Ryan Newsome is 17 years old and plays receiver for Aledo, the sparkling suburban school west of Fort Worth that won a fifth state championship in December. Newsome, with a small stature, but long arms and speed, will have his choice of more than 30 scholarship offers.
Willie Criss is 78 and has been retired for 10 years. He coached 40 years in Fort Worth, first at segregated Como High, on the city’s west side, and then across town at Dunbar and at Wyatt.
Six decades and scores of experiences separate Newsome and Criss. But both are black, so at one time neither could fathom the idea of the two biggest colleges in the state hiring African-American coaches.
Yet it happened. Texas A&M hired Kevin Sumlin in 2012, and Texas hired Charlie Strong in January.
Still, as the two most football-crazed universities in the most football-crazed state have hired black coaches, the inroads black coaches have made at the high school level, in particular in suburban districts, continue to develop slowly.
Of the Fort Worth area’s 44 suburban schools, only three have black head coaches: Arlington Seguin, Arlington Sam Houston and North Crowley. In comparison, there are four black head coaches out of the 13 teams in the Fort Worth school district, which boasts higher rates of diversity, yet offers less resources for building winning programs.
And coaching staffs in suburban districts often feature a lower proportion of black assistant coaches than black players.
In Mansfield for example, three out of the five schools have an overwhelming majority of black players. But all five schools have staffs made up of mostly white coaches. In Arlington, three of the four schools without black head coaches feature a majority of black players, yet a majority white coaching staff.
And that’s in two of the most diverse suburban districts in Tarrant County. In districts with higher white student populations such as Keller, Aledo, Burleson and Grapevine-Colleyville, black coaches don’t make up more than 23 percent of the coaching staffs.
O.J. Kemp, who was both the first female and first black athletic director in Arlington school district history, said she’s satisfied with the progress the city’s schools have made in the area of coaching diversity. In 1985, Kemp became the first black coach in the district when she was named the track coach at Sam Houston. Nearly thirty years later, Arlington employs close to 30 black coaches in all sports across six schools, she said.
“It’s critical to have diversity,” she said. “We’re still striving to make improvements in that area continuously.”
But for black coaches to be head coaches, they have to apply to openings. As recent searches indicate, a small number of black coaches are doing that. The reasons vary.
Arlington Bowie, with nearly all black players, received only two black applicants for an opening early last year, according to Kemp.
“If you’re looking at Bowie High School and looked at the demographics, you would think every African-American coach would be knocking down the door,” said Anthony Criss, Willie Criss’ son and the football coach at Arlington Sam Houston.
Kemp attributed part of that to the program stability put in place by Kenny Perry, who left Bowie for a job on TCU’s staff. Danny DeArman, Perry’s defensive coordinator, was a natural fit and was promoted. He continued Perry’s success, leading the Volunteers to the playoffs last year. Kemp said DeArman was the clear choice.
But the low number of black applicants caught her attention.
“At some point, I would like to think, the majority of [black coaches] say they want to be a head coach,” Kemp said. “That was a big job.”
Mansfield Timberview, another team with mostly black players, had one black applicant for its job opening in 2012. Justin Northwest, the biggest school in a predominantly white district, had zero black applicants for its head football opening this past spring.
Carlos Lynn won a state championship as a coordinator at Cedar Hill before taking the head job at Arlington Seguin. Justified or not, Lynn said there’s still some degree of intimidation when it comes to black coaches breaking into bigger suburban districts.
“One thing people try to gloss over: It’s Texas high school football,” Lynn said. “Communities and school districts are serious about their football. They want a winner. I think some of the African-American coaches, if they haven’t been in those systems, might be a little bit intimidated to throw their name in the hat. It’s been a slow climb.”
Kevin Ozee was the athletic director at Duncanville before taking the same position at Southlake Carroll in 2009. Those two districts have almost opposite demographics. Six percent of Duncanville students are white, while 78 percent of Carroll students are white.
Ozee emphasized the importance of hiring coaches who reflect the players and culture of the school.
“We want our coaches to kind of reflect the demographic of our kids,” Ozee said.
Kemp and Lynn said the same. Lynn pointed out that most of his players come from middle-to-lower class families. Lynn, a graduate of Dallas Wilmer-Hutchins, can relate.
“Coming up from that same type of background, it helps me identify with our kids,” Lynn said. “We have a working-class parent. We have to be creative to get parents involved and help them out.”
Willie Criss said he had to coach certain kids certain ways.
“A lot of white coaches have never gone home to being hungry,” Willie Criss said. “A lot of white coaches tell kids, if you can’t come to practice, you can’t play. You can’t play if you don’t come to practice and you have to pay a water bill? Whenever you have to work, you just say when and you’re gone. The coaches in Fort Worth will tell you, their kids have to work.”
The problem, Willie Criss said, is that even at schools that have a number of black players, the stigma that black coaches either can’t lead or won’t be as successful as they were as players still exists. For years, he would shake hands with opposing coaches at midfield after games. And for years, he heard the same script.
“You never get credit for coaching,” he said. “All the time, they never said you did a good job. It was always, ‘The kids played great.’ And ‘I sure I wished I had your kids.’ ”
Newsome said Strong’s hire was huge for black coaches but that there needs to be more of them getting opportunities.
“You try hard not to worry about it, because there’s always going to be a stigma against black coaches,” Newsome said. “We have great minds, too, so I’d like to see that translate to black coaches getting hired.”
Dunbar coach Todd Lawson, who is black, said he feels that he and his program have gradually gained more respect. The Wildcats went 10-1 last season, winning District 6-4A with a roster of 27 players.
“They begin to ask us things like, ‘What are y’all doing out there at Dunbar?’ ” Lawson said. “That’s a sign of respect right there. There’s a sense of respect as a friend.”
Lawson equated it to his playing days. He played defensive back in high school, at Dunbar, then played in college at Utah. Transitioning from Fort Worth’s Stop Six neighborhood to Salt Lake City didn’t make Lawson color blind, but it did show him that respect can be earned, regardless of skin color.
Inroads being made
If there’s one black coach in the area who hasn’t hesitated to throw his name in the pile of applications, it would be Eugene Rogers.
The second-year North Crowley coach grew up the son of a soldier, moving every few years to military bases across the country. North Carolina. Oklahoma. Killeen. Washington state. Around the time Rogers entered high school, his father retired, and the family settled south of Dallas in Corsicana. Rogers, at 5-foot-9, played cornerback for the Tigers. He’d jaw at receivers all night. They’d jaw back, pointing out his small frame. Rogers would act like he didn’t know what they were talking about.
“You couldn’t tell me I was short,” Rogers said. “I played like I was 6-foot. ‘You’re short.’ ‘Oh I’m short? I didn’t know that.’
“I just kept my eye on the prize and tried to maintain things.”
Rogers carried that don’t-back-down attitude into his coaching career. He started as an assistant at Corsicana before joining the staff at North Crowley in 1998, as the defensive coordinator. He helped the Panthers to a state championship in 2003. The first head job he applied for was Saginaw. He didn’t get it, but he turned around and applied to Denton Guyer, which opened in 2005.
“I didn’t apply for the typical head coaching jobs,” Rogers said. “I wasn’t going to go for the inner city jobs. I was going to go for the suburban-type jobs.”
Manor hired Rogers in 2005. He coached there three years, winning a district championship in 2007. But he resigned the following off-season, wanting to return to Dallas-Fort Worth. He got on at Denton Ryan in 2008, and returned to a defensive coordinator role at Haltom in 2012. North Crowley hired Rogers before last season.
“I did it the old-fashioned way,” Rogers said. “I grew up in that military background where race wasn’t an issue. You are who you are by the things you’ve done and people look at you that way.”
But Rogers said he understands why some black coaches might shy away from applying to higher-profile, suburban jobs.
“Honestly, I don’t think some of the districts think like that,” Rogers said. “I think some of the African-American coaches are reluctant to apply to them. First of all, they may not even get an interview and if you do, you probably aren’t going to get it. It’s just the way it is.”
On the Dallas side of the Metroplex, there have been recent cases of coaches at either inner city schools or predominantly black districts getting jobs at suburban schools.
Kendrick Brown, the former defensive coordinator at often nationally ranked DeSoto, was named head coach at Little Elm during the off-season. Kendall Miller, who was an assistant in the Arlington district, moved from the head job at Dallas South Oak Cliff to Garland Lakeview Centennial in 2012.
Brown, who at one time worked under Lynn at Seguin, helped DeSoto to the Class 5A Division I semifinals the past two seasons. Miller coached South Oak Cliff to a 29-6 record over three seasons there.
Generally, it’s understood that a black coach — whether an assistant in a suburban school or a head coach at an inner city school — has to have overwhelming success to dip his toe into higher-profile applicant pool, Lynn said. Lynn was the defensive coordinator on Cedar Hill’s 2006 state championship team before taking the job at Seguin.
“There’s a measure of success and skins on the wall that I think the African-American coach has to have probably more than the average white coach has to have,” Lynn said.
One area coach who has made a relatively quick rise is Joseph Sam, the defensive coordinator at Mansfield Legacy. Sam was hired by Broncos coach Chris Melson this off-season.
Sam started coaching in 2009, at Berry Middle School in Mesquite. The Lancaster native played baseball and football at Grambling State, where he graduated in 2008. He came home and started work as an assistant manager at a Walgreen’s. Then he realized the corporate world wasn’t for him. He had a contact in the Mesquite district and was able to get on staff at Berry.
After a year of scouting and weekends spent studying film, Mesquite Horn coach Rodney Webb asked Sam to help out the varsity team on Friday nights. Sam would finish his daily duties at the middle school, and then race to Horn to catch the end of practice. Two years later, he applied for an opening on Horn’s staff. He didn’t get it, but received a call shortly after from Randy Jackson, then the coach at Mesquite Poteet. Jackson brought Sam on staff, as an inside linebackers coach. Now he’s 27 and a coordinator for a Class 5A team coming off its best season in school history.
Sam said he’s focused on two things the last five years: Working hard and being opportunistic. He didn’t jump at the first job available.
“Some guys get in bad predicaments and it happens no matter what color you are,” Sam said. “Sometimes you want to take an opportunity but it might not be the best for your career. They want a varsity job so bad that they just take one, rather than taking one that will help you.”
Euless Trinity coach Steve Lineweaver said he has three minority assistant coaches, all of whom would make good head coaches. One of them is defensive coordinator Donald Tryon, who’s been on staff with Lineweaver for 15 years. Tryon should be able to step into a head coaching job whenever he wants one, Lineweaver said.
“Those guys, shoot I don’t know how I keep them to tell the truth, from being a head coach,” Lineweaver said. “In general, certainly I think it would be better if we had more representation. First thing is getting good men to lead these young people. For sure on my staff I’ve got three good men that I would want my son to play for. Hands down on any three of them.”
In May, the Associated Press reported that while almost half the students attending public schools are minorities, four out of five teachers are white. The numbers in Texas didn’t veer too far off that path.
From 2008-12, two-thirds of Texas teachers were white, according to a Texas Education Agency report. During that span, the number of black teachers peaked at 32,057 in 2009 and dropped to 30,249 by 2012. And out of all Texas teachers, only a quarter of that number were men.
“I do think there is a strong need for certified African-American coaches,” Ozee said. “We’re seeing a shortage No. 1 of qualified and certified coaches, then you get down to a sub group, you’re numbers are even lower.”
In addition to being a full-time employee of the district, coaches must also be first aid and CPR certified, take concussion-related education courses and undergo a host of other safety training measures.
Ozee said the increase in coaching requirements over the years has been a good thing — but it also might have turned away prospective male coaches. Sam also said the time-consuming requirements could be a deterrent for recently graduated college athletes wanting to coach.
Preparing those athletes — and even college students who don’t play sports — who show an interest in coaching is the goal of the Huffines Institute Coaching Academy at Texas A&M. The academy was started last year and is directed by John Thornton, a longtime A&M athletic administrator and former assistant men’s basketball coach.
The academy is primarily designed to work with students already enrolled in other programs, in particular student-athletes.
“We have a lot of student-athletes that probably don’t realize they want to coach until later on in their educational process,” Thornton said. “There are people going through those programs that want to coach. What I’m trying to do is use the academy to provide a collaborative approach to that.”
Students are paired with members on the academy’s advisory council, which includes Texas A&M defensive line coach Terry Price.
“Every institution has a track for coaches. But one of the things is that coaching has changed so much over the years,” Thornton said. “It’s so hard and complicated that they don’t know where to go.”
‘Can I even
get past this?’
Veterans coaches such as Lynn and Anthony Criss are doing what they can to mentor young coaches.
Lynn said he’s working to start a North Texas black coaches association. Criss said he hopes something similar to the NFL Rooney Rule can be put in place to at least get black coaches in the door of an interview.
The UIL doesn’t keep track of coaching diversity statistics, and because it isn’t involved in coaching hires, declined to comment for this story.
One notable exclusion for black coaches in a sport filled with black athletes is the lack of representation on the Texas High School Coaches Association board of officers. The board consists of 24 spots — three from eight districts across the state. No spots are held by black coaches. Members are voted in by coaches in their districts. A president and president-elect are also chosen.
Allen Wilson, who won state championships at Paris and Tyler John Tyler before retiring from Dallas Carter in 2011, called the THSCA voting system a “popularity contest.” Hispanic coaches in South Texas have made inroads on the THSCA board. But in less diverse coaching regions such as North Texas and East Texas, black coaches have little-to-no chance of winning a peer vote, Wilson said.
“The coaches association should represent everybody that’s part of that group. But it’s representation without being a part of something,” Wilson said. “You ought to have some type of way of getting minorities in the mix.”
Lists of past board of officers aren’t available on the THSCA website, and an inquiry regarding the last time a black coach served on the board was not returned. Wilson, who never served on the board, said he can only recall three black coaches win board spots since he began coaching in the mid-1970s.
Wilson said the progress made by black coaches — at least in football — has been borderline stagnant the past four decades.
“People want to hire folks that look like them,” Wilson said. “It hasn’t changed since the late 1970s to now. At one point, they were talking about black coaches getting into some kind of teaching things. My thought process is that white coaches don’t do that. They come up as an assistant coach, they learn as a head coach. That should be the same criteria for black coaches.”
Anthony Criss said when he took the job at Arlington Bowie in 2000 that he went into it not concerning himself with race. But as the years passed and Criss moved to an administrative role and then back to coaching, at Sam Houston, he couldn’t help but think about the gap between white and black coaches.
“I started seeing other guys not getting an opportunity. There were guys that were doing a great job, and then I was like, this isn’t making any sense,” he said. “You see jobs open all the time, and then you wonder, can I get this job or not? White coaches don’t think that way. African-American coaches think, can I even get past this?”
Brian Gosset and Kelly Ward contributed to this report.
Coaching search spotlight
Mansfield Timberview, 2012: 1 out of 5 applicants were black.
Arlington Bowie, 2013: 2 out of 12 applicants were black.
Justin Northwest, 2014: 0 out of 12 applicants were black.
Texas teachers: Mostly white in diverse classrooms
The majority of Texas’ public students are minorities yet more than 60 percent of the teachers are white. The breakdown in 2011-12:
Source: Texas Education Agency
Texas’ enrollment trend
Source: Texas Education Agency