As you may have heard, the University of Texas hired former Louisville coach Charlie Strong to be the 29th head coach for its football program over the weekend. There are a few characteristics that distinguish Strong from the 28 men who preceded him in the role of head coach of the Texas Longhorns (he’s the only one to have led a team to triumph in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl!), but let’s address the one that would be the unspoken elephant in the room, if only various members of the sports media had the sense to leave it unspoken: Charlie Strong is an African-American man, coming down to Texas to coach.

The Blazing Saddles jokes came quick both in Texas and around the country—the best one to be found in the gif below: 

The joke here, of course, isn’t that Strong is black; it’s that the sports media—and some fans—don’t seem to know what to make of Strong as he comes to Texas. And, because this is America and we have no idea how to talk about race ever, even legitimate concerns about Strong get expressed in clumsy, racist terms. 

In a listicle by the Dallas Morning News titled “10 things you might not know about UT coach pick Charlie Strong,” number four is a years-old quote from legendary Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz (these days he draws a paycheck from ESPN as an analyst), who explained in 2010 that Strong is “not a hip-hop coach,” despite being great with players. “He really, truly could have coached for Woody Hayes with no problem whatsoever.” It’s unclear what a “hip-hop coach” is and what distinguishes Strong from being one. Hayes, who was legendary for demanding “toughness” from his players, clearly doesn’t qualify. (Hayes was also famous for punching journalists, swearing at referees, and starting fistfights with the players on opposing teams.) 

While it’s not certain what a “hip-hop coach” is, it’s also a safe bet that Holtz wouldn’t have felt the need to reassure the audience that they wouldn’t be dealing with one had the Longhorns turned the reins over to, say, Art Briles. Whatever the characteristics that make one a “hip-hop coach,” though, the Dallas Morning News was keen to convey Holtz’s words to its readers via Twitter, as well. (The tweet was since deleted, but it was captured by Deadspin here.)

Rather than stew in outrage, though, most of the response to Holtz and the Morning News was pointed mockery, as folks on Twitter tried to figure out who is a hip-hop coach. This led hip-hop and sports enthusiasts to create the #hiphopcoaches hashtag, another example of Twitter making wordplay lemonade out of racist lemons.


The insinuation that Texas football fans need to be reassured that while Charlie Strong is the first African-American coach for the Longhorns, he’s not, like, one of those black guys is ugly, and it doesn’t speak well to either Holtz, the Morning News, or their respective audiences. 
Alas, a column that ran Sunday morning in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram by Gil Lebreton offered another example of the sort of comparison Strong is likely to get more of in the days, weeks, and months to come: Lebreton expressed a not-uncommon sentiment by being underwhelmed by the announcement of Strong, rather than one of the high-profile names that had been discussed—and proved himself unable to ask that question without invoking race in weird ways. 
“Where’s the wow factor?” Lebreton wrote, “It’s as if the Longhorn Network fired Leno and hired Arsenio.” 
Strong, who never posted a losing season in four years at Louisville, can probably handle inappropriate comparisons to Arsenio Hall. ESPN’s Jason Whitlock, who certainly knows more about racism than I do, responded to the “hip-hop coach” remark by saying that it wasn’t offensive, just accurate, so it’s possible that Strong took that remark as a compliment (though we’re still not sure what it means). But calling a black man “articulate” is also a compliment, and it speaks poorly of the expectations and stereotypes of the person who offers it. 
Strong has the better part of a year before we’ll see his product on the football field, and most of the real judgments of the man are going to come at that point. But in the meantime, here’s hoping that as he begins the job, people can find ways to talk about him that don’t make them look like the townsfolk in Blazing Saddles.