Shaheen Holloway did an excellent job in leading St. Peter’s through a magical NCAA Tournament run and has since been hired as the head coach at his alma mater, Seton Hall. But head coaching opportunities beyond one’s alma mater, aren’t nearly as plentiful as they should be for Black coaches.
When the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament ends this weekend, there will only be one team left standing.
And so it stands to reason that because of that, there can only be one true winner, right?
With most things in life, there are levels and layers to success.
But far too often in the men’s Division I college basketball coaching ranks, regardless of how Black coaches overcome long odds to find success when the spotlight shines so bright this time of year, they’re left on the ground floor of growth and advancement when it’s clear as day that it’s their time to level up.
The biggest storyline of the tournament was the nation getting to know Shaheen Holloway, the now-former head coach at St. Peter’s, who took the Peacocks and all of us on a glorious ride that ended with a trip to the Elite 8, uncharted territory for a 15th-seed in the NCAA Tournament until Holloway and the Peacocks put their own spin on March Madness.
The former Seton Hall star was hired to lead his alma mater after Kevin Willard (Holloway’s coach at Seton Hall and one of his biggest supporters/mentors) left to coach at Maryland.
It makes you wonder if Holloway would have been on any school’s radar if the Seton Hall job didn’t open, huh?
As joyful as it was to see Holloway’s ascension, there are many Black head coaches and top-tier assistants in the college ranks who have found success and have earned the right to level up and become a head coach or move on to coaching at a larger, more prestigious school than the one they are currently at.
And yet far too often they stay where they are, rarely hearing their name mentioned among potential coaches in the mix for bigger, higher-profile positions.
“Life has a way of coming full circle," said Holloway after agreeing to a six-year deal with Seton Hall. “This is certainly a full-circle moment for my family and I. Seton Hall is near and dear to my heart; it's where I became a man, where I met the love of my life, where I spent countless hours honing my crafts as a basketball player and a basketball coach. To say that I'm excited to get started as the head men's basketball coach at Seton Hall University would be an understatement."
I’m happy for Holloway; we all are.
He’s getting an opportunity to level up because he put in the work, succeeded in ways few outside of his family and players would have imagined.
And he gets to return to where his basketball career blossomed as a player, a prerequisite it seems for Black coaches to truly level up as college basketball head coaches at top-tier programs or in major basketball conferences.
Look at the men’s Final Four which features one Black head coach: Hubert Davis of North Carolina.
Where did he go to school you ask?
Yup. You got it. Carolina, his alma mater.
Louisville is another high-profile program that brought in a new coach for next year, Kenny Payne. He spent nearly 20 years as an assistant coach at both the
college and pro levels before getting a shot at returning as the head coach at his alma mater.
Both men put in the work and earned the right to return and lead their alma mater. That’s not the issue.
But far too often, coaching at their alma mater is as close as they’ll get to being a college basketball head coach.
And that becomes a stark reminder that college basketball, like so many college sports, has a longstanding problem when it comes to diversity in the head coaching ranks.
Since The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) began tracking the number of Black head coaches in Division I men’s basketball, there has never been more than 25.2 percent (that was during the 2005-2006 season) to start a season.
For the 2020-2021 season, TIDES reported that 24.3 percent of all men’s Division I basketball head coaches identified as Black or African-American which is a 1.6 percentage points increase from the previous season.
The window of opportunity for Blacks wanting to be head coaches continues to be smaller than it should be, which limits their job prospects and the growth that comes with having a shot at leveling up.