A lawsuit has been filed against the University of Houston alleging racial discrimination in the hiring of Dana Holgorsen.
The suit, filed in Harris County District Court on Aug. 15 and uncovered by the Houston Chronicle, argues black coaches were not given a fair shot at the Cougars’ head coaching job when the program fired Major Applewhite and hired Holgorsen to replace him.
Applewhite was fired on Dec. 31 and Holgorsen hired Jan. 2, which the suit says runs afoul Texas Labor Code 21, which requires all state jobs be posted publicly for at least two weeks. Supporting the suit’s claim (though not specifically cited in the filing), a Sports Illustrated article wrote that UH superbooster Tilman Fertitta essentially hired Holgorsen before Applewhite even coached his final game, Houston’s 70-14 loss to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl.
The suit was filed by Dr. Kevin Simms, director of the African-American Coaches Association. The Houston-based organization says its mission “is to provide resources to principals, coaches and students to excel on the STAAR Exam,” while also providing mentoring services, anti-bullying seminars and the like, according to its website.
As for damages sought, Simms is shooting for the moon. He seeks $20 million, the total amount of Holgorsen’s 5-year contract, arguing he’s entitled to “loss (sic) wages, loss (sic) earning capacity, future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenient (sic), mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life.” He’s also filed complaints with the Texas Workforce Commission and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Simms argues he would have been a better choice than Holgorsen, saying he has “over 30 years coaching experience” which makes him “clearly more qualified” than Holgorsen, while misspelling his last name.
“The University of Houston believes this case is without merit & looks forward to its resolution,” the school said in a statement.
While Simms will obviously not receive a $20 million payment from Houston, his suit does speak to a real problem in college football’s hiring practices. Simms had no shot to be Houston’s head coach, but plenty of qualified black coaches are shut out of the hiring process, largely because the “hiring system” at times really does boil down to a billionaire hiring his buddy before the job is even open.
“(T)he University of Houston continues to bypass African Americans in applying and being considered for the head football coach position as it does not adhere to the job posting and advertising requirements,” the suit says.
There’s nothing wrong with Houston hiring Holgorsen in a vacuum, but that’s the problem — all these hires happen in vacuums. College football has no top-down management structure like the NFL, and so it’s no one person’s responsibility to affect and enforce a change in hiring practices. And so the system remains the system.
“Black coaches have done seminars, they’ve done conferences, they’ve done everything they can do,” Tyrone Willingham told FootballScoop last year. “They’ve gone to the same schools, the same churches, they’ve done everything you can do to position themselves to be in those windows of opportunities. Why the reason they’re not hired, I don’t know. I think if we were told what the reasons were, then we would work and improve those areas to be able to do that.”
Kevin Simms is not going to get Dana Holgorsen’s money. But he cannot put the entire system on trial, so he’s doing the next best thing.