When the fathers of the new College Football Playoff set about to gather some veteran football-coaching expertise on their selection committee, they settled, naturally enough, on Tom Osborne, the revered ex-Nebraska coach who won 255 games and three national titles.
They beckoned Barry Alvarez, who went 118-74-4 at Wisconsin and coached three Rose Bowl champions.
And they sent an invite to … Tyrone Willingham, who coached Stanford to a Rose Bowl, got fired at Notre Dame, then ended his coaching career with an 11-37 record in four years at Washington?
The committee is to be unveiled Wednesday, and if reports of its constituents are correct, it won’t lack for integrity. It includes USC athletic director Pat Haden, former NCAA vice president Tom Jernstedt and former USA Today reporter Steve Wieberg.
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Let’s be clear: Willingham will do fine on the committee, his record at Washington notwithstanding, especially because this is an exercise in analytics rather than one of inspiring or relating to young people.
But because he, Osborne and Alvarez are the only three on the 13-member panel with major-college, head-coaching experience, it’s natural to wonder at the thought process of including somebody whose last endeavor, the 0-12 season at UW in 2008, was such a spectacular failure.
Then it dawns on you that his selection is a window into the plodding history of college football, a game played in large number by African-Americans, but coached predominantly by white men, especially at the highest levels.
The African-Americans on the committee are Willingham and Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State. It’s probably reflective that Rice’s appointment has caused the most stir, not because she’s black, but because she’s an eyebrow-raiser to the good old boys that have populated college football.
Rice hasn’t gone through two-a-days or sat around discussing cloud coverage in the secondary. But she’s a football savant and one of the first two women to be admitted to Augusta National Golf Club.
“Anybody that doesn’t think Condoleezza Rice knows football, sit down and talk to her for 10 minutes,” Stanford football coach David Shaw said Tuesday. Referring to her and Willingham, Shaw said, “Those are people that will put their reputations on the line to do things right, and those are the people you’re looking for.”
Willingham’s selection becomes more understandable when you check the top 25 active FBS coaches by winning percentage entering 2013. It includes one African-American, Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M, at No. 15. If the metric is total wins, the top 25 is entirely white.
Of course, those are lists that require longevity and stability, and sometimes, administrative patience. Meanwhile, you know that the college game has lagged far behind the NFL in opportunity for minorities; as recently as five years ago, you could count the number of black FBS coaches on one hand.
That number has improved to 13 in 2013, but it’s still disproportionately low. In the Pac-12, Shaw is the only African-American head football coach, and he has the only sole-title coordinator — Derek Mason, who heads the defense. Three other Pac-12 African-American assistants are co-coordinators.
They travel a tough road, one notorious for short hooks and limited chances. Willingham, the rarity who got one of those opportunities at Washington, might be a symbol of where the game has been and how far it needs to come.
And what’s more …
• Oregon coach Mark Helfrich says he can’t remember Marcus Mariota’s last interception. No wonder. It came 233 throws ago (a Pac-12 record), last Nov. 17 against Stanford.
• Stanford’s Shaw says he’s been telling people that Mariota is the best player in the nation, but he sees another candidate on video: “That guy that wears No. 11.” That’s UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, and wouldn’t you know it, Stanford plays UCLA this week.
• UCLA coach Jim Mora is rapturous talking about Bellevue grad Myles Jack, a true freshman starting linebacker: “He’s already a great football player. This kid is really special. I hope I’m not jinxing him.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org