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Jones: Tampa Bay ahead of the curve in hiring African-American football coaches

LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 05: Head coach Charlie Strong of the Texas Longhorns discuss a call with an official during the first half of the game between the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Texas Longhorns on November 5, 2016 at AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 05: Head coach Charlie Strong of the Texas Longhorns discuss a call with an official during the first half of the game between the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Texas Longhorns on November 5, 2016 at AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
Published Dec. 13, 2016

On Sunday, it became official. USF hired Charlie Strong to be its next head football coach.

Almost immediately, Dr. Richard Lapchick tweeted out that Strong's hiring was "great news.''

Who is Lapchick? He's the director of the DeVos Sports Management program at the University of Central Florida.

That immediately raises the question of why would someone who works at UCF — USF's biggest rival — say something so positive about Strong and the Bulls?

Because Lapchick also runs the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which studies issues related to gender and race in amateur, collegiate and professional sports.

Even on his Twitter account, Lapchick talks about using sports for "positive social change."

Although it never really was a topic during USF's pursuit of Strong, it should be noted that USF has now hired back-to-back African-American head football coaches, which is twice as many as Florida, Florida State and Miami have had combined. Strong follows Willie Taggart, who is black.

Florida has never had an African-American head football coach. Neither has FSU. And Miami has had one: Randy Shannon.

The lack of African-American hires isn't exclusive to the state of Florida. Even though we like to think great strides have been made in recent years, the numbers do not support that notion. This college season started with only 15 black head coaches in Division I-A. That's 11.7 percent even though African-Americans make up nearly 60 percent of the players on Division I-A rosters.

Give credit to USF for its hiring practices.

And shame on the rest of the country.

Just look at the past few weeks. As of Monday, 14 colleges had recently hired new head coaches. Only three — Strong, Oregon's Taggart and Nevada's Jay Norvell — are black.

Several hirings include white retreads, such as Lane Kiffin (Florida Atlantic), Butch Davis (Florida International) and Jeff Tedford (Fresno State).

See, that's also what makes Strong's hiring unusual. It's rare that African-American coaches get a second chance after being fired. Even white coaches with checkered pasts and shady characters get second chances. Guys like Mike Leach and Bobby Petrino have been re-hired and you can't help but wonder if (when?) someone is going to give disgraced former Baylor coach Art Briles a chance.

How rare is Strong's hiring? Check out this amazing statistic:

Strong is just the second black head coach to be fired as head coach by a major program then get hired to be the head coach of another major program. The other was Ty Willingham, who was fired by Notre Dame and hired by Washington. He hasn't coached since 2008.

The best part of USF's decision to hire Strong is that it had very little to do with race and very much to do with the belief that Strong was the best coach the school could hire. Maybe it is refreshing that Strong was hired with really no thought of skin color.

That does not mean we should overlook or ignore its significance, though. While many states are considering instituting a "Rooney Rule,'' which means schools must consider and interview a minority candidate, USF needs no such directive. Even if Strong's color never came up when USF zeroed in on him, USF fans should be proud of the school.

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And the people of Tampa Bay should be proud. USF isn't the only football team to be ahead of the rest of the country in hiring African-Americans. The Bucs, led by the Glazers, have hired three African-American coaches: Tony Dungy, Raheem Morris and Lovie Smith.

Ultimately, the success of any coach comes down to two things. One is winning. Let's be honest, that's the most important. And, two, it's swell if the program is run the right way off the field, too.

But the hiring of African-American coaches by USF and the Bucs is something that should make all of Tampa Bay feel proud.

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