Family matters: Nepotism a hurdle to diversity in coaching
Being a major college football coach is as much a lifestyle as it is a career.
Long hours. Rare days off. It’s a job that can pull those who do it away from their families, so maybe it’s no surprise when coaches try to carve out space at work for their loved ones.
A propensity to follow in Dad’s footsteps is a common one across the sport, but it has also helped perpetuate a lack of racial and ethnic diversity at the highest levels of coaching in college football.
The Associated Press examined the coaching rosters of the 65 schools that compete in Power Five conferences and found 26 instances of family members on the same coaching staff.
Of those, 23 involved white coaches, including at Iowa where coach Kirk Ferentz’s son, Brian, is the offensive coordinator. It also includes Purdue, where coach Jeff Brohm has brothers as offensive coordinator and chief of staff.
“The industry of football that we’re part of is so different from corporate,” said Maryland coach Mike Locksley, who is Black. “It’s corporate, but it is very familial. It crosses the line. Usually when you work somewhere you go home and it’s done. This private life, work life is so intertwined in the game of football and even in it’s hiring practices when you see the number of nepotism hires and the affiliations. The family trees, per se.”
Nepotism is a significant factor in why Black coaches are under-represented in major college football, according to the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches, which was founded by Locksley in 2020 to prepare and advocate for minority coaches at all levels of football.
“I don’t think anyone can debate that,” said attorney Raj Kudchadkar, the group’s executive director. “We can plow our resources into developing minority coaches, but if the top decision-makers are set on hiring family members all the training and advocacy in the world won’t get one of my members that position.”
According to the latest data compiled by the NCAA, 79% of head coaches at Power Five conference schools during the 2020 football season were white, 15% were Black and the rest were from other minority groups. Their teams were comprised of 45% Black players, 37% white and 18% from other groups.
In the family: Coaches tend to carefully craft and protect the culture of their programs, so they are apt to hire people they know and trust. And who can you trust more than a family member?
All three of Ferentz’s sons played football at Iowa. When Brian was done playing and expressed an interest in coaching, his father’s advice was to get out of Iowa City.
Brian Ferentz started his career as an offensive quality control/ scouting assistant for the New England Patriots; Kirk Ferentz had worked as an assistant for Patriots coach Bill Belichick in Cleveland during the mid-1990s.
Brian Ferentz worked his way up to tight ends coach with New England in 2011, and when his father had an opening at offensive line coach in 2012, he moved back to Iowa.
The hire was met with scrutiny because it seemed to violate the school’s policy that discourages nepotism. A plan was approved by school officials to have athletic director Gary Barta evaluate Brian Ferentz’s performance; Barta at the time said it was his decision to hire the younger Ferentz.
“Why would a head coach not try to get the best possible assistant?” asked Kirk Ferentz, whose 110 Big Ten victories over a 24-year career ranks fourth in league history. “We all understand the economics and how it works, how the world works. But more importantly, we all want to be successful, have good teams. I don’t think there’s anything more important than hiring your staff.”
Half of Kirk Ferentz’s assistant coaches this season are former Iowa football players. Other than Brian Ferentz, the other former Hawkeyes on the staff are Black.
“That’s another form of nepotism, I guess,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I know their DNA, if you will, having been in the program.”
Pulled in: Colorado State quarterbacks coach Matt Mumme did not want a career in coaching when he was done playing college football for his father. But Hal Mumme pulled his son into the business when he became head coach at Southeastern Louisiana in 2003. Hal Mumme’s previous stop at Kentucky had ended in turmoil and NCAA violations.
“After the Kentucky thing, he’s like, ‘I just need to make sure that I have people that are loyal to me. That have my back when I have to be doing other things,’” Matt Mumme said.
The 47-year-old Mumme said Louisiana nepotism rules prevented his father from hiring him as a full-time coach so he worked for free there, and then followed Hal to New Mexico State.
South Carolina’s Shane Beamer is among 21 Power Five head coaches whose father coached football at either the high school, college or professional level. Among the others are Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Mississippi’s Lane Kiffin, according to AP research. Only one of those 21, David Shaw of Stanford, is Black.
Graduate assistants: When Beamer decided to get into coaching, he was determined to do it without the help of his Hall of Fame father, Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech. He said he sent dozens of letters to programs all over the country trying to land a graduate assistant position.
Graduate assistant is a highly coveted, entry-level job in coaching, especially at big programs. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano’s son, Joe, is a graduate assistant for the Scarlet Knights; Kansas State coach Chris Klieman’s son, Deven, is a graduate assistant for the Wildcats; and Indiana coach Tom Allen hired his son, Thomas, as a GA.
Shane Beamer landed his first grad assistant position in 2000 at Georgia Tech, where the athletic director and offensive coordinator at the time had previously worked with his father.
“I’m not naive. I get it,” Beamer said. “So that certainly helped me get my foot in the door. But then ultimately you’ve got to be able to keep yourself in the profession.”
Both Locksley and Kudchadkar are quick to point out that just because someone is the son of a coach it doesn’t mean they are undeserving of a position.
“You can’t blame the coaches that benefit from nepotism. But what I always say is in the same respect, we can’t ignore the issue and simply say it is what it is, right?” Kudchadkar said. “Many schools already have rules that address nepotism. We just need more schools to address it.”
Locksley said he has tried to get his son, Kai, who played quarterback at UTEP and is with the CFL’s Edmonton Elks, to pursue a coaching career.
“When I’ve talked to him about that he’s, like, ‘No, I want to see my kids grow up,’” Locksley said.
For the kids of coaches who are exposed to the game and lifestyle at a young age, the experience can be invaluable preparation for a career.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a negative that these guys grow up in the profession and they grow up on these practices fields and they become coaches,” Locksley said. “Now the issue is – because we don’t have the minority numbers – you don’t see it very often with us.”