Kevin Sheehan and I had just finished our show, “The Sports Fix,” on ESPN 980 Tuesday when Coach John Thompson came in the studio to start his show.
We had spent part of our show talking about The Sporting News’ list of the 50 greatest coaches of all time in major sports. The list had UCLA legend John Wooden as number one, followed by Vince Lombardi, Bear Bryant, Phil Jackson and Don Shula.
I had NHL great Scotty Bowman, ranked seventh on the list, as my number one choice. I felt that a coach who was able to take his greatness and achieve success at several different places as Bowman did — winning his nine Stanley Cups with three different franchises, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit — separated him from most of the others who had built the reputations they are known for at one place.
Coach Thompson asked us, “Did you ever hear of John McClendon?”
McClendon had been a coaching legend at schools like North Carolina College, the Hampton Institute, Tennessee State A&I University, among others. He was a three-time NAIA Coach of the Year and won three consecutive NAIA championships at Tennessee State — the first college basketball coach ever to have won three consecutive national titles. He went on to coach the Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League.
It illustrated to me a glaring omission that we should have talked about on the show — the lack of black coaches. There was just one, Eddie Robinson from Grambling, ranked number 23.
The lack of black coaches was a reminder of something we should never forget. There was only one black coach on the list not because there were no great coaches. It was because over the course of much of the history of sports in this country, there were very few opportunities for black coaches to show their greatness on the field and in the arenas that got most of our attention.
When lists like these are compiled, we need to take a step back and consider the greatness of men like John McClendon, who should be on that 50 greatest list, and others like him.
We should not exclude these men a second time.
Join me and co-host Kevin Sheehan on “The Sports Fix” from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN 980 AM Washington and espn980.com.
For more information about Thom Loverro, go to www.thomloverro.com