Ahead of the curve

Florida volleyball head coach Mary Wise celebrates a point with her team in 2015.

Published: Sunday, April 16, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 11:46 p.m.

When it comes to gender diversity in its head coaching staff, Florida is ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the SEC.

But as a league, the SEC is behind the rest of the country when it comes to the balance of male and female head coaches.

According to a Gainesville Sun study:

*There are 45 female head coaches in the SEC, compared to 165 male head coaches.

*Only 33.9 percent (45-132) women's sports programs in the SEC are coached by women.

*With the recent hirings of Cameron Newbauer at Florida and Mike Neighbors at Arkansas, nearly half (6-14) of the women's basketball programs in the SEC are coached by men.

The SEC received a D grade according to a University of Minnesota Tucker Center report on head coach gender diversity in Division I sports. The ACC, Big East and Big 12 also received D grades, with only the Big 12 (31.6 percent) employing fewer women's head coaches for women's programs.

In a breakdown of individual schools, Florida earned a C grade from the Tucker Center study. UF's five female head coaches are tied with Tennessee and South Carolina for second-most in the SEC. Only LSU (6) employs more female head coaches in the conference.

“That's probably a byproduct of doing your homework and having a diverse pool of candidates,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “I don't think you are doing yourself much justice if you don't have a diverse pool. You want to consider everybody possible to be the right fit. The larger that pool is, the better chance you have to make a successful hire.”

In his first head coaching hire at Florida, Stricklin chose Newbauer to replace Amanda Butler as women's basketball coach. Butler was coming off a 15-16 season and had led Florida to just three NCAA Tournament appearances in 10 years, never getting past the second round. Stricklin reached out to a number of male and female candidates, including Becky Hammon, a trailblazer in women's coaching. As an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs, Hammon is the first full-time female salaried coach in NBA history. In 2015, she was the head coach of the Spurs' summer league team in Las Vegas and led the squad to a summer league title.

Ultimately, Stricklin hired Newbauer, who had women's collegiate head coaching experience at Belmont and was a former men's and women's assistant at Georgia. Stricklin said Newbauer's contacts in recruiting, work ethic and SEC experience stood out.

“You talk about diversity from a demographic standpoint, but diversity from a background standpoint, here's a guy who has coached on the men's side, he's coached on the women's side, he's coached at big SEC, ACC schools, he's coached at smaller, Ohio Valley conference schools,” Stricklin said. “His background in and of itself has a lot of diversity in it and so that always appeals to me because I think people that have different experiences bring a lot to the table.”

The decrease of women's head coaches in Division I college athletics is a national trend. In 1972, when Title IX was adopted to provide equal opportunities for men's and women's athletics, 90 percent of women's collegiate programs were coached by women. In 1981, it was at 55 percent. By 2016, according to UCF's College Racial and Gender Report Card released by Dr. Richard Lapchick, women held only 38.8 percent of head coaching positions in Division I teams and 47.5 percent of assistant coaching positions.

A number of factors have contributed to the decline in women's head coaches. One is financial. The increased national exposure of women's Division I sports has resulted in higher pay for women's coaches compared to 20-30 years ago. Other factors include a greater talent pool of male assistant coaches under female head coaches and women choosing not to take on the time and travel demands of Division I coaching due to family concerns.

“The positive is that the numbers for the last three years have become stagnant instead of plummeting through the bottom like they have been since the advent of Title IX,” said Megan Kahn, the executive director of the Alliance of Women's Coaches. “We've just got to push that trend back upward. I think the work that we're doing to advance and retain women in the profession is critical.

“It's going to take more than just our work focused at the coaching level. We're going to need administrators and those in hiring decisions to be on board with commitment to diverse candidates.”

A study from the Women's Sports Foundation claimed gender bias also has played a role in the decreasing number of Division I women's head coaches. Close to 90 percent of athletic directors in Division I are male.

Asked whether gender bias plays a role in hiring decisions, Kahn said. “It's very selective (based) on the institution. You have some people that totally get it. You have others; there probably is some gender bias involved. It would be a generality for me to say one or the other.”

Florida's athletic administration is among the most gender-diverse in the SEC. Lynda Tealer, an African-American woman, is UF's Executive Associate Athletic Director for Administration, overseeing UF's women's programs along with human resources and information technology. Melissa Stuckey, is the UAA's associate athletic director in charge of accounting.

Eventually, though, getting and keeping coaching jobs in women's athletics comes down to performance. In 2006, Florida hired Tim Walton to replace Karen Johns to take over the softball program. Walton has led the Gators to seven Women's College World Series appearances in 11 years and back-to-back national titles in 2014 and 2015.

Walton, a former pitcher at Oklahoma, said he may not have pursued women's college coaching had he not met his wife, Samantha Rhoten, who was a former women's basketball standout at Oral Roberts.

“She showed me what a female athlete could do, on and off the field, how hard she worked,” Walton said. “It just gave me the confidence to know I could go in and coach a male or female athlete.”

Certainly, plenty of women's coaches have led women's programs to great heights as well. The most famous was the late Pat Summitt, who guided Tennessee women's basketball to eight national titles and ushered countless players into the WNBA before being forced to retire due to early onset Alzheimer's disease.

Earlier this month, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, an African-American woman, led the Gamecocks to their first women's basketball national title in school history. As athletic director at Mississippi State, Stricklin hired a male women's basketball coach, Vic Shaefer, who led the Bulldogs to an upset over UConn in this year's Women's Final Four. Mississippi State then lost to South Carolina in the national title game.

“We're trying to create a great experience for our student athletes and find the best people to lead that,” Stricklin said. “At the end of the day, hiring a certain gender is not a priority. Hiring the best coach for our student athletes to lead them is the priority.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or kevin.brockway@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

Male HC; Female HC; number of women coaching women's programs

Florida; 10; 5; 5-11

Alabama; 12; 3; 3-10

Auburn; 11; 4; 4-10

Tennessee; 10; 5; 5-11

South Carolina; 12; 5; 5-11

Kentucky; 15; 2; 2-11

Texas A&M; 12; 4; 4-10

LSU; 11; 6; 6-11

Mississippi; 12; 3; 3-10

Miss State; 11; 2; 2-8

Arkansas; 14; 2; 2-10

Missouri; 13; 2; 2-10

Vanderbilt; 12; 2; 2-9

165; 45; 45-132 (33.9 pct)

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top