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Commentary: Pac-12 basketball history of diversity, starting with George Raveling, gives way to a lineup of all white coaches

UPDATED: Fri., April 23, 2021

By Jon Wilner Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Almost 50 years ago, a Washington State coaching search that leaned on advice from John Wooden and Jerry Tarkanian resulted in the appointment of George Raveling as the 10th head coach in Cougars history.

“He is the best recruiter in the country,” Tarkanian declared, according to an account in the Spokane Daily Chronicle.

Raveling was more than a collector of talent. He was also a blazer of trails.

The 34-year-old became the first Black head coach in conference history, setting in motion a drive for diversity so successful that the Pac-10 would eventually become known within the coaching industry as the “Black-10,” according to former Oregon and Washington State coach Ernie Kent, who is Black.

But the “Black-10” has become the White-12.

Barring a change prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, the Pac-12 will field an all-white lineup of men’s basketball coaches for the third consecutive year.

The past five hires, covering roughly 24 months, have been white men: Cal’s Mark Fox, Washington State’s Kyle Smith, UCLA’s Mick Cronin, Utah’s Craig Smith and Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd.

Not since Cal promoted Wyking Jones in the spring of 2017 has a Black coach been appointed atop a program.

The last external hire of a Black coach came in the spring of 2014, when Cuonzo Martin arrived in Berkeley and Kent took charge in Pullman.

While the situation is both discouraging and newsworthy – the Pac-12 is the only major conference without a Black head coach – it arguably falls short of condemnable given the conference’s history of hiring diversity.

“You can’t say it’s systemic in the Pac-12 because of what happened before,” said Kent, who spent 18 seasons as a head coach in the conference, first at Oregon (1998-2010) and then Washington State (2015-19).

During a three-year stretch in the early 2000s, Black coaches occupied half the positions in the conference: Kent (Oregon), Paul Graham (WSU), Henry Bibby (USC), Rob Evans (ASU), and Ritchie McKay (OSU).

The same spring that McKay left Corvallis, Lorenzo Romar arrived in Seattle to begin a tenure at his alma mater that featured three Sweet 16 appearances and three coach of the year awards.

Since the conference created the award 45 years ago, in fact, Black coaches have been honored 10 times, from Raveling to Romar, Kent to Kelvin Sampson, Walt Hazard to Trent Johnson.

As recently as the 2016 season, one-third of the Pac-12 coaches were Black: Kent (WSU), Romar (UW), Martin (Cal) and Johnny Dawkins (Stanford).

And for decades, the Pac-12 has been the unquestioned leader in diversity hiring in college football, where the national canvass has been deplorably white.

The conference has four Black head coaches: Stanford’s David Shaw, ASU’s Herm Edwards, Colorado’s Karl Dorrell and Washington’s Jimmy Lake.

The Big 12 and SEC don’t have any.

The combination of institutional willingness to hire Black coaches and the history of their success doesn’t suggest foundational reasons for the current lack of diversity on the basketball side.

How does Raveling, now 83, view the situation? We were unable to reach him for comment.

We also sought context from the conference’s three Black athletic directors (ASU’s Ray Anderson, Stanford’s Bernard Muir and UCLA’s Martin Jarmond), but all politely declined to comment.

In addition, Craig Robinson, the former Oregon State coach who heads the powerful National Association of Basketball Coaches, declined to comment on the Pac-12 because of his ties to the conference.

(Of note: The conference office plays no official role in hiring at the campus level – for any positions – but is available for consultation.)

Kent’s belief that the current lack of diversity in the Pac-12 isn’t systemic requires examination.

It might not be rooted in campus ethos, but the hiring system throughout college basketball hardly lends itself to an optimal level of minority representation in a sport dominated by Black players.

There are at least three obstacles:

•Precious few minorities within the hiring machinery of major college sports.

The search firms that assist the schools are dominated by white (mostly male) executives; university presidents and chancellors are overwhelmingly white; major donors and key trustees are overwhelmingly white; and the vast majority of athletic directors are white.

•Many teams employ a Black assistant as the chief recruiter – a critical role that often comes with higher salaries and greater job security than head coaching positions at the lower- and midmajor level.

“In most cases, they are paid extremely well,” Kent said. “When a position opens at the lower levels, it can be very difficult to leave because of the salary difference.”

As a result, there aren’t enough Black coaches filling the lower- and midmajor launching pads.

•The primary role of Black assistants doesn’t lend itself to proper preparation for the hiring process in a world increasingly driven by analytics.

“If you can’t talk to an athletic director about analytics, there’s separation in the process,” Kent said. “And most Black assistants aren’t in that role.

“White assistants mostly do the Xs and Os. … Most head coaches are white. Black coaches aren’t put in position to prepare for interviews because their focus is on recruiting.”

The Pac-12 has made immense progress in the five decades since recruiting prowess helped Raveling become the first Black coach in the conference – more progress, arguably, than any of its peers.

But clearly, loads more work remains.

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