When Northwestern hired Spencer Allen as head coach on June 14, it barely registered in the college baseball community.
The non-reaction made sense. Northwestern last had a winning season in 2000 and last won the Big Ten in 1957. Outgoing coach Paul Stevens is respected in the game, but Allen, 37, never has led his own program.
Allen's hiring came down in the midst of college baseball's postseason push. Northwestern announced Allen just before the start of Day 2 of the College World Series. If there was a personnel move that screamed to be confined to the transactions section of the sports section, this was it.
Allen becomes the first black baseball coach in Big Ten history. He's believed to be just the third black baseball coach ever to lead a Power 5 conference team, and the first since Dave Baker completed a six-year run at Kansas State (then a Big Eight member) in 1983.
Bubba Morton was the first and only black baseball coach in Pac-12 history when he led Washington (then a Pac-8 member) from 1972-76. The SEC and ACC never have had black baseball coaches.
The decrease in black baseball players at all levels has been gaining attention -- comedian Chris Rock recently addressed it on HBO's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel" -- but the near absence of black college coaches at major programs goes largely unnoticed.
Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips led an exhaustive search that led to Allen. He and four staff members reviewed more than 400 bios, vetted qualified candidates and conducted 27 phone interviews and nine on-campus interviews before bringing back Allen and another finalist a second time.
Mindful of diversity in any search, Phillips noticed that the number of minority candidates, especially black candidates, was very limited. But he had no idea of the milestone in hiring Allen, whom he describes as a "shining star."
The NCAA reported only four black head coaches in Division I in 2014, according to the Racial and Gender Report Card produced by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. That data does not include the 11 black coaches employed at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in 2014.