Central Florida football coaches hope Brewington hire opens doors for minorities

Florida is undoubtedly one of the most desirable and competitive areas for a high school football coach.

That is part of what lured 39-year-old coach Rodney Brewington from North Carolina to Central Florida to accept the Winter Springs High football job. He got the opportunity to lead spring football practice for the first time in his 17 years of coaching experience. High school spring football practice isn't permitted in North Carolina.

"You generally find Texas and Florida kids are a little bit more polished, and I understand why they are more polished now because it's invaluable to be able to play a game in March before you go home for the summer," Brewington said. "You can't put a price tag on how valuable spring football is."

The same could be said about Brewington. When he accepted the Winter Springs job in January, he became the first black man in 17 years to be hired as a head coach for a public school in Seminole County..

But an even more telling sign of progress is that Brewington is one the few black coaches among major Central Florida public schools without Division I college or NFL playing experience.

Maybe that doesn't sound like a big deal, but many African American coaches recognize this as a groundbreaking move. Now that Seminole High School, the 2008 Class 6A state champion, has a vacancy for the head coaching job, some black coaches wonder if Brewington's hiring means more schools will give serious consideration African Americans without high-level playing experience.

There were 26 coaching changes in public and private schools across Central Florida since last fall, and six black coaches were hired - which is already far more impressive than the NFL's pathetic hiring record of African American head coaches.

Here's an interesting twist, though. All three African American coaches who filled Orange County head coaching jobs are former NFL players: Kevin Lewis at Jones, Kenard Lang at Wekiva and Ricky Watters at Oak Ridge.

"If you are of African American descent, you have to play at a whole different level. I don't see a lot of coaches being hired just having a high school career," Dr. Phillips assistant coach Herkie Walls said. Walls, a former head coach at Master's Academy, played at the University of Texas and is a retired NFL and Arena League receiver. "You really have to have that upper echelon of, I guess, credibility. But thank God there are more coaches being hired."

Great coaches come in all shades of experiences, of course. Some are excellent strategists or motivators based on their experience playing the game while others have little playing experience beyond high school but fashion themselves into magnificent coaches.

Many of the top coaches in Central Florida have no professional or major college playing experience.

Bill Gierke, Phil Ziglar and George Clayton are local high school football coaching legends. Not a single one of them played in the NFL and not a single one of them needed to in their pursuit of coaching excellence.

Apopka coach Rick Darlington calls Stetson his alma mater, and Bishop Moore coach Matt Hedrick --considered one of the best young coaches in the area -- played ball at small-school Furman in South Carolina.

Successful coaches are more than the sum of their playing experience or lack thereof. Yet there is no denying the overwhelming majority of local black head coaches have high-level football playing experience.

"Very seldom do you find an African American coach with no NFL experience," said Elijah Williams, a Florida A&M assistant coach and former Oak Ridge head coach. "Most of the time that's not going to happen, and I guess it goes back to the trust level."

I don't know if Williams is right. Surely, there are myriad reasons new coaches were hired throughout the region and some may have nothing to do with race at all.

We do know Brewington's hiring at least proves positive change is in the pipeline. We'll continue to wait and see how far that line extends.

sjowens@tribune.com

CHICAGO