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Drew Brees joins Purdue Football staff and offers possible remedy to racial inequities in college coaching



Drew Brees

y light-text”>ORLANDO, FLORIDA – Interim football coach Drew Brees of the Purdue Boilermakers looks on during the… [+] Citrus Bowl vs. the LSU Tigers at Camping World Stadium on January 2, 2023 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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After graduating from Purdue University in 2001, Drew Brees spent two decades in the NFL. During his 15 seasons as the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback, Brees led the team to nine playoffs and three NFC championships. He was named MVP of Super Bowl XLIV, in which the Saints clinched the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. Brees held career records for touchdown passes, completions, yards and completion percentage when he retired from the NFL in 2021.

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Cheez-It Citrus Bowl

Just before their matchup against LSU in the 2023 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl, Brees was named the interim assistant coach of the 8-5 Purdue Boilermakers football team. Brees is white. Ryan Walters, a black man whom the university named its new head coach last month, enthusiastically welcomed Brees to the interim position on his staff. This appointment did nothing to improve the racial diversity of Purdue’s coaching roster. Yet it does present a potentially replicable answer to one of college football’s most perplexing diversity issues.

Defensive Coordinators

According to the NCAA demographic database, 14% of American football head coaches in 2022 were black; that number would be less if it did not include historically black colleges and universities. Black representation was better and worse in the two roles that are typical on the runways for head coaching gigs: Defensive Coordinators (24%) and Offensive Coordinators (11%). Black men and two black women held 34% of the other football assistant coaching positions at NCAA member institutions last year.

Big Ten

Purdue is in the Big Ten, one of the five conferences that make up what is affectionately known as ‘The Power Five.’ In a 2018 USC Race and Equity Center research report on black student athletes and racial disparities in college sports, I provided statistics showing that black men made up 55% of football teams at all 65 Power Five universities. . At Purdue, 56% of the scholarship student-athletes on their football team during the 2021 season were black. Racial diversity on the team’s coaching staff was exponentially less.

It’s a shame that black men make up such a large part of college football players and yet are so underrepresented among coaches at all levels. Former standouts like Brees should be sought after for college coaching careers. Nearly 70% of NFL players are black. Why wouldn’t their alma maters and other colleges aggressively recruit more of them for full-time, or at least interim, coaching positions?

It is worth recognizing that playing and training are not the same. However, it seems that an interim assistant position like the one Purdue has created for Brees could give retired NFL players a chance to show their coaching potential. Not all of them will be as decorated and accomplished as Brees, but some will be far more talented than many current assistant coaches. Acting roles are usually low stakes. More colleges and universities should seek out talented former athletes of color for them.

College GameDay

In an ESPN College GameDay interview hours before the Citrus Bowl, Brees was asked why he accepted the interim job and if he was considering college coaching in the future. “First of all, I’m doing this for Purdue University because I love my school,” Brees responded. “There was a transition period from the Big 10 championship game to building up to this bowling game: our head coach is leaving, taking a lot of his employees with him, and I immediately thought, look, we have a bowling game to play. , we have a Bowl to go win, and these guys deserve the best opportunity and the best experience there.” Brees said this forced him to call the university to offer his help.

There are thousands of black men who excelled in college football. Some of them made it to the NFL, where they also performed extraordinarily well. It’s entirely plausible that, like Brees, many of them love their undergraduate alma maters and would be excited to accept interim coaching roles at those institutions. Short-term terms could tempt them to stay in longer-term positions. It could also provide them with an opportunity to be seen by other colleges and universities who have convinced themselves that their failure to hire black coaches can be blamed on a shortage of pipelines.

More institutions should extend the ‘come see us for a while’ invitation to former college and professional sports stars like Brees. They just have to be more intentional about ensuring that such invitations are not extended to just white men.

University of Colorado

To be sure, the provisional path to college coaching isn’t limited to soccer. Athletic directors should, for example, pursue Black women who were outstanding basketball or track athletes in college, and went on to establish distinguished careers in the WNBA or at the Olympics. In addition to benefiting from their experience in the sport, the star power these retired athletes of color would bring is likely to excite potential student-athletes being recruited to the institution, similar to the recruiting success the University of Colorado is experiencing. in response to the appointment of Deion Sanders to the head soccer coaching job there last month.


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