the Barn—as MSU interim coach, she defeated the Gophers in January 2017. After last week’s win, she told the MSR, “Like every team right now in the country, we got a lot of things to work on.”

The first Black female head coach for any sport at Missouri State, Agugua-Hamilton noted, “Having been interim head coach at Michigan State definitely helped prepare me for this job, but you are always evolving as a coach. I am learning every day.”

Cleveland State in the nightcap is coached by Dennis Gates, also in his first season as a head coach after eight seasons as an assistant at Florida State, 16 years overall in Division I. He is the school’s second-ever Black head coach and was hired in July, typically late for hiring coaches.

“I didn’t look at where the state of the program was,” Gates told the MSR after his club’s 85-50 defeat at Minnesota. “You can’t get [head coaching] opportunities gift-wrapped in the way that you want.”

But the biggest history maker took place last Saturday. Black Division I head football coaches make up around 7% of the total, and James Franklin was the first Black football coach ever to lead an unbeaten team to play the Gophers. It was the first time in 45 years that two Big Ten teams faced each other with similar 8-0 records.  

Now in his ninth year as a collegiate head coach (Vanderbilt 2011-13 and Penn State 2014-present), and with 24 years of overall coaching experience, Franklin is 39-10 over the past four seasons after last Saturday’s 31-26 defeat at Minnesota. 

Afterwards, the Nittany Lions coach calmly answered post-game second-guessing questions coming from a White-filled room (save for two MSR reporters) as if he’d lost the national championship. “It’s hard to be undefeated,” Franklin simply said.

“[Minnesota] played real well and executed their plan. I think we work real hard. I think we prepare extremely well, but we can get better.

“Sometimes it’s hard to think about big-picture things because you are so focused on the game,” Franklin told the MSR. On being the first Black coach for an undefeated team to play the Gophers in the history of Minnesota football, he said it is “something obviously I take great pride in. My role and the significance of my responsibility, I don’t take that lightly.” 

Although Black non-HBCU head coaches went 1-2 last week in Minneapolis, it still was history-making because it’s rare these days to see Blacks in this role.