Coach of the Year—at Long Last

By Zachary Block '99 / May / June 2004
June 15th, 2007
Fritz Pollard’s life was filled with firsts. He was the first African American to play in the Rose Bowl, to quarterback an NFL team, and to serve as a head coach in professional football. In 1954, he became the first African American elected to the college football hall of fame. Off the gridiron, Pollard founded the first black-owned securities firm.

In February, eighteen years after his death, Pollard achieved yet another milestone when the Black Coaches Association (BCA) renamed its annual male-college- coach-of-the-year award in his honor; Brown cosponsored the award. The first Pollard Award will be presented in June at the BCA’s annual awards banquet in Indianapolis, where the recipient will receive a trophy with a relief of Pollard throwing a pass, along with a $10,000 prize. Winners will also visit Brown to deliver a speech or participate in a panel discussion.

“Fritz Pollard was a pioneer, a man who excelled not only because of his magnificent athletic gifts, but also because of his wits, intelligence, and ability to lead and inspire people,” BCA executive director Floyd Keith, a former University of Rhode Island head football coach, said at a February press conference unveiling the award. “Those qualities and his persistence against very long odds capture the very essence of the BCA’s annual male-coach-of-the-year award.”

Keith said African Americans still face significant discrimination in landing coaching and executive positions on both the college and professional levels. “This is not an athletics issue,” he said. “This is a social issue. Sport does not transcend society. Sports is just a reflection of everything else we do.”

Athletic director David Roach, who approached the BCA about renaming the award after Pollard, also hopes to see him inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “You don’t really have stats from that era,” Roach said. “But given the magnitude of what he accomplished and what he allowed others to do by being the first, we believe he deserves consideration.” Roach said he plans to start conversations with current and former NFL players to put Pollard on the hall of fame short list. “Because Fritz played so long ago, people have almost forgotten him,” he said. “We want to raise the awareness of his accomplishments.”

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May / June 2004