PALM HARBOR — Before she won a national championship at North Carolina in 1994, Sylvia Crawley remembers taking recruiting visits to Iowa and Minnesota, less successful programs, because she loved the idea of playing for an African-American woman.
"They got a shot to recruit me (over) other schools that were better programs simply because (it was an) opportunity to be coached by an African-American coach, who has walked the same walk that I've walked," Crawley said.
"They (C. Vivian Stringer at Iowa and LaRue Fields at Minnesota) were two of the few that were coaching when I was being recruited."
Two decades later, top female recruits looking to play for a black female coach have many more options, including Crawley, 37 and entering her third season at Boston College.
"There's a shift in coaching," said Crawley, who at 6 feet 5 towers over most of the men's basketball and football coaches at the Black Coaches & Administrators' national convention this week at Innisbrook Resort.
"The Pat Summitts (at Tennessee), the coach (Sylvia) Hatchells (at North Carolina), they were once players. They came in as a wave of new coaches back in their time, and they're getting a little bit older. You're seeing a shift. The WNBA was built on the backs of veterans, and those players are now retiring, and coaching is a natural progression for them."
Thursday, the Black Coaches & Administrators released a "Hiring Report Card" for women's basketball, and it showed a significant trend toward more minority coaching hires.
In three years, the number of minority head women's basketball coaches at the 120 schools that play in Division I-A football conferences went from eight to 28. Of the six openings at those schools last year, four of the jobs went to minorities, including two to black women.
"Four out of six is awesome," said Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches & Administrators. "We've done extremely well. The last three years have just been great."
The hiring report card, written by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at UCF, gave "A" grades to four of the six major schools that made hires. Southern Cal was given an "F" but because it failed to respond to the study; the Trojans hired former Lakers star Michael Cooper, who is black.
The other school that didn't get an "A" was Oregon. It got a "D" because it had no minorities on its search committee and did not interview any minority candidates. It hired former men's college and NBA coach Paul Westhead, who is white.
Crawley, who played professionally in the WNBA, the now-defunct ABL and overseas, had two years as a head coach (at Ohio University) when Boston College athletic director Gene DeFillippo made her the ACC's only black female head coach.
"He really took a chance on me because I was a young coach, and it's worked out well so far," she said.
"It set a precedent. People are watching, (so there's) an extreme amount of pressure, but I use it as motivation. I know if I do well, more people will hire African-American coaches."
The Black Coaches & Administrators has a developmental program for young minority assistants, called Achieving Coaching Excellence, a four-day symposium on leadership, communications, media training and management skills. Of the 90 basketball coaches who have gone through the program, Keith said 30 have been hired as college head coaches.
The latest is Andrea Williams, who spent the past two years as an assistant at USF and was named last week as the coach at Air Force.
"It's a phenomenal opportunity for myself, personally and professionally," said Williams, who is the sixth head coach to emerge from 14 assistants in the developmental program's class of 2006.
"(The program) was a little preparation so when you do get the opportunity, you don't fumble the ball."
Crawley said that 60 percent of women's college basketball players are African-American, and her age, race and recent playing experience allow her to relate to her players on a closer level than most coaches can.
"I'm not teaching my players things I've read in a textbook, things I'm hoping and wishing will work," she said. "These things have been tried out against the best players in the world. … I think that weighs for a lot."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346.