In fall 1971, Manuel Diaz enrolled at the University of Georgia as one of a few minority student-athletes.
UGA was only 10 years removed from its desegregation, which began with the admission of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first Black students to attend the university. Diaz wouldn’t begin his freshman season on Georgia’s men’s tennis team until the following spring.
A two-time All-American in his college career, Diaz found success as an athlete. In 1988, he became Georgia’s first Latino head coach by taking control of his former team.
In the nearly 33 years since, just five other people of color have held head coaching duties at Georgia, all of whom are Black.
As a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Diaz grew up in a racially integrated school environment, so to see UGA’s near-uniform racial makeup was unusual.
“Certainly, for me, it was a little bit of a culture shock when I got to Athens as a student because there was only a handful of African American or Black athletes,” Diaz said. “In Puerto Rico, we didn’t really have any issues of desegregation. That was something I already grew up with.”
The Bulldogs finished with a 21-6 overall record, won an SEC title and advanced to the final round of the NCAA tournament in Diaz’s first season as head coach. He was promptly named the Southeastern Conference’s Coach of the Year, the first of six such recognitions during his more than three-decade career.
“I didn’t really have a whole lot of mentors [of color] as a coach,” Diaz said. “But then again, as I became the head coach, I wanted to be the best coach I could be and not the best minority coach I could be.”
Archive of achievement
Georgia hired its second minority head coach in 1995 with Tubby Smith, the school’s first Black head coach, who led the men’s basketball program for two seasons.
Wayne Norton coached Georgia’s track and field teams from 2000-2015, and Dennis Felton joined Georgia’s short list of minority head coaches in 2003, taking over the men’s basketball program until 2009. Joni Taylor became the first Black woman head coach at Georgia when she was hired in 2015 to command the women’s basketball program.
Bryan McClendon is the most recent minority head coach at Georgia, serving in an interim role during football’s 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl. His term lasted one game as he led the Bulldogs to a 24-17 victory over Penn State.
Diaz is comfortably one of the most successful coaches in Georgia’s history. He has the most wins in SEC men’s tennis history, four NCAA championships and only one losing season in 32 years. But all have found success.
Smith led the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament in both seasons. Norton’s men’s and women’s track and field teams earned 29 top-20 finishes. Felton led the Bulldogs to the 2008 SEC tournament title, their first conference crown since 1983. Taylor was a Naismith College Coach of the Year semifinalist in 2018.
Why there aren’t more examples of minority head coaches at Georgia is difficult to answer, but Georgia isn’t alone. According to the NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Database, 78.3% of all head coaches in the SEC were white in 2019, the last year of record. The racial makeup of student-athletes for 2019 reveals a considerable disparity: 56.6% of all student-athletes in the SEC are white.
Darrice Griffin, Georgia’s senior deputy athletic director since Jan. 1, said she views such statistics as an opportunity for the SEC to “advance in the space.”
“We need to be having this conversation about how intentional we are about ensuring pathways for those from traditionally underrepresented populations to have an opportunity to lead in diverse roles, whether it’s coaching positions, administrative positions or business positions outside of higher education,” Griffin said.
Diaz and Taylor are the only two minority head coaches across Georgia’s 19 varsity teams. To Diaz, the way to a more diverse coaching staff in the SEC is simple.
“I just believe in opportunities,” he said. “More opportunities need to be given to minority young coaches, absolutely so.”