Next Up Coaches Conference focused on helping minority coaches advance in sports careers

RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) — North Carolina Central men’s basketball coach LeVelle Moton and Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin hosted the first Next Up Coaches Conference in Raleigh on Friday, inviting coaches, administrators and recruiting firms to share insights and guidance on how to make progress in the subject.

“It’s not just a social responsibility for us, it’s a moral obligation. Someone helped us along the way. People ask me all the time why I do so much, and the answer is simple. Because so much has been done for me,” Moton said , the oldest Division I men’s basketball coach at a historically black college and university.

Moton credited Tomlin’s success with the Steelers, namely the team’s victory in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, with landing his job at NC Central. The men did not know each other personally at the time, although they were connected through then-University of Kentucky coach John Calipari, who is from the Pittsburgh area.

I think it’s incredibly important, not just for kids, but for everyone, to see coaches at this level reaching out, reaching back and trying to get the next generation of young coaches to this level.

– LeVelle Moton, NCCU basketball coach

Tomlin invited Moton to Pittsburgh to observe Steelers practice, and the two have become close friends and leaders in the coaching profession over the past thirteen years.

They came up with the idea for the conference to increase opportunities and growth potential for ethnic minorities in coaching and front office positions.

“We’re talking about people working in spaces looking at opportunities to influence young people, instructing them in a specific area. But also knowing that it goes beyond that specific area. We have to be inclusive in that thinking,” said Tomlin.

A 2021 report from the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found that only 9% of Division 1 coaches were Black, with even smaller percentages at lower levels. In D-1 men’s basketball, where more than half the players are black, less than a quarter of the coaches are black.

“I think it’s incredibly important for not just kids, but for everyone to see coaches at this level reaching out, reaching back and trying to get the next generation of young coaches to this level,” Moton said.

Panelists at the conference highlighted ways to stand out in interviews and opportunities to foster connections.

“People of color, blacks and minorities, we tend to think we have to code switch to belong. We tend to think that we have to be a certain way or be a certain way to please the crowd in the room. And I just really believe that you can be yourself,” Moton said.

While this conference largely focused on opportunities at higher levels of the sport, the importance of representation is present in athletics, including among youth activities.

“I had some great mentors growing up,” said Theophilus Jones, who, like Moton, grew up in southeast Raleigh.

Jones, whose mother died in infancy, was raised by his grandmother in the Kingwood Forest neighborhood. As an adult, he noticed a gap in mentorship in the community and wanted to give back.

“I needed a football coach who would take an interest in me. Besides just football, he would check on me after work. He would take me home,” Jones said of growing up.

Southeast Raleigh Panthers offers extracurricular activities and organized athletics for children.

Southeast Raleigh Panthers offers extracurricular activities and organized athletics for children.

A few years ago, he founded Southeast Raleigh Panthers, which offers extracurricular activities and organizes athletics for children. Started with 17 young people, the program has now grown to over 200.

“People poured into me so I could pour into others and into the children,” Jones said. “If a young man or woman approaches me with a certain situation, problem or feeling, I’ve probably had it too. I can relate. I know how you feel, and maybe I’m trying to help try to help to arrive at a solution that is less confrontational and more educational.”

Jones said he was surprised by the rapid growth, although the interest reinforces the importance of mentorship.

“It’s almost overwhelming, but I love it,” Jones said. “It shows that we’re doing something right in the community, that they want to be part of what we’re doing, and that’s who we’re doing it for.”

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