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Published: Sunday, 2/22/2009

Athletes downplay significance of race in coaching


Almost every player on the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University men's basketball teams has played for both white and black coaches.

Does the coach's race matter to players?

In between black and white, there's a gray area.

"Really, it has never been about race with the coaches I've played for," said BGSU senior Nate Miller.

"Coaches all have the same goals. But at the same time, it's probably easier [to play for a black coach] because he's from the same background that I'm from and understands how I grew up."

UT and BGSU both have African-American men's basketball coaches. Eight of UT's 13 players are black. BGSU's numbers are 7 of 12.

At UT, one black coach was replaced with another last spring when Gene Cross took over for Stan Joplin.

At BGSU, Dan Dakich, who is white, resigned two years ago and Louis Orr, an African-American, was hired to take over the program.

When Mr. Joplin recruited Rockets senior Ridley Johnson out of high school in Boston, a part of Mr. Johnson's decision came down to that he and the coach are of the same race.

"It feels good to have similarities with your coach," Mr. Johnson said.

"Coach Cross is young and from a tough neighborhood too. I can relate. He listens to the same music as us. The more you have in tune with your coach, the more similarities, you feel more comfortable."

But Mr. Johnson has had positive experiences with a white coach too. His coach at Charlestown High School, Jack O'Brien, "was like a father figure; he was always around us."

Erik Marschall, a BGSU junior who is white, is from the small, mostly white town of New London, Ohio.

He said that if playing for Mr. Orr was an adjustment, "it wasn't a bad adjustment."

"I really don't think race should be an issue," Mr. Marschall said. "If you can coach, you can coach."

Mr. Orr said he thinks players "respect the integrity, knowledge, and ability" of their coaches, regardless of race.

Although black players and coaches might have common backgrounds, he said, there are "many coaches of all colors who have developed great relationships with players."

Mr. Cross said he tries to find any connection he can with recruits. But he said he believes some of the potential Rockets who are black are more at ease with him because of his race.

"Whenever you are put in a situation where people look like you, you tend to feel a little more comfortable," Mr. Cross said. "If I'm sitting in a living room and there's a young man who looks like me and I was in the same position that he was in, or his parents see his son in me, a lot of times they do feel more comfortable.

"That's not to say I can't go sit in [white UT player] Ian Salter's living room because at the very core, we're all people. But a lot of times if you're sitting in a living room and the guy across looks like you, the walls tend to come down."

Contact Maureen Fulton at:


or 419-724-6160.

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