PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Dawn Staley remembers when she was just beginning her coaching career when she’d look across the sideline and rarely see a Black female leading the opposing team.
It happens more often today, but Staley says not nearly enough.
“There is an influx of Black women getting an opportunity,” Staley said. “Black women are getting more chances to be the head honcho in their programs. I hope we continue to be successful.”
Pair of Black women will square off again Saturday when Staley’s top-ranked Gamecocks open play in the first-ever women’s Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas against Buffalo and Felisha Legette-Jack.
Staley, who recently signed a landmark $22.4 million, seven-year contract, said it’s simply a numbers game when looking at the demographics of who plays the sport compared to who gets gets the most opportunities to lead them.
“There should be a fair amount of Black women getting a chance because of who we serve,” Staley said. “We serve a lot of players who are Black. I don’t want people thinking I’m playing the race card. I’ve been in the game a long time, I’ve seen big jobs go to people that deserved an opportunity. ”
There are 12 Black women head coaches at Power Five schools this season, including two new ones out of nine openings: Marisa Moseley at Wisconsin and Johnnie Harris at Auburn.
Overall, 14 of 39 openings at Power Five schools this offseason went to minorities.
“I think more doors should be opening because we’re freaking good. It’s undeniable you have to interview us,” Legette-Jack said. “When you interview us, you must select us. The answer is yes. We are more ready than most people.”
Legette-Jack said Black female coaches couldn’t have a better advocate than Staley.
“I’m in awe of her. I’m a groupie. she’s so great and gracious,” the Bulls coach said. “You call her, and you think you’re the most special person in the world. She does it with everybody.”
Legette-Jack was one of nearly 70 Black female coaches that Staley sent a piece of her championship net that South Carolina won in 2017. It was a gesture that wasn’t lost on Buffalo’s coach.
“She sent it to them and gave a note to them,” Legette-Jack said. “She inspired us to want to reach higher. I’ve not seen that doing this for 33 years. No one has stepped out and been more impactful for the masses the way Dawn Staley has been.”
Staley had been debating who to give a piece of the championship net too the same way Carolyn Peck had done for her years ago.
“I wrestled with who to give it to with so many coaches out there, I can’t just pick one,” Staley said. “Let me do something different and give them to all the Black women’s coaches. There are Black men who are recipients. All Division I Black coaches in our game.”
Staley hopes that those coaches will all find a way to uplift someone else when they are successful.
“I started with the Division I coaches as they are the ones who have the biggest platform. Hopefully they can reach back into their coaching tree and career, see what people have impacted them in a way they can share it with,”″ Staley said. “It doesn’t have to be a tangible net, it could be a phone call, a text message. a letter, It symbolizes you’ve noticed what they are doing. The impact they’ve had in somebody’s life.”
While there are more Black coaches getting that first opportunity, Staley and others hope to see coaches who may not succeed right away be given some time or if they do end up failing, a second chance.
“There’s a different level of pressure put on a woman of color,” said Nikki Fargas, who is the president of the women of color coaches’ association. “We don’t get recycled. You don’t get a second chance. You’re having to think about that.”
Legette-Jack is one of the coaches Fargas has seen not get a second chance at a Power Five school after getting fired at Indiana. She has had success at Buffalo the last few years, leading them to the Sweet 16 before losing to Staley’s Gamecocks.
“You know in the back of your mind, I may not get another opportunity,” said Fargas, who spent a decade at LSU as the head coach after leaving UCLA. “I better do the best I can. A little added to it. It’s sad because we carry so much other stuff with us.”