In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement that captivated the world last year, Mike Locksley took time to look at himself in the mirror.
Locksley was living his dream job as the University of Maryland football coach, and yet when he looked around other colleges and the NFL, he saw nonwhite football coaches like himself struggling to get jobs or make the right connections.
Locksley grew tired of talking about the issue and wanted to start paving the way for the next generation of minority coaches. So, he reached out to people like Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban and Baltimore Ravens executive vice president Ozzie Newsome and launched the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches. One year since its inception, the NCMFC has provided resources to minority coaches from all levels of football, with the hope of making them better job candidates.
“I’m here to advocate for the youth football coach that wants to become a high school coach, and the high school coach that wants to become a college coach,” said Locksley, the coalition’s founder and president. “Our job as a coalition is to make sure we have programming and engagement and resources to help you prepare you for the job that you want ultimately.”
According to the NCAA Demographic Database, 82% of Division I head football coaches were white in 2020, while 16% were Black and 3% were listed as other. On the football field, however, 48% of the players were Black, 36% were white and 15% were listed as other.
The NFL only has five head coaches of color — Tomlin included — despite the majority of the league’s players being of color.
Locksley, who is the first Black coach in Maryland football history, has a saying: “Coaches are no longer selected, they are elected.” Coaches are picked based on the connections they have formed with fellow coaches, athletic directors or general managers, he said.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to who they’re going to feel comfortable with being the face of their program,” said Howard University coach Larry Scott, who took over the Bison in 2020 after spending time as an assistant at Power Five programs such as the University of Florida, the University of Tennessee and the University of Miami.
Scott, a member of the coalition’s executive committee, said it’s important for minority coaches to have more access to networking opportunities so they can be better prepared and be in a better position to be hired.
The NCMFC, which has nearly 800 members, provides coaches from youth to professional football the ability to create strong connections. The coalition created a coaching academy in which a select group of coaches were paired with a Football Bowl Subdivision athletic director to receive individual mentoring.
“Our sport, it’s usually a family tree of coaches,” said Navy cornerbacks coach Robert Green, a 1998 U.S. Naval Academy graduate who is entering his ninth season with the Midshipmen. “Being a part of the other coaches’ family tree provides opportunities for you.”
Green is also director of racial equality for the Navy football team. He believes the lack of minority coaching hires is a reflection of problems with diversity in the country at large.
“I am not naive to the fact that now our country is nowhere near where we want it to be,” said Green, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel in 2017. “This is why Coach Locksley’s coalition is so important, because it gives an avenue for advancement in growth and development.”
It’s troubling for Locksley to see that the diversity on the field every Saturday and Sunday doesn’t translate to coaching staffs and front offices. “We’re good enough to play the game and win championships, but it’s not always reflected that we’re good enough to lead that team, from an executive standpoint,” Locksley said.
“We still need more role models of color in football to provide leadership for all players, but specifically minority players, who make up a huge percentage of athletes who participate in our sport,” said Saban, a member of the executive board who worked with Locksley for three seasons at Alabama, winning a national title together in the 2017 season.
Terrapins senior wide receiver Brian Cobbs said Locksley’s efforts with the coalition have shown the team that he is trying to do more than improve his track record as a head coach.
“[Locksley] cares about bigger things that are going on in this world [and] trying to give people that deserve opportunities, who may not get those opportunities based [on] the color of their skin,” Cobbs said. “Being a minority player, it helps us feel comfortable knowing that we can talk to him about different things.”
Through social media, online newsletters and its website, the coalition promotes its member coaches’ accomplishments and milestones. The coalition’s website also allows its members to distribute information and make referrals.
The NCMFC has held panel discussions that featured speakers like Saban, Tomlin, former All-Pro cornerback Troy Vincent and ESPN analyst and former Ohio State University quarterback Kirk Herbstreit.
“What Mike is doing is awesome because it’s given people opportunities,” said 14th-year Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, who along with Green created the Navy Football Players Council for Racial Equality, which emphasizes discussion, voter registration and community outreach. “Then you let your knowledge and skill sets come out. But if you don’t get an opportunity, none of that can happen.”
Locksley said the coalition’s goal for its second year is to prepare minority coaches for jobs nationwide. It wants to set metrics and track the progress of the hiring process to analyze the job landscape.
“We had a positive first year, but we realize we have much work to do in producing, preparing and promoting minority coaches,” Newsome, the first Black general manager in NFL history and a member of NCMFC executive board, said in a statement. “We feel confident that with this highly regarded executive board, we are moving in the right direction.”