BLOOMINGTON, IN. (WSYR-TV) – Entering this college football season there are only 14 black head coaches out of 130 FBS programs, but the numbers don’t discourage Mike Hart.
“I will be a head coach one day, there’s no question about that,” said Hart.
Now in his fourth year at Indiana, he nearly has the title as he is now the Associate Head Coach and he doesn’t take that position of power lightly.
“There’s a lot of people who say they have titles just so they can say they have the title and I told the head coach (Tom Allen); I don’t just want the title. If I’m gonna have that title then I better be doing what that guy is supposed to do,” said Hart.
Throughout his life growing up in Syracuse and his prior coaching stops at Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, and Syracuse, Hart has been preparing for the next challenge.
“I’ve always prided myself on proving people wrong. ‘You can’t play division A in high school; you wouldn’t be as good’ because I played at OCS. Whether it’s that or going to Michigan, “oh you’re not gonna be good enough”. Or going to the NFL, “oh you’re not gonna be good enough.” said Hart.
Every step of the way he has found success. He still ranks first in the state of New York and third nationally for career rushing yards after leaving OCS in 2004 with 11,045 rushing yards. He is Michigan’s all-time leading rusher with 5,040 rushing yards. And he finished up his playing career suiting up for the Indianapolis Colts for three seasons.
Since 2011, Hart has been on the sidelines. First as a quality controls and eventually a running backs coach during his three seasons at Eastern Michigan. Then it was two seasons at Western Michigan, one year at Syracuse and since 2017, he has been at Indiana. In addition to being a running backs coach with the Hoosiers, the last two seasons he was the assistant head coach before becoming the associate head coach prior to this season.
“The guys I worked for I’ve been blessed and took something from every one of them and just kinda made it my own,” said Hart.
“It was always a dream of mine that I wanted to be a coach. Could I tell you I knew I was gonna be at Indiana, no. Could I tell you I was ever gonna be at Eastern Michigan, no. But things work in mysterious ways. Could I tell you I was gonna come to Syracuse and leave in one year, no didn’t plan on it. A lot of people were mad. But I have to take care of my family and do what’s best for me in this profession. So I wasn’t planning on coming to Syracuse and leaving in a year, I tell you that. I had no plans. Everyone wants to coach back at home where they grew up but things happen. To that point, I’m happy where I am. And I’m just trying to continue to grow as a coach and do what’s really best for my family and for my career at the end of the day.”
Of course, he had his own challenges along the way with the way a black coach is perceived in college football.
“It’s something that seriously needs to change in my profession from the way coaches are viewed. Are you just that token black running back coach? What are you, why are you getting hired? I’ve been in interviews before where they just want you there to recruit the black guys and coach the black kids to fill that role. And you never want to be in that position,” said Hart.
So now he tries to use his position to lift up others, especially from his home town. Latavius Murray followed in his footsteps wearing Tigers across his chest before going on to play Division I at UCF and now in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints. And CBA grad Stevie Scott now plays for Mike at Indiana.
“Stevie obviously grew up about eight streets down from me, so he grew up right down there in the valley,” said Hart. “Just being able to coach him and see him grow to help him out, he set every freshman record here he had a great year last year and just developing as a player and more importantly as a young man.”
“Latavius and I are obviously really close, he’s like my litter brother we grew up together,” added Hart. “Especially any section III guy that never leaves your heart, I know where I’m from I know where I was raised and those are the kids – we want those kids to look up to us. Latavius obviously a guy in the league right now that they can look up to the most as far as being in the NFL.”
As a college coach with a wife and three kids, it’s tough for him to come back in person to Syracuse, but he will always help the future generation. So what would he say to himself if he was now that young kid he was hoping to influence.
“Football will end one day, no matter how many people doubt you the one thing they are correct about is football will end one day,” said Hart. “So be prepared and have a plan.”
During an interview with NewsChannel 9’s Darius Joshua, after being asked about his reaction to the death of George Floyd, Mike got a lot of thoughts off his mind about the state of the college coaching profession and steps he tries to take to make it better. You can watch those comments above.