Stanford’s athletic diversity is unmatched by top schools

Kenneth J. Cooper | 2/14/2014, 6 a.m.

Add to Stanford University’s reputation for strong academics another distinction, this one in athletics. The elite private school’s record of coaching diversity in major sports over the last 25 years is hard to match.

Stanford has had three black football coaches, more than any other school with a major athletic program, outside of historically black colleges.

“If you consider the history of racism, I think a lot of schools would be hard-pressed to have had three black football coaches,” said Boyce Watkins, a scholar who has pushed for racial equality in college sports.

Currently, Stanford has both a black football coach, David Shaw, and a black basketball coach, Johnny Dawkins. Other than black colleges, that combination in two revenue-producing sports is rare, though not unique.

Stanford also boasts a black athletic director, Bernard Muir. One of his two deputies, Patrick Dunkley, is African American.

“Somebody in the athletic department at Stanford — maybe a group of people — have made diversity a priority,” Watkins said. “You can’t help but applaud that.”

Harry Edwards, a sociologist who has pushed for “democratic participation” in college coaching since the late 1960s, credits late Stanford and San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh for the school’s track record.

“I’m quite certain somewhere back there this is tied in some way to Bill Walsh’s influence,” said Edwards, who developed a close relationship with Walsh as a consultant to the 49ers.

Walsh played a direct role in grooming each of Stanford’s black football coaches.

The first, Dennis Green, twice worked as an assistant coach under Walsh at the 49ers. Tyronne Willingham was one of the initial participants in a minority coaching fellowship program that Walsh and Edwards set up at the team.

Shaw, Stanford’s current coach, played for Walsh after he returned to the school following his years with the 49ers.

“That was where Bill Walsh and I came together, around making football not only what it could be both on and off the field, but what it should be in a society as diverse as America,” Edwards said.

When it came to elite academic schools like Stanford, Walsh also had a recruiting strategy in mind that depended on having the right coach.

In conversations with Edwards, Walsh observed that because of its high academic standards “Stanford was not competitive in terms of getting the kind of black talent that they had to have” to beat rivals like the University of Southern California and University of Oregon.

Walsh envisioned hiring a coach who could successfully recruit from the smaller pool of black high school seniors who excelled at both academics and athletics. Such a coach could comfortably visit those players at home, talk with their parents and go to church with the family.

“All of that means a black coach has somewhat of an advantage, because he knows and understands and, in many instances, has been a part of the culture,” Edwards said.

It is unclear who Walsh spoke to at Stanford about the recruiting strategy.

“I’m quite certain Bill had that conversation. I was not there,” Edwards said. “But I know Bill and I had that conversation, more than once.”