Former Coach, Now College President, Fights Racial Disparity in College Sports


On the football field a "crackback" is an unexpected blind-side block that takes a would-be tackler out of the play. When it comes to hiring black coaches, it's a standard part of the playbook, says Fitz Hill, former head coach at San Jose State University."

If you know football, you know that often time a crackback is a block that you never see," Hill, now the president of Arkansas Baptist College, says in an upcoming Baptist Center for Ethics DVD on Baptists and race. "You can be running, going for the play, trying to make a play and then out of nowhere--Bam!"

Hill, who is nearing completion of his first book, CrackBack! Throwing a Flag on the College Football Forces That Blindside Black Coaches, relates the tactic to what often happens to African-American candidates for head coaching jobs.

"The school calls me, I think I'm a candidate for this position, and I'm excited," Hill says in the video. "The next thing you know, out of nowhere--Bam!"

Hill says that "race defines space" for African-American coaches at NCAA Division 1A colleges and universities. "It's the race issue that keeps you from getting opportunity, not the qualification," he says.

Black coaches don't have the same opportunity afforded to black players, Hill said, because coaching decisions are complicated by influences like alumni, donors, athletic boosters and other positions of power.

"Those people often time are more comfortable hiring people who look like them, who dress like them, whom they want to associate with," he says.

Hill was selected 13th president of the 122-year-old Arkansas Baptist College on Feb. 1, 2006, where he was already well-known as a former assistant football coach for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Since then he has been noted for efforts to revive the only black Baptist higher education institution west of the Mississippi. "We want to move from a sustaining mode to an advancement mode," Hill said after his election.

He set out to connect with alumni, church groups and other supporters and to improve the school's academic programs. He also led ABC to focus on recruiting, scholarship programs and partnerships with other groups and organizations in higher education.

By all measure, those efforts are paying off. Enrollment is up dramatically and interest among prospective students is the highest it has been in many years. The Vanguard, a former publication of Arkansas Baptist College, has been resurrected as The Baptist Vanguard Today. The school has launched its first major capital campaign in history.

"We are blessed to have alumni, friends and other supporters who recognize the value of Arkansas Baptist College to Arkansas and the world," Hill said. "Already we have seen a dramatic increase in financial support, including the largest single gift in the history of ABC."

Plans are also moving forward to restore the Old Main campus building, recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as "the oldest black educational building in Arkansas."

A graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., Hill received a master's degree from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La., where he served as a graduate assistant football coach. He went on to serve as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Arkansas, before his career was interrupted by military service in 1990. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Commendation Medal for services in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

He returned to the Razorback coaching staff, working for five different head coaches. While working as assistant head football coach, recruiting coordinator and receivers coach, he was hired as head football coach at San Jose State in 2000. He resigned after four seasons, returning to his alma mater, Ouachita, as a fund raiser.

He was selected as the 13th president of Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, which is affiliated with the Consolidated Missionary Baptist Convention of Arkansas, at age 41.

Hill's doctoral dissertation, "Examining the Barriers Restricting Employment Opportunities Relative to the Perceptions of African American Football Coaches at NCAA Division 1A Colleges and Universities," has been featured on ABC's "Nightline" news program, HBO's "Real Sports" with Bryant Gumble and other programs. Hill has been profiled three times in The Chronicle of Higher Education relating to both his research and personal experience in the coaching profession.

He is recognized as a leading expert on the lack of diversity in college sports leadership positions. He was invited to testify before Congress. After the 2004 firing of African-American coach Ty Willingham at Notre Dame, Hill received so many media interview requests that he held a press conference by telephone conference call with several major newspapers.

Hill is just one of several black, white and Latino Baptist leaders featured in the BCE race DVD due for release Oct. 1. Others include author and activist Will Campbell; the head of National Ministries for American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Aidsand Wright-Riggins; Emmanuel McCall, a past moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship who devoted his career to improving relations between black and white Baptists in the South; Javier Elizondo, executive vice president and provost of Baptist University of the Americas; Marilyn Turner, associate executive director for program ministries at National Ministries of ABC/USA; and Yana Pagán, associate pastor at Upper Merion Baptist Church in King of Prussia, Pa.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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