Black Coaches in Pro Sports

Jason Daugherty, American Renaissance, March 28, 2014

Accusations of racism are not plausible.

After the National Basketball Association (NBA) celebrated its in-your-face version of Black History Month last month, I thought it would be good to look at the accomplishments of black head coaches in the NBA and other professional sports. They haven’t been very successful.

I have been a fan of the New York Knicks since age six, and watch them whenever they’re on national TV. For a full decade, from 1991 to 2001, the Knicks were in the playoffs every year. They were led by white coaches—Pat Riley, Don Nelson, and Jeff Van Gundy—who won 530 of their 832 regular season games, for a winning percentage of just under 64 percent. In the playoffs, Mr. Riley and Mr. Van Gundy had a solid 72-60 record, and led the Knicks to the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999.

Since 2001, the Knicks have been led for the most part by black head coaches, and the results have been abysmal. Don Chaney, Herb Williams, Lenny Wilkens, Isaiah Thomas, and Mike Woodson have combined to win only 288 games, while losing 362—a winning percentage of only 44 percent—and have made the playoffs only four times since 2001. In the new millennium, black coaches have won only six playoff games for the Knicks, while losing 10.

The struggles of the black Knicks coaches are not an aberration. There are 30 NBA teams, and therefore 30 NBA head coaches. In a league in which over 80 percent of the players are black, 18 head coaches are white, and 11 are black. This, by itself, hints at the superiority of white coaches. (One NBA head coach, Erik Spoelstra of the defending champion Miami Heat, has a white father and a Filipino mother.)

As of March 27, the 18 white coaches were 74 games over .500, having won 652 games and lost 578, for a winning percentage of 53. The eleven black coaches (plus one former black coach of the Detroit Pistons, who was recently fired and replaced with a white coach) have won 368 games while losing 467, for a win rate of 44 percent.

An especially striking case of substandard performance by a black coach is that of Knicks coach Mike Woodson. Mr. Woodson’s Knicks have the second highest payroll of any team in the league, and yet have managed to win just 30 games while losing 42. The Brooklyn Nets, also led by a black coach, have the highest payroll in the league. They have won only four more games than they have lost. Meanwhile, the second thriftiest team in the league is the Phoenix Suns. Led by a white head coach, the Suns have won 43 games and lost only 29.

Here is a complete breakdown of NBA teams; their current record as of March 27, 2014; the race of their coach; and their 2013-14 payroll:

Team

Wins

Losses

Win%

Coach Race

Payroll in $Mil (Rank)

San Antonio

55

16

.775

White

64.1 (18)

Oklahoma City

52

19

.732

White

69.5 (13)

Indiana

52

20

.722

White

71.4 (8)

LA Clippers

50

22

.694

LS Black**

74.6 (5)

Houston

48

22

.686

White

57.4 (25)

Miami

48

22

.686

Asian

81.8 (3)

Portland

45

27

.625

White

61.3 (22)

Golden State

44

27

.620

LS Black**

70.4 (11)

Memphis

43

28

.606

White

71.6 (7)

Phoenix

43

29

.597

White

53.9 (29)

Dallas

43

29

.597

White

67.9 (15)

Chicago

40

31

.563

White

73.1 (6)

Toronto

40

31

.563

Black

70.9 (9)

Brooklyn

37

33

.529

LS Black**

100.8 (1)

Washington

36

35

.507

White

70.3 (12)

Minnesota

35

35

.500

White

68.5 (14)

Charlotte

35

37

.486

White

60.8 (23)

Denver

32

40

.444

Black

66.7 (16)

Atlanta

31

39

.443

White

59.2 (24)

New Orleans

31

40

.437

LS Black**

66.6 (17)

New York

30

42

.417

Black

87.6 (2)

Cleveland

29

44

.397

Black

63.7 (19)

Detroit

26

45

.366

Black/White*

62.4 (20)

Sacramento

25

46

.352

White

62.3 (21)

LA Lakers

24

46

.343

White

79.3 (4)

Boston

23

48

.324

White

70.5 (10)

Utah

23

49

.319

Black

56.6 (27)

Orlando

20

52

.278

Black

56.8 (26)

Philadelphia

15

56

.211

White

45.6 (30)

Milwaukee

13

58

.183

Black

55.9 (28)

*Detroit fired its black coach after 19 wins and 29 losses. A white coach has taken over and won 7 games while losing 16.
**LS Black denotes a light-skinned “black coach.” The four LS coaches have Barack Obama skin color or lighter.

White coaches are concentrated at the top. Nine of the 12 best teams in the league are led by white head coaches. Moreover, the white coaches tend to do an exceptional job with limited resources. Of the seven teams with top-10 records led by white head coaches, only two have payrolls in the top 10, and three of them have payrolls in the bottom 10.

Light-skinned black coaches fare far better than non-mixed (or less-mixed) black coaches. As a group, they have won 162 games while losing only 122—though with the help of relatively high payrolls. Of the eight dark-skinned black coaches, only one has more wins than losses, and six rank in the bottom ten in wins/losses. All told, dark-skinned black coaches have won a grand total of 206 games this year, while losing 345, for a winning percentage of just 37. No team coached by a dark-skinned black has a win/loss ranking that exceeds its payroll ranking.

The win-loss records of black and white head coaches in the National Football League and Major League Baseball are much closer. What is remarkable in these sports is how few black coaches there are. In the NFL, where 66.3 percent of the players are black and only 30.1 percent are white, for the 2013 season, an astonishing 28 of the 32 coaches were white. Put another way, in a league in which 30 percent of the players are white, 88 percent of the head coaches were white. Only three of the 32 NFL coaches in 2013 were black, and one was Hispanic. This is all the more remarkable considering the NFL’s controversial “Rooney Rule,” established in 2003, which requires that all NFL teams interview minority candidates when they are looking for a new head coach.

Because of the much smaller minority sample size, it is harder to analyze NFL coaching success based on race. But for whatever it’s worth, in 2013, white head coaches won 219 games, while losing 228 and tying 1, for a winning percentage of 49. The three black head coaches had a somewhat better record, combined to win 24, lose 23, and tie 1, for a winning percentage of 51. The NFL’s lone Hispanic head coach was especially successful, winning 12 games and losing 4.

In baseball, much has been made about the declining percentage of African-American players. Though the percentage of American-born blacks in the MLB is right around 8.3, the total number of blacks is just under 20 percent, because foreign-born blacks from Latin America—mainly the Dominican Republic—outnumber American blacks. Of the 30 MLB managers, only three were black in 2013. Twenty-six were white, and again there was one Hispanic.

In 2013, the 26 white managers won a combined 2,103 games while losing 2,110, for a winning rate of almost exactly 50 percent. The three black managers did worse, winning 232 games and losing 255, for a winning percentage of 47.6. As in the NFL, the lone Hispanic manager in MLB had a great season, winning 96 games and losing only 66.

Another way to measure coaching success is by the number of championships won. Frank Robinson became the first black MLB manager in history, almost 40 years ago, in 1975. Since his “breakthrough” only one black manager has won the World Series, though he did it twice (Toronto’s Cito Gaston in 1992 and 1993). One Hispanic manager, Ozzie Guillen in 2005, has won the World Series. The other 35 championship teams since 1975 have been led by whites.

Baseball fans know that in recent years there have been a number of black managers with talented rosters who have failed. These include Ron Washington, who still manages the Texas Rangers despite the revelation that he snorted cocaine while he was manager in 2009; Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel of the New York Mets; and Dusty Baker, who came up short with talented rosters when he led the Chicago Cubs and when he led the Cincinnati Reds.

In pro football, of the 25 Super Bowls since 1989 (the first year there was black head coach in the Super Bowl era), only two have been won by black head coaches.

In basketball, the blackest sport both in terms of players and coaches, the championship list is again filled with white coaches. Of the last 26 NBA-champion teams, only one has been led by a black head coach: The 2007-08 Boston Celtics were coached by the light-skinned Doc Rivers. Asian head coach Erik Spoelstra has won the last two NBA titles, but aside from him and Doc Rivers, every NBA championship head coach since 1986 has been white. In the 45 years since the first black NBA coach, black coaches have won seven titles, and two of those were by “player-coach” Bill Russell in the 1960s.

There has never been a black head coach in the National Hockey League.

Black coaches, on the whole, have not been successful in the four major sports. When blacks have held head coaching or managerial positions, their performance has been disappointing, especially in basketball.  In professional football and baseball, there are a few success stories, but white coaches generally have better records. Blacks often complain that they are underrepresented in coaching positions because of “racism.” The real explanation is that few of them have the ability for these very challenging jobs.

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Jason Daugherty
Mr. Daugherty studied history at the University of Cincinnati. He lives in Baltimore County, Maryland, and enjoys golf and hiking.
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