I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. CBS Sportsline columnist Gary Parrish thinks that SEC athletic directors are cowtowing to a racist fanbase by firing african-american coaches and replacing them with white southerners. Parrish points to the firings of Stan Heath at Arkansas, Rod Barnes at Ole Miss and the de facto ouster of Tubby Smith at Kentucky, and their replacement with Kentucky native John Pelphrey, Mississippian Andy Kennedy and Texan Billie Gillespie, respectively. Quoth Parrish:
The facts are the past three SEC coaching changes had similar characteristics. They each featured a minority getting fired (Rod Barnes at Ole Miss, Heath at Arkansas) or leaving amid pressure for an inferior job (Smith at Kentucky). Then a white athletic director (Pete Boone at Ole Miss, Frank Broyles at Arkansas, Mitch Barnhart at Kentucky) replaced the minority with a white coach (Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss, John Pelphrey at Arkansas, Billy Gillispie at Kentucky) and southern roots (Kennedy is from Mississippi, Pelphrey is from Kentucky, Gillispie is from Texas). Coincidence? I don't think so.
Parrish does note that Dennis Felton is the only african-american head basketball coach in the conference, a fact which I (and apparently even Felton according to the interview) was not aware of. I'm certain this one is a hot potato for a lot of people. That's undoubtedly Parrish's main motivation for writing this story. Journalists write to be read. But even as an acknowledged SEC-homer, I have to admit, the numbers look really bad. I mean, one african-american coach in a league of 12 schools? 8.5% of coaches is a very low number, especially in a part of the world which I love more than anyplace on Earth and would never leave, but which does carry a lot of historical baggage in this regard.
Like Lewis, I'm proud to be a son of the South. I also have a moustache and enjoy fried chicken, but that's completely coincidental.
However, I think Parrish fails to point out that his observation is far from scientific. For one, Tubby Smith was not run out of Lexington after a decade of clean and generally successful basketball because he's african-american. He was run out because Kentucky basketball fans are mullet-wearing nutjobs who can't dance/sing/rap/chew gum and are hopelessly out of touch with reality. They would have run off Adolph Rupp, J.B. Stoner or Huey Newton under similar circumstances because, hey, they're just delusional that way. They'll pitchfork Gillespie in 2-5 years as well, before re-evaluating and ratcheting down their standards for the next guy. Bet on it.
And you could fill a whole website, well several actually, with the whacked-out antics of Arkansas fans. Lest we forget, these are the same people who are currently in the process of slowly suffocating a football coach who took them to a 10 win season and an appearance in the SEC title game, where they lost to the eventual national champions. What they lack in cognitive function, I suppose they make up for in passion.
And while Barnes was, as Parrish points out, the National Coach of the Year in 2001, he followed that with four straight losing seasons prior to his ouster, which is enough to get anybody fired ( as long as he or she is not coaching at Vanderbilt, I suppose). Regarding this particular firing, Parrish also exhibits that memory disorder native to sports jounalists, forgeting what he wrote a month ago. In this case, on March 6, 2007 Parrish called Kennedy the SEC's coach of the year and noted that "Kennedy took the same roster that got Rod Barnes fired and turned it into co-Western Division champs. That's good coaching, plain and simple." Huh?
I think Parrish is sensationalizing things a bit. And I don't think his sample is nearly as representative as he would like to think. Three coaching changes over the course of two seasons just isn't enough to establish any trend. Unless of course it involves Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Dubose. Then it establishes that your football program is reeling. But I digress. I think what Parrish has pointed out is something that's worth watching, but isn't necessarily the pernicious evil that he and his editor would like it to be. Am I wrong here?