In Texas high school football, minority coaches face an uphill climb
An examination of the demographics of Texas high school football coaches, which suggests that African-American and Hispanic coaches are underrepresented statewide.
John Snelson’s cadence may be slow, but it’s deliberate. The head football coach and athletic director at Dickinson High School is thoughtful in his discussion, ensuring he says exactly what he means and means exactly what he says.
And, given the subject at hand, the discretion is understandable — talking about race is uncomfortable. But Snelson, who has amassed a 50-23 record in six seasons with the Gators, calls it like he sees it.
“When you go to the regional meetings, when you go to coaching functions, the representation, well, it is what it is,” Snelson, who is white, said. “There definitely does seem to be more Caucasian teachers and coaches.”
The numbers bear out Snelson’s observation: a demographic study of Texas high school football coaches by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football reveals that African-American and Hispanic coaches are underrepresented when compared to the schools they coach and the state as a whole.
The study focused on the 253 teams that comprise the University Interscholastic League’s Class 6A — that is, the largest schools in Texas high school football, with enrollments of 2,190 and above. Of those 253 coaches, 179 are white; 45 are black; 28 are Hispanic; and one is Pacific Islander.
This runs in contrast to the students who attend those 6A schools — while more than 70 percent of 6A head coaches are white, just 26.4 percent of the students that attend those schools are white, compared to 50.6 percent Hispanic and 14.1 percent African-American, according to data obtained from the Texas Education Agency.
Of course, students of various ethnicities are not evenly distributed around the state, but minority coaches are underrepresented even in schools where the majority of students are non-white. 95 percent of majority-white schools have a white head football coach; 47 percent of majority-black schools have a black head football coach; and just 19 percent of majority-Hispanic schools have a Hispanic head football coach.
And the disparity is not limited to the largest classification: of the 270 head coaches hired by Texas high school football programs in classes 6A through 2A since the end of the 2016 season, 196 of them — more than 72 percent — are white.
These numbers are no secret to minority coaches; in fact, it’s a frequent topic of conversation for many.
“It’s something that we talk about a lot,” said Ricklan Holmes, the head coach at John Tyler High School. “Not to take anything away from the other coaches, but when you look at the makeup of the schools that most coaches are in, it’s not the majority that they represent.”
Holmes, who is black, is entering his seventh season at the helm of the Lions in Class 5A, putting together a 55-20 record in that span. The issue, he said, is plain to see.
“It’s harder for a minority coach. Not just African-American, not just Hispanic,” Holmes said. “It’s Pacific Islander. It’s Asian. It’s all the other races besides Caucasian.
“It’s about getting in the room. Once you give these guys an opportunity to sell themselves, you’ll find out that they’re just as qualified.”
The “getting in the room” refers to getting an interview for a vacant head coaching position, something that minority coaches can find difficult. This holds especially true for one Hispanic head coach in a major city that spoke to Texas Football. The district championship-winning coach spoke under condition of anonymity, and he has his reasons.
“I don’t talk to coaches about it, because you don’t know who coaches know,” the Hispanic coach said. “If you get labeled as a malcontent, or maybe if you get labeled as a militant African-American coach, you’re done. If you get labeled as not professional, it’s really hard to shake that off as a minority.”
The coach said that Hispanic coaches are often type-cast — that’s to say, they can only get jobs at Hispanic-majority schools — and the numbers bear that out: all 28 of the Hispanic coaches in Class 6A coach at Hispanic-majority schools, and 26 of them coach at schools that are at least 72 percent Hispanic.
“Becoming a head coach is incredibly hard, whether you’re white, black, brown, green,” the coach said. “But as a minority, you have to know which schools would give you a shot, because you won’t get called because you’re not a good fit. But it doesn’t go the other way, because there are schools that are 80 percent Hispanic that will hire a white guy.”
It’s true: of the 119 schools in Class 6A that are less than 20 percent white, 53 have a white head coach. For comparison’s sake, just 22 of the 193 schools with less than 20 percent African-American students have a black head coach; and there are no Hispanic coaches in any of the 28 schools with less than 20 percent Hispanic students.
The short version, the Hispanic coach said: a white coach can get a job at a minority school, but it’s rare to see a minority coach hired at a white school. As a result, minority coaches are more often found in inner cities, which can have its own unintended consequences.
“People told me, don’t you dare go there. You’ll ruin your career,” the Hispanic coach said. “But there’s nobody giving me an opportunity to show what I can do. But now that I’ve done that, I’m a coach who works well with ‘those’ kids.
“Other coaches will always tell me that I’ve done a great job, because coaches respect the job you do. But coaches aren’t in the position to hire head coaches; that’s the athletic directors. And when athletic directors and school boards look at me as ‘a damn good coach’ instead of ‘a damn good Hispanic coach,’ then we’re good.”
A step in the right direction, the Hispanic coach said, starts with assistant coaches — with a critical element of getting rid of the inner-city stigma.
“Get minority offensive and defensive coordinators into suburban schools,” the coach said. “If the school keeps winning, then you’re a suburban coordinator, which is better than being an inner-city head coach.”
Diversity is a critical element to John Snelson’s staff. Dickinson is a fairly assorted school — about 45 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white and 20 percent black, with the remainder comprised of Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian and mixed race students — and Snelson said that he wants his staff to reflect that.
“Where I feel I’m weak, I’m going to hire someone who is really strong,” Snelson said. “Our players are going to know that I love them, but I’m an ol’ country boy. It doesn’t matter what color you are, my players are going to know that there’s someone on our coaching staff that can talk to them about what’s going on in their lives.”
Snelson said that the most important element is hiring great coaches — “teachers and coaches are working hand-in-hand with parents to take care of their most important cargo,” he said — but admitted that he makes a conscious effort to have representation on his staff.
“I’ve worked with black coaches and Hispanic coaches, and there are good coaches and bad coaches of every race,” Snelson said. “We’ve got to hire quality men, and they need to be highly motivated, loyal dudes who can handle a high stress level. But kids need to see coaches that look like them, too.”
Joe Martin agrees. The assistant executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association and a longtime coach himself, Martin said that the organization is working on initiatives to help black and Hispanic coaches.
“From our perspective here at the THSCA, we want to create some inclusion programs to help balance that moving forward,” Martin, who is white, said. “That’s a priority moving forward. It’s two-fold — it’s young coaches, it’s minority coaches, and it’s especially young minority coaches.”
The THSCA recently added at-large board positions to get more minority voices involved in the association at a high level, and Martin said the organization is exploring mentorship programs for older coaches to help younger coaches in order to build a more diverse next generation.
One of the other barriers, Martin says, is networking. He hopes the THSCA’s new partnership with Texas Coach Network helps expand the opportunities for black and Hispanic coaches.
“I think one of the reasons that minority coaches are underrepresented is that their network is smaller,” Martin said. “This will get their résumé out there. That way, they don’t have to have the network that us older coaches had to have.”
Holmes said he doesn’t believe that racism is responsible for the underrepresentation of minority coaches in Texas high school football. Instead, he said, the issue is that people don’t know there’s a problem.
“It’s going to take the media getting it out there,” Holmes said. “I don’t think most schools know this information. I think if more schools were aware of this issue, they’d go it about it differently.”
The struggles for minority coaches still bothers the Hispanic coach, but he has a way of funneling that energy.
“I’m not disgruntled. But put my résumé up against anybody. Hire on the record, hire on what you’ve done,” the Hispanic coach said.
“It fuels my fire every day to beat some of those people that passed me over.”