Around 2012, two young assistant football coaches at Urbana University, Cory Hardin and Maurice “Mo” Harden, sat in an office before taking the field for practice, discussing dream scenarios for their coaching careers.
“Cory and I were in the office just talking, telling stories and talking about the future,” said Mo. “I said ‘man, look, if I ever get the chance to coach at CJ, I will. You run the defense, I run the offense. How great would that be?’”
A goal achieved as Cory would join the CJ football staff in 2014 with Mo to follow in 2016. Both would coach together for five years at CJ, helping build a winning program, a hardworking culture, a lifelong bond with the community, and a special friendship with current CJ head coach Marcus Colvin.
“Teaching us how to be great coaches, great men, great husbands, every facet of what we are goes back to what Marcus taught us,” said Mo. “Those are life lessons that I’ll never be able to pay back. There’s so much that he has given to both of us.”
As a new season approaches, both Cory and Mo will be donning new colors, with Cory moving on to become the head coach at his alma mater of Fairborn High School and Mo becoming the head coach at Xenia High School.
Having an experienced and dedicated head coach at the helm of the CJ football program in Marcus Colvin is one thing, but pairing him with outstanding coordinators destined to become head coaches has brought great success over the last five years -- four state playoff appearances and a 33-20 record over that time.
All three of these coaches have been strong Black role models for CJ students. “It’s important to promote the opportunity for Black coaches to get a chance, show what you can do,” said Colvin, who has been at CJ for 17 years and has been the head football coach since 2011. “The important part is that our community supports them to succeed when they’re there, just like CJ always has.”
Although there is a lack of standardized diversity and inclusion reporting at the high school football level, statistics at the college and professional football level provide a reference point that helps showcase just how wide the gap in coaching job equity is for Black football coaches.
Via FiveThirtyEight, a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) college football program from 2008-2018 was “68 percentage points more likely to have a coaching change that involved two men who didn’t identify as African American than to have one involving two African American men. And if a black coach either was fired or left to take another opportunity, there was less than a 1 in 5 chance that his successor was also black.”
At the National Football League (NFL) level, there have been 27 coaching vacancies over the previous four hiring cycles, three of which have been filled by Black men, with only 11 percent of coaching vacancies since 2018 having been filled by Black men, despite the player population in the NFL being 70 percent Black, via NFL.com.
“Those numbers are probably pretty consistent across any job field,” said Cory. “There’s a lot of things in this country we’re still dealing with in terms of race relations, and job equity is one of those things.”
“As a first time head coach, I’m in a position where finding a diverse base of coaches is important to me because it can’t just be me,” continued Cory. “Because if it’s just me, then it’s all on me to be the guy that connects with students who come from different backgrounds and who may not get as many chances. I’m trying to find ways to do what Marcus did to make sure that our coaches are connected to the players. The biggest thing I’ve learned over the last couple weeks is that building strong relationships with student athletes matters. If you don’t connect with students as people and you just focus on football, you aren’t going to be successful.”
“The relatability and the ability to develop great relationships with kids is very important to me and sometimes you can’t do that if you don’t understand where they come from,” said Mo. “Diversity is important because it enables you to have those different viewpoints from different people. It allows you as coaches to work together to find the best way to communicate with those kids because not every kid is going to mesh with every coach. Everyone needs their ‘guy,’ which all stems back to relationships. It’s the old mantra of ‘they don’t care how much he knows until they know how much he cares.’ It’s important for Black kids to see guys that look like they do that are successful, they feel they can do it too.”
All three coaches noted the pressure Black coaches feel to win right away in order to establish job security.
According to the same FiveThirtyEight article referenced above, there have only been seven instances since 1975 of African American head coaches at the FBS level receiving a second opportunity to be a head coach after being fired.
Football coaches, like any other profession, cannot be hired just because of the color of their skin, they need to be qualified individuals who can help further the program. The discrepancy lies in finding ways to get inexperienced Black coaches the opportunities they need to bolster their resumes and grow into qualified candidates.
“Program it, outreach it,” said Colvin, noting the importance of establishing a structure to grant these young coaches with limited experience the opportunities they need to succeed. “Just presenting new opportunities. It requires a lot of effort from the top all the way down, but it is so worth it.”
Pulling coaches up from the youth level programs is one place to start.
“Those are the people that I would say get the first look and then we work ourselves up from there,” said Cory. “Be present at the youth programs and games and see how the coaches work. Take an eighth grade coach and find him a high school position, move up from there. Coaching has proved it is not what you know, it is who you know. It’s valuable to make those relationships.”
Finding good candidates is not so much about their football resume as much as it is about their character and ability to help student athletes reach their full potential.
“Find good, present, and loyal people to be coaches,” said Mo. “The football piece will take care of itself.”
“Mo and Cory have helped me understand what I should expect from assistant coaches,” said Colvin. “People ask me if I would want them back on our staff right now if I had the choice. Absolutely not! They have earned their new opportunities. I’m so proud of them. They’re going to do such a great job. They’re going to be great because I’ve seen it in action.”
As one chapter closes and another begins, Cory and Mo each reflect on their time at CJ with admiration and gratitude.
“CJ just gave me opportunity after opportunity after opportunity as a coach and educator” said Cory. “That’s what made the decision to leave so difficult because CJ really became home, became family. Coach Colvin became like a big brother to me, I look up to him more than he will ever know. I’m just very grateful for the opportunities that CJ provided me with when they didn’t have to.”
“I’ve known Marcus since I was 14 years old,” said Mo. “I think back to eighth grade when I was playing wee Eagles football and I remember saying ‘I want to coach at CJ.’ It’s something I always wanted to do and to be given the opportunity to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams is great.”
“Marcus Colvin was the first African American teacher I had and the first successful African American man I saw,” continued Mo. “Now I get to go be somebody else’s Marcus Colvin.”
--This story was published on February 22, 2021.