Almost 14 percent of the college basketball head coaching vacancies during the 2020-21 hiring cycle were filled by Blacks. Thus far during the current cycle, 54% (30) of the 56 head coaching openings filled have been Black, 21 with first-time head coaches, including Minnesota’s Ben Johnson.
“He’s the right guy for the job,” declared Marcus Jenkins, who Johnson hired earlier this month as a Gopher assistant coach. Jenkins was formerly an assistant at Richmond, where he was associate head coach since 2018 and on the staff since 2015.
During his introductory Zoom media conference call last Thursday, the MSR asked Jenkins for comment on the latest Black head coach hirings.
“This is more than just a trend or a flash in the pan,” he said. “I think [there are] quality candidates from all backgrounds… Having the opportunity to present yourself is the key.
“So as more and more of these opportunities are popping up, it just really makes me happy,” said Jenkins. “I think that the African American community has a ton to offer when it comes to coaching. There’s some great coaches out there. There’s some great assistants out there. Just being able to get in front of the decision-makers is the key.”
When asked, Jenkins told reporters that “a one-line email” got him into college coaching. “[It] said, ‘I’ve got a spot on my staff. Would you be interested?’” The invite came from his college coach Chris Mooney, who Jenkins coached with 10 of his 14 years at Richmond, in two separate stints (2007-11 and 2015-21).
“I owe a lot to Chris Mooney,” admitted the new Gopher assistant coach. He joins Jason Kemp and Dave Thorson who Johnson earlier hired as assistants. Jenkins also was an assistant at Princeton (2011-15), where he was one of 14 college coaches selected to participate in the NCAA Black Coaches and Administrators Achieving Coaching Excellence (ACE) program.
Jenkins, a California native, played basketball at the Air Force Academy, where he graduated in 2004. He then served three years in the Air Force as a logistics officer. He’s a third generation Air Force officer reaching the rank of lieutenant.
“I think it’s pretty rare. My dad and my grandfather were both Air Force officers,” he said proudly. “I like to think I’m a pretty good leader, having gone to the Air Force Academy. Leadership is drilled into you whether you want it to be or not.”
The newest Gopher assistant coach is “a very, very important piece” to the coaching staff, said Johnson. “I think the piece that I was really looking for was a guy that was a little bit different,” he told the MSR. “I have a ton of respect for different lingo, different brand of basketball and different ideas.”
Added Jenkins, “I had a lot of reasons to stay at Richmond. I think we [he and Coach Johnson] are very similar, very like-minded, multiple approaches when it comes to the game, recruiting and evaluates. I truly believe that we can see this thing take off [here at Minnesota].”
Shimmy Gray-Miller last week was named assistant women’s basketball coach at Minnesota. She has spent the past three seasons at Clemson. During her 20 years of coaching she has coached at all five of the Power Five conferences, including Saint Louis University WBB coach (2005-12).
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.