Mike Haywood had grown accustomed to interviewing for head-coaching positions and receiving disappointing news afterward, but he sensed something different this time around.
"This was my fifth opportunity to interview for a head-coaching position, and I realized this year's interviews were a little more serious than the ones previously," said Haywood, who had been offensive coordinator at Notre Dame for the past four seasons. "You could tell just by how in-depth it was, the amount of time in which you spent in the interviews, some of the in-depth questions you received. It was a lot of fun this year."
It also was a lot more successful.
Haywood's perseverance paid off last month when he was named coach at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He was one of four black candidates to get hired this offseason, which more than doubled the total number of black head coaches at Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
Isn't that a major sign of progress?
"Not really," said Merritt Norvell, the executive vice president and managing director and global head of education practice for DHR International, one of the world's largest executive search firms.
Norvell also runs professional development clinics that teach minority coaching candidates about off-field responsibilities, ranging from media training to fundraising. All the new black head coaches went through his training sessions.
He tempered his enthusiasm about the recent flurry of hirings because the new black coaches didn't exactly land plum positions.
"When you look at the opportunities they're getting, they're opportunities at programs where they haven't been successful in a long time, and for some reason or another, they're willing to hire black coaches," said Norvell, the father of Oklahoma assistant offensive coordinator Jay Norvell.
"That's not to say black coaches haven't gotten interviews for BCS ["Big Six" conference] jobs. Lots of guys have interviewed for BCS jobs, my son being one of them. Whatever the reason may be, they aren't necessarily getting hired. And there are some good coaches out there."
Haywood is in perhaps the most favorable position of all. Paul Brown, Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes and Ara Parseghian worked at Miami University to help the school earn its reputation as the "Cradle of Coaches." Miami had enjoyed 12 consecutive winning seasons – including a 13-1 campaign with Super Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2003 – before posting a combined 10-27 record the last three years under former coach Shane Montgomery.
Tracking black coaches
In 1979, Wichita State hired Willie Jeffries as the first black head coach at a Division I-A school. Here are black head coaches by year since 1990.
But the other new black coaches are taking over at places that lack that kind of tradition.
Former Louisville defensive coordinator Ron English went to Eastern Michigan, which has endured 13 consecutive losing seasons and made its lone bowl appearance in 1987. Former UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker took over at New Mexico State, which hasn't earned a bowl bid since 1960. Mike Locksley, a former Illinois offensive coordinator, is inheriting a more favorable situation at New Mexico, which had played in five bowls in a six-year stretch before going 4-8 last season under Rocky Long.
"I wanted to go somewhere that I had the opportunity to be successful, obviously," Locksley said. "More than likely, you're only going to have one opportunity. New Mexico was a place where the previous two coaches [Long and Dennis Franchione] had had success. They'd been to a bowl game five of the last seven years, had won nine games two years ago. I thought the job that Coach Long did – he left a pretty good team there and that gave me a pretty good chance to be successful."
While these four coaches took jobs outside the "Big Six" conferences, more established programs such as Auburn, Tennessee and Washington looked elsewhere. All three schools hired white candidates, and the departure of Tyrone Willingham at Washington leaves Miami's Randy Shannon as the only black head coach at a "Big Six" program.
Many of the black NFL head coaches didn't have to wait nearly as long as their counterparts in the college ranks.
Former Kansas State defensive coordinator Raheem Morris spent the past two seasons as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive backs coach. He was hired Friday as the Bucs' coach at the age of 32 without any experience as an NFL coordinator.
Mike Tomlin, a former University of Cincinnati secondary coach, was 34 when he took over as the Pittsburgh Steelers' coach in 2007. He now is the third black coach in the past three seasons to lead his team to a Super Bowl.
Credit for the NFL's more progressive hiring practices often goes to the "Rooney rule," which requires teams to interview minority candidates for each head-coaching vacancy. Norvell said he believes there are other factors involved. After all, black candidates often are interviewed for NCAA head- coaching positions, but they rarely get the jobs.
"One guy in the NFL makes the decision, or two at the most with the general manager and the owner," Norvell said. "In the college process, you've got the president, the athletic director. You've got the prominent alumni, the board of trustees. You've got a lot of people involved in the process along the way who influence the decision and ultimately can take the final decision out of the hands of the athletic director."
Norvell also suggested the frequent use of search firms at the NCAA level can impact the process.
"One of the problems with search firms is that they will tell coaches, 'I've created a stable of coaches. These are my guys. If you want to be a candidate for these jobs, you have to be in my stable,' " Norvell said.
In the meantime, potential black coaching candidates can only hope English, Haywood, Locksley and Walker match the success Turner Gill has enjoyed at Buffalo.
Buffalo was arguably the worst FBS program in the nation when it hired Gill after the 2005 season. The Bulls won the Mid-American Conference title this season in Gill's third year on the job after going 11-79 in the seven years before he took over the program.
Gill doesn't know whether his success played any role in the hirings of the four black coaches this offseason, but he considered the moves a step in the right direction.
"We all know everything takes time, [but] there is progress," Gill said. "It may not be as fast as you like but, again, when you take it all into consideration, it is an opportunity. That's all you can hope for."