Sending some *DAP* to Yale U.

Tom Williams Becomes the First Black Football Coach at Yale

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Published: January 7, 2009

NEW HAVEN — Wearing a Yale football tie and a silver bulldog pin, Tom Williams stepped into a job that no African-American had held before Wednesday. As the new coach of the Bulldogs, he is only the second black coach to take the helm of an Ivy League football team, and later this year he will be the first to take part in the 125-year history of Harvard vs. Yale.

But in the Ivy League, a conference in which 7 of the 16 football and basketball coaches are black, Williams’s hiring was hardly surprising. While issues of diversity still affect every level of college’s marquee sports, Ivy League institutions seem to be doing just fine on that issue these days, even though the once-segregated Southeastern Conference hired its first black football coach before the Ivy League did.

“Movement is glacial,” Williams said. “It’s happening, but it’s glacial. And I’m proud to wear the banner for African-Americans. The Ivy League has moved at a pace that’s much more rapid than the rest of the country.”

Williams is the second African-American head football coach in the Ivy League, four years after a former offensive coordinator at Connecticut, Norries Wilson, became the first when he was hired by Columbia. Meanwhile, five of the eight Ivy League basketball coaches who began the 2008-9 season are black, actually one fewer than in the 2007-8 season. They are Joe Jones at Columbia; his brother James Jones at Yale; Terry Dunn at Dartmouth; Tommy Amaker at Harvard; and Sydney Johnson at Princeton. Craig Robinson, the brother-in-law of President-elect Barack Obama, coached at Brown from 2006 to 2008 but this season has taken over the job at Oregon State.

“The argument that I hear is that there aren’t enough qualified African-American coaches out there,” Williams said. “But the question is: How hard are you looking?”

Jeff Orleans, the executive director of the Ivy League, said that Ivy programs filling vacant slots had a different set of considerations than those facing schools in major conferences. With more time and less pressure to be immediately competitive, they can afford to cast a wider net. Yale’s athletic director, Tom Beckett, took more than five weeks to hire Williams.

“If what you want to do is coach at the highest level of your sport, we may not be the first place you look,” Orleans said. “But I think we look to a larger pool, not necessarily racially but in terms of a variety of backgrounds.”

He added, “In a lot of other conferences, the pressure to not lose ground, not lose a minute, to be 10-2 again this season really narrows that pool.”

Williams, 38, had been a defensive coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars for two seasons after bouncing around the college game for 11 years as an assistant. As a player, he was a four-year starter and captain at Stanford before a stint on the practice squad of the San Francisco 49ers.

“Tom Williams is a leader,” Beckett said at a news conference. “The fact that he is African-American is spectacular. But it didn’t matter.”

Williams’s hiring is particularly significant in light of both the election of Obama as the nation’s first black president and in the consistently meager numbers of black head coaches at the top level of college football.

Last November, a report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida underlined the issue, noting that there were only four black head coaches in the 119-member Football Bowl Subdivision (the Ivy League is one level below in the Football Championship Subdivision). The report added that since 1996, 12 black coaches had been hired among 199 vacancies.

But that trend has changed lately, with four more black coaches being hired at the top level over the last month, the latest being DeWayne Walker at New Mexico State.

Still, 8 of 119 is a low percentage. College football also came in for criticism recently when Tennessee and Auburn hired white coaches coming off disastrous seasons — Lane Kiffin with the Oakland Raiders and Gene Chizik at Iowa State — while passing over Turner Gill, a successful black coach who turned Buffalo into the Mid-American Conference champion.

The numbers at the top level of college basketball are more robust, with nearly 30 percent of the head-coaching jobs currently filled by African-Americans.

As for Williams, the racial implications of his hiring seemed far from his mind when he stepped behind the lectern Wednesday. He was concerned with his timing and, of course, Yale’s big rival, Harvard.

“If they’d waited an extra couple days, they could have gotten Jeff Jagodzinski,” he said jokingly, referring to the Boston College coach who was fired Wednesday for interviewing with the Jets.

Williams is taking over from Jack Siedlecki, who retired in November after 12 seasons to become an assistant athletic director at Yale. Siedlecki led the Bulldogs to a share of the Ivy League title in 1999 and 2006, but had also lost seven of the past eight contests with Harvard. With a very brief list of goals — there are only two — Williams vowed to right the ship. The first thing, he said, is to win back the Ivy crown.

“And secondly, we’re going to beat Harvard,” he said, drawing a round of applause from the alumni in the room. “We’ve got to turn The Game back into a rivalry. It’s been a little one-sided.”


~ by blkirish on January 7, 2009.

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