A good man and coach, Willingham no lobbyist
What if Tyrone Willingham opened the door and let us in? Let us hear what he truly thought about the inequities in college football that...
Seattle Times staff columnist
What if Tyrone Willingham opened the door and let us in? Let us hear what he truly thought about the inequities in college football that have kept qualified African-Americans from becoming head coaches?
What if Willingham were less measured, less programmed, more dynamic?
After all, he has a college-football resume like no other African-American coach.
He is the gold standard.
He has taken Stanford to a Rose Bowl.
He has been a head coach at Notre Dame and walked the same sideline as Knute Rockne and Ara Parseghian.
Now he is coaching at Washington, his third high-profile university, and has been assigned the job of returning the school to the glories that began to fade under Rick Neuheisel.
But Willingham remains a conundrum. He's a coach who closes practices and closes himself. He's a coach who refuses to invite scrutiny.
It's as if he has decided the way to succeed, the way to lead, is to do it without fiery speeches, without confrontation — low, really low, under the radar.
Certainly he is under enormous pressure.
College football is watching Willingham, has been watching him since he became the Stanford coach in 1995. When he succeeds, it means other African-American football coaches get interviewed for head-coaching positions.
If Willingham wins, other African-American coaches win. If he gets his teams into bowl games, other African-American coaches get promotions. His opportunities lead to opportunities for others.
Already, his success has, at least in some small way, helped Karl Dorrell become the head coach at UCLA and allowed Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom to become the first African-American head coach in the Southeastern Conference.
But I believe, if he were more outspoken about the inequities in college coaching, Willingham could do even more good.
I wish he would act more like some of college basketball's African-American pioneers like John Thompson, Nolan Richardson and John Chaney.
I wish he were more like another former Stanford football coach and a one-time mentor to Willingham, Dennis Green. When he was at Stanford and, before that, Northwestern, Green never hesitated to lobby for opportunities for other African-American coaches.
Willingham has a résumé that demands people pay attention to him, but has a voice that can't be heard.
I believe he is too conservative. He is too much like his good friend, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He is too controlled to be confrontational.
Willingham, who coaches tomorrow against Notre Dame, the school that fired him at the end of last season, is as different from Thompson and Richardson and Chaney as Don James is from Rick Neuheisel.
He doesn't let us into his life. He doesn't create headlines. He doesn't shine a light on the inequities in his sport. He doesn't make statements that make waves. In that respect he is the Condi Rice of college football.
But Thompson, Richardson and Chaney got people to take notice. They refused to be silenced. They angrily attacked the status quo. They actively lobbied for more African-American coaches. They made waves that made changes.
Willingham is a good and principled man.
He is a good football coach.
Certainly he knows the responsibility that comes with being an African-American coach, even in 21st century America. He knows better than anyone that people still are out there hoping he will fail, just because he isn't white.
I believe he will succeed. I only wish that, along the way, he would use the platform presented to him, use the résumé he has built, to champion the causes of other coaches who are waiting for the same chance he got from Stanford a decade ago.
I wish he would let us in.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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