It's just a two-mile journey down Snelling Ave. from Hamline to Macalester, but on Saturday night in St. Paul that short distance will bridge a historic gap for collegiate athletics in Minnesota.

When Hamline head football coach Chip Taylor takes the sideline across from Macalester interim head coach KiJuan Ware, it will mark the first time in the over 100-year history of the MIAC that two Black head coaches have faced each other, in any sport.

It draws attention to two career coaches who never want the focus on themselves.

"It will be something that I won't think about it on Saturday night," Taylor said. "But maybe 10, 15 years, you go, 'Wow that was a big deal.' "

Taylor took over as head coach of Hamline in 2016 and said diverse representation in the university's leadership could not be ignored when it came to getting hired.

"You have to be qualified. And to take it a step further, you have to have people in position to hire you," Taylor said. "Representation, I think, matters. We have a Black female president [Fayneese Miller] and I have a Hispanic AD [Jason Verdugo]. Those are unique people in positions that when guys like myself or coach Ware are qualified for a job, then we can get those opportunities."

“Some of those kids that might have come through their high schools and elementary schools and never had a Black teacher. That's what we are, is teachers. So now I'm in front of teams, addressing teams, and they've never experienced this before.”
KiJuan Ware

For Ware, who became interim head coach at Macalester in June, his journey to this position was born of an endless determination to achieve a dream.

"I'm an inner-city kid from the city of Hartford, Connecticut, with aspirations of being a collegiate football coach," he said. "I coached at every single level, and to have an opportunity to lead a program is an unbelievable task and it's a huge deal."

Ware wrote his master's thesis on mobility patterns in college football — understanding how and why coaches move through the ranks — so he understood the challenges he would face in trying to become a Black head coach.

"I knew what I was getting myself into," he said. "I was trying to find the right path, the right way, and check all the boxes, as you would say, so they couldn't say I couldn't do this position. ... And there is a lot more like me. I just have been blessed with this opportunity."

Both coaches said that part of the responsibility of taking over as head coach was to show their players what Black leadership and education looked like.

"I don't care what color my players are, white, Black, I'm going to mentor them the same. But, like I said, representation matters," Taylor said. "Some of those kids that might have come through their high schools and elementary schools and never had a Black teacher. That's what we are, is teachers. So now I'm in front of teams, addressing teams, and they've never experienced this before. For our Black players they can look and say, 'Wow. I never thought about being a head coach.' "

Systemic issue

The historic element of this game isn't unique to the MIAC. At every level of football there is a concerted discussion around how to bring Black coaches and administrators into high-level positions.

ESPN published a study in August of Power 5 football programs and found that since 1981, only 39 Black coaches and 29 Black athletic directors have been hired — which amounted to slightly less than 10% of hires for each position.

Before Ben Johnson was named men's basketball coach in March, the University of Minnesota had gone 14 years without hiring a person of color in the role of president, athletic director or head coach.

One of the challenges for conferences and member institutions is finding a way to celebrate these monumental moments — like Taylor and Ware facing off — while also acknowledging the shortcomings that created the moment.

“It will be something that I won't think about it on Saturday night. But maybe 10, 15 years, you go, 'Wow that was a big deal.'”
Chip Taylor

MIAC Commissioner Dan McKane said that there's no question this is a key moment, even if it is overdue.

"We have to celebrate even though we know this should have happened a long time ago," he said. "We have to celebrate this, learn and see the goodness coming out of it and then build off of that."

The conference is looking at success it had in increasing female coaching hires as a model. When it came to balancing gender hires, the conference rose from 38.1% female head coaches in 2013-2014 to 47.2% in 2020-2021, according to the University of Minnesota's Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.

"It took a lot of effort to have those conversations with key members of campus — not just our athletic directors but our presidents — to make sure they understood how important it was," McKane said. "I think the diversity piece is going to follow that same pattern."

Ware said the matchup with Taylor is part of the story of Black coaching in Minnesota and America. He pointed to the late Don Hudson, the Minneapolis Central High School football coach who was head coach at Macalester from 1972-1975 and became the first Black coach at a predominantly white college in the modern era.

But it took another four decades for two Black coaches to square off.

"I know coach Hudson is happy this is happening," Ware said. "That's where we are. Coach Hudson. Let's talk about coach Hudson. He was the first Black football coach at Macalester, and that was before I was born. That was 45 years ago. This is huge."