Black coaches at Notre Dame highlight diversity in athletics

Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 7:00 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - The University of Notre Dame is in rare company. They’re one of two major universities where Black head coaches lead three prolific programs.

We’re talking football, and men’s and women’s basketball. But at Notre Dame, you can even add volleyball to the mix.

Those coaches are Marcus Freeman (football), Micah Shrewsberry (men’s basketball), Niele Ivey (women’s basketball), and Salima Rockwell (volleyball).

Our own Joshua Short sat down with three of the four coaches (Shrewsberry, Ivey, and Rockwell) for an exclusive interview as they talked about this historic moment.

JOSH: I am sitting in front of three firsts, right? First Black head coaches for your respective programs. Is there pressure that comes with that? Coach Shrews, I start with you on that one.

SHREWSBERRY: I don’t know if there’s pressure that comes with it because we all probably have our own expectations that we put on ourselves. Now, I need to do everything the right way and do it in a great way so that there are people that get a chance to do this behind me and after me.

JOSH: It sounds like that’s pressure… but good pressure, cause pressure can burst pipes or it can make diamonds, right?

ROCKWELL: There’s a little bit of added significance. You know people are watching. When I get DMs by little Black girls that are playing volleyball, it’s kind of cool. I know what they’re looking at, and I know it means a lot to be in a position where someone can say, “I wanna do that. She looks like me. She’s doing that. I see that I can do that.” That’s significant.

JOSH: Has the pressure for you eased up, Coach (Ivey), because you were the first Black female head coach not just in program history, but in this institution’s history. Now, seeing your cohorts with you, does that make things a little bit easy?

IVEY: I feel like we can relate, obviously. I try to share my experiences with both of them. They know that I support both of them. It’s a family, and I’m fortunate for that. So, I don’t feel like it’s pressure, but I just feel like we’re a unit. We’re family; we understand we’re all going through the same level of stress, level of expectation and pressure, but we’re doing this together.

JOSH: Indiana’s not necessarily known as the most diverse state in the union. You (Shrewsberry) are from here. You’re from Indianapolis. Tell me how being from here played a role in you coming back, but also being a Black man coming back to the state of Indiana. That comes with a little bit of weight, but influence issues and inspiration for others, correct?

SHREWSBERRY: Yeah, it is. And I have a role model to look up to. My father was the first Black city councilman in the town that we grew up in. So, he was breaking barriers long before I was. But he showed me the way of how to do it, of how to really handle yourself in situations that may be difficult.

JOSH: I want to read you guys something from the ND Insider. As of right now, Notre Dame is one of only two of the major universities to have a Black head coach in all three of its highest-profile programs — technically four when you add volleyball. Tell me how that makes you feel as a head coach, but also coming into this institution. What does that say about where this institution is going?

ROCKWELL: That was a big reason why I chose to come here. When I have these conversations with Notre Dame, and knowing Niele is here, and meeting Marcus… it’s comforting. It’s comforting in many ways, but it’s also saying, “Hey, this school is heading in the right direction. They’re trying to get the right people for the job.” And it doesn’t matter what anybody else says. And that’s what I think you saw in Marcus, you see in Niele, and, of course, Coach Shrews. But this is who we are. We’re coaches, and we’re here to do something significant at the University of Notre Dame.

JOSH: You mentioned Coach Freeman. I want to read you this quote — Coach Ivey, if you could respond to it. He said, “I’ve always said it’s at some point, it’s going to be great when we don’t have to make it a big deal that we have four coaches of color in major sports. But I don’t want to deflect that there are. It’s awesome.” He goes on to say it’s still “an ongoing process to get to the point where it’s not a big deal.” Do you agree with that?

IVEY: Absolutely. We want to make sure that we’re at the point where it’s the norm, not the exception that we are the only four black coaches here on campus. And I love that Notre Dame is being forward-thinking in this, bringing more diversity in our athletic department. We’re hoping that that catches on at other universities and I’m proud to be a part of what we’re doing here and how we’re growing the diversity here.

Josh also asked Shrewsberry, Ivey, and Rockwell about their reactions to the impending retirements of the people who hired them — Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick and University President Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C.

You can watch that portion of Josh’s exclusive interview in the video below:

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