TAG | Mark Mangino
The questions is grossly archaic—bringing us back to the days when a woman’s role in society was to be a stay-at-home mom—yet, the question is just now being addressed and traditional coaching roles being challenged. Remember: the sports world is old-fashioned and grounded in its views of gender norms. (Check back tomorrow when we expand the question to consider if gays and lesbians can/should coach.)
The question has come to issue with Coolidge High in Washington DC announcing on March 12th that Natalie Randolph will be their head football coach (Washington Post article here). Randolph joins Debbie Vance, from Lehman High in Bronx, NY, as the only female high school football head coaches.
Randolph is certainly qualified: she has played five seasons in the Independent Women’s Professional League and was an assistant coach for two years at another DC high school. Further, according to the Post’s article, she is very well-liked by the students and the players; when she was introduced to the team, she was met with overwhelming applause.
She acknowledges that people will have negative things to say, but she will not be swayed: “I can’t control what people say. The first thing is, I love football, no matter whose domain it is. I’m going to do it. If I let people dictate what I do, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Vernon Davis, tight end for the San Francisco 49ers who grew up in the DC area, blew up his Twitter and provided the predictable arguments against having a woman head coach. Here are some of his tweets:
- Back home in dc where I grew up, a nearbye high school just hired all women to coach the varsity football team. That is ridiculous
- A woman can’t relate to a boy like a man can in my opinion! What do you all think about that? They even have a woman strength coach.
- Football is a mans sport way, not woman. That’s why there is cheerleading and other things.
- Females can do anything, but a boy will respond to a man better than a woman when partcipating in this game of football.
- You show me a woman that can run a better route than Jerry Rice then j will let her be my coach.
- I wish the woman coaches all the luck in the world and hope they become successful at what they are doing. I agree, anything is possible.
Okay, now ignoring that last tweet which screams of agent-imposed-damage-control and the remarks that are absurd (suggesting cheerleading as what women should be doing), the valid themes are that players need a male coach to be like a father—tough, disciplined, authoritarian—and that you need to be able to play the sport in order to coach it. I guess I’ll just address these arguments in order:
(1) You need a male coach to instill discipline, be a father figure, blah, blah, and blah.
This argument stems from the militaristic style of coaching that tears down the players and builds them back up as a team. The coaching style definitely has its merits: it does build discipline and character, it does build team camaraderie, and it does challenge boys to become men, as cliché as that sounds. The argument is furthered by suggesting that these values traditionally are instilled by a father, and as many of these players may not have a father-figure in their life, that the male coach should fill the role.
To counter these points, I would just say first, the authoritarian style can easily go too far and become abusive (see: Mark Mangino); second, there are women that are just as capable of being tough if needed; third, just as a man may be able to get the most out of his players being tough, a woman may be equally successful building a team being compassionate, discovering what motivates the players, etc.; and fourth, there are many sources needed for both father and mother figures—football is not the exclusive source, and further, a female coach can be an important mother-figure as well.
On this topic, the football practice scene from The Blind Side comes to mind (if you haven’t seen the movie yet, go rent it). In it, the Michael Oher character is new to practice with his coach trying to teach him techniques of blocking. With progress slow, Oher and his coach both get frustrated. Then, Oher’s adopted mother Leigh Anne Tuohy, played by Sandra Bullock, walks up to Michael and says, “This team is your family, Michael. When you look at him, you think of me. Now you have my back. Are you going to protect your family, Michael?” He responds, “Yes, ma’am,” and from that point forward is a dominant left tackle. I don’t know if this is one of those iconic scenes from the movie that is true or Hollywood-embellished, but it illustrates the point: there are various ways to get everyone to perform and sometimes it is the non-traditional, other-gendered perspective that is most successful.
(2) You need to be able to play the sport to coach it.
I infer this argument from VD’s tweet that he’d allow a woman coach if she can run a route as good as Jerry Rice. Again, there are certainly benefits if a coach has experience playing the game, but it is by no means a requirement. Again, see: Mark Mangino, only this time actually see him. There is no way he could run a route as good as Jerry rice, or a route at all for that matter, but he coached Division I football for years. Further, football is a sport where the positions require such distinct skill sets that very few have ever been equipped to play at different places (George Blanda, quarterback-slash-kicker extraordinaire, comes to mind as an exception). If it was required that you could do the job of each position in order to coach, there would be no qualified male coaches either.
Jamele Hill, an ESPN personality who I was fortunate enough to meet a few years ago at Leigh Steinberg’s Super Bowl party, is always on the scene when race or gender gets brought up. After VD’s tweets, the idea of a woman coach became the focus of Hill’s twitter for a few hours. She seemed especially keen to point out the fallacy in suggesting you must have athletic ability to coach:
- OK w/ comment abt young boys responding differently 2 women. but @VernonDavis85 4got his coaches cant run J rice route, either.
- If ur against women coaching fb, fine. but dont make it an athletic argument. plenty of bad/mediocre male athletes are coaches
Let’s also not forget that Randolph does play. Five years in a woman’s professional league surely makes her more experienced than many of her male counterparts across the country.
Ultimately, coaching positions, like any other job, should be given based on qualifications. Race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. should not be disqualifying traits. If you can do the job, you can do the job. Check back tomorrow as I write the 2nd part to this coaching question: can/should gays and lesbians coach?
So often, a coach justifies his style of discipline as ‘tough love,’ as a necessary means to build a team and to shape the character of young men. To tear you down, then build you back up. To make you aware of your mistakes to a point that you never want to make them again. I am aware of those arguments and can agree with them to a point. But the anecdotes from previous players of Coach Mark Mangino, if true, go far beyond this style of supposed positive discipline. Even if we accept that a harsh disciplinarian approach to coaching is positive, which in itself is arguable, I would want to know the lesson Mangino thought he was teaching in two examples from ex-players. Read on.
First, a player privately shared personal information that his father was an alcoholic, to which the coach then flaunted in front of the team, “Are you going to be a lawyer or do you want to become an alcoholic like your dad?” What lesson does this send? How can that fall anywhere within a style of tough, yet positive, discipline? I can only imagine how tough it was for the player to confide in the coach and the trust he must have had in doing so. Here the coach had an opportunity to be a consoling and supporting father figure that the kid probably never had, but instead, he completely exploits that trust. The lesson? Do not open up to people even if you think you can trust them. Thanks coach; you are doing an excellent job of shaping these young men.
Raymond Brown, a senior Jayhawk last season, recalled that first story, and a second that was personal. After dropping a pass, Coach Mangino yelled, “If you don’t shut up, I’m going to send you back to St. Louis so you can get shot with your homies.” Brown’s younger brother had previously been shot in the arm. The only lesson here is that you can be a racist, condescending coach and still have a job. But will he still be head coach after a losing season and now that these stories are coming out?
The biggest roadblock to dismissing Mangino is the $6 million owed for his contract over the next three years. According to the Kansas City Star, if Kansas University terminates him for cause, they do not have to pay the remaining years of the contract. However, the causes are quite explicit. The most likely provision is, “Discreditable conduct that is inconsistent with the professional standards expected of a head coach of a collegiate sports team and that is seriously prejudicial to the best interest of the university or athletics.” Another is, “Public or private comments that disparage KU, its personnel, programs, policies and/or departments, or that cause damage to KU’s reputation.”
As I have written above, I would argue that his remarks and behavior go sufficiently beyond what is the acceptable “professional standard expected of a head coach.” Instilling toughness and discipline is one thing, public embarrassment that cannot be justified as positive is another. Further, I think Kansas could make a strong case, based on the racist remark to “get shot with your homies” and any others he may have made during his tenure as “public or private comments … that cause damage to KU’s reputation.” If he indeed made all of these remarks, and probably more, I would argue that KU’s reputation has already suffered due to the bad publicity in these past weeks. I would predict that if dismissed, cause being found or not, the sides will settle on a dollar amount far too high for Mangino to deserve receiving.