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While African-American quarterbacks are earning accolades for leading their teams on the gridiron, African-American head coaches aren't having nearly as much success. Big-time college football did have a record number of African-American head coaches this season - 13 out of 120. And that's an improvement. Three years ago, there were just six. But of those 13 who coached this year, just one - Charlie Strong at Louisville - had a winning record. He went seven for six. Another, Joseph Joker Phillips of the University of Kentucky, will post a record of seven and six as well if his team can beat the Pitt Panthers in today's BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama.

Why do African-American coaches often seem to struggle at college football's top level? NPR's Mike Pesca looked into it.

MIKE PESCA: Richard Lapchick, aside from being the president of the National Consortium for Academics and Sport, coauthored "The Autobiography of Eddie Robinson," who amassed 408 coaching victories.

Mr. RICHARD LAPCHICK (President, National Consortium for Academics and Sport): When I first met Coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling State in 1997, we talked about the fact that there were only eight African-American head coaches at the time. And when he died and I helped deliver part of his eulogy, I had to mention that 11 years later there were only five African-American head coaches.

PESCA: Robinson's Grambling teams, along with most of the powerhouse historically black colleges, played Division 1-AA football. Robinson was the winningest coach in 1-AA history, but he was never offered or even interviewed for a head coaching job in the more prestigious Division 1-A. 1-A football, now known as Division 1 football bowl subdivision, had only white coaches for most of its history and has just recently cracked double digits among its 120 schools.

Floyd Keith of the Black Coaches Association marks that as a real achievement

Mr. FLOYD KEITH (Black Coaches Association): That's an all-time high, and I think it speaks well of the breakthrough particularly here in the last two years.

PESCA: But of all the black coaches who will return next year, only one had a winning record this year. There are caveats to make - two fired coaches had winning records and the coaches of Florida International and Navy, both winning programs, are Latino and Samoan, respectively. But the fact remains that pending the results of today's Kentucky game, the cumulative record of the African-American coaches returning to their division 1-A jobs was 39 and 94 this year.

Bill Connolly of the website Football Outsiders researched the issue.

Mr. BILL CONNOLLY (Football Outsiders): Some of these jobs are just bad jobs and it would have taken a miracle worker to succeed with them, it seemed. So, they just never really had a chance. and not only that, but then when they left that job, they had a black mark on their resume, so it was pretty difficult for them to get another one.

PESCA: Connolly concluded that on average African-American coaches have taken over programs that have been, quote, "somewhere between tumble and tailspin." Richard Lapchick says what coaches who take over these kinds of teams need is patience from their bosses, not an attribute often ascribed to big-time college football.

Mr. LAPCHICK: The hiring cycle is now pretty much if you don't produce a winner after three years, four on outside, you're not going to be there very long.

PESCA: The same is true in the NFL, by the way, but African-American head coaches have thrived there. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have determined that black coaches in the NFL outperformed their white counterparts from 1990-2002, but now the perforce advantage has been eliminated.

That's actually good news in terms of racial equality because it means that it's no longer the case that African-Americans have to be better coaches than whites in order to be hired as a head coach in the NFL. But teams in the NFL have roughly equal resources, whereas in college football there are huge disparities.

So, as of today, African-Americans in the NCAA are gradually being invited into the head coaches' club, but they're mostly assigned to its dingier precincts.

Mike Pesca, NPR News.

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