JEFF PEARLMAN

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Give the ball to LeRoy

Photo by Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post.

Back in the 1970s, when SEC schools finally began recruiting—and depending upon—black football players, words like “nigger” and “coon” and “spook” were replaced by a simple, yet ugly, phrase: “Give the ball to LeRoy.”

In short, the words translate to, “Let the nigger run so we can win.” It was disgusting then, it is disgusting now. But, in the minds of many white fans, coaches and administrators, it was gospel. That, after all, was the genesis of the black proliferation of college athletics in the south. It was rarely about social justice or equality. No, for most whites, what it came down to was a simple realization that many of the region’s fabulous athletes were not being put to use. Hence, before long the rosters of southern football powerhouses were overflowing with blacks. Were they allowed to play quarterback? No. Were they ever described as “intelligent” or “philosophical”? No. Would 99.9 percent of the white fans who cheered for blacks allow, oh, their daughters to date one? No way in hell.

LeRoy was wonderful if he ran for 180 yards and three touchdowns.

Using your toilet, however, was off limits.

Yesterday evening Jon Embree, the second-year head coach of the University of Colorado football team, was fired following two crappy seasons. The Buffs finished 1-11 this year, and 3-10 in 2011. Not good. Yet Embree, an African-American man and former star at the school, never really had a chance. The coach he succeeded, Dan Hawkins, had endured five-straight losing seasons, and left the cupboard painfully bare. For Embree to have guided the Buffs to, oh, a .500 record would have qualified him for coach of the decade. The talent level was that low.

Whether white administrators and boosters would like to or not, there’s no turning back on black players in college football. They have, of course, fully integrated and—without question—bettered the game. Black coaches, however, are another thing altogether. Embree was one of a mere 14 African-American head coaches in major-college football, and now that he’s been fired he’s almost certain to vanish into the abyss. Just ask Turner Gill, the African-American Kansas coach who, similarly, was axed last year after a mere two seasons. “I mentioned that to (AD Mike Bohn),” Embree told the Denver Post. “You know we don’t get opportunities. At the end of the day, you get fired and that’s it, right, wrong or indifferent. (Former Notre Dame coach) Tyrone Willingham was the only one who got fired and got hired again. We get bad jobs and no time to fix it.” As Embree noted after his dismissal, he was never given the chance he was promised. This was not a one-year job, or a two-year job, or even a three-year job. It required major muscle and a major overhaul.

No matter.

Some strides have been made in hiring black coaches.

Keeping them around—now that’s another issue.