After graduating from Purdue University in 2001, Drew Brees spent 20 years in the NFL. During his 15 seasons as quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, Brees led the team to his nine playoffs and his three NFC championships. He was named his MVP of Super Bowl XLIV, helping the Saints to their franchise’s first Super Bowl win. When Brees retired from the NFL in 2021, he held the records for his career touchdowns, completions, yards, and completion percentage.
Just prior to their matchup with LSU in the 2023 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl, Brees was named interim assistant coach for the 8-5 Purdue Boilermakers football team. Breath is white. Ryan Walters, who is black and whom the college named as its new head coach last month, enthusiastically welcomed Brees to an interim role on his staff. It wasn’t a thing. But it offers a potentially reproducible response to one of college football’s most vexing diversity problems.
According to the NCAA Demographics Database, 14% of head football coaches in 2022 will be black. The number would be even lower if historically black colleges and universities were not included. Black representatives are the quintessential runway to head coach gigs. He has been better or worse in two roles: defensive coordinator (24%) and offensive coordinator (11%). A black man and her two black women occupied her 34% of other football her assistant coach positions at NCAA member institutions last year.
Purdue belongs to the Big Ten, one of five conferences affectionately known as the “Power Five.” In his 2018 USC Center for Race and Equity research report on racial inequality in black student-athletes and college sports, 65 power-five college football players found that 55% of his teams were black men. provided the stats to show. At Purdue, his 56% of scholarship student-athletes on the football team during the 2021 season were black. The racial diversity of the team’s coaching staff was exponentially lower.
It’s unfortunate that black men make up a significant percentage of college football players, yet are underrepresented among coaches at all levels. should pursue a career as About 70% of NFL players are black. Why aren’t their alma maters and other colleges actively recruiting them for full-time or at least interim coaching roles?
It’s worth recognizing that playing and coaching are not the same. But it seems like interim assistant roles like the one Purdue has created for Brees can give retired NFL players the chance to showcase their coaching potential. While not as skilled, some are far more talented than many current assistant coaches. More colleges and universities should pursue ex-athletes of color.
In an ESPN College GameDay interview held just hours before the Citrus Bowl, Brees was asked why he accepted the interim role and whether he’s considering a college coach in the future. “First and foremost, I love my school, so I’m doing this for Purdue,” Brees replied. “There was a transition period from the Big 10 championship game to preparing for this bowl game. It was a bowl game to win, and they deserved the best opportunity and the best experience there.”
There are thousands of standout black men in college football. Some of them went on to join the NFL and did very well there as well. Excited is perfectly plausible. Short-term work can entice them to stay in long-term positions. It can also give them the opportunity to be seen by other colleges and universities who are convinced that their inability to hire black coaches is due to a lack of pipeline.
More institutions need to expand their “check us out for a while” invitations to former college and professional sports stars like Brees. We need to be more intentional about not being spread to just anyone.
Admittedly, tentative entry into college coaching isn’t limited to football. Track and field coaches, for example, should go after black women who were great basketball and track athletes in college and then went on to have stellar careers in the WNBA and the Olympics. In addition to benefiting from their expertise in sports, the star power these retired athletes of color bring is a future recruit for the institution, similar to the recruitment success the University of Colorado is experiencing. It can excite student-athletes. Reaction to Deion Sanders’ appointment to football’s head coach position last month.