Turner Gill - Getty Images

If the Indianapolis Colts win the Super Bowl on February 7 (and they are favored by the Las Vegas odds-makers), it will be the third time in four years that an African-American head coach has led his team to victory in the big game. In the college ranks, the prospect of a black head coach leading his team into the BCS National Title game still appears distant, and that’s despite an off-season of unprecedented progress. First the good news: one of sports’ most stubborn glass ceilings is finally showing some cracks. In the Football Bowl Subdivision, the 120-school top tier of collegiate gridiron, the ranks of African-American head coaches swelled this off-season from seven to twelve. This is a small but important step; there were only three black coaches at this echelon seven years ago. In the last two months, University of Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has been hired to coach at the University of Louisville. Turner Gill, who compiled a standout record as head coach at the University of Buffalo, has been hired at the University of Kansas. Mike London, former head coach at the University of Richmond got the same job at the University of Virginia. Larry Porter, a former assistant coach for Louisiana State University, was hired at the University of Memphis. Willie Taggart, who was an assistant coach at Stanford, was named head coach at Western Kentucky. And Ruffin McNeill, the defensive coordinator at Texas Tech, who served as interim coach during the Red Raiders Alamo Bowl victory, was hired head coach at East Carolina University. “It is the single biggest period of progress in the college game,” said Dr. Richard Lapchick of the University of Central Florida’s DeVos Sports Business Management Program. The program administers TIDES, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, a watchdog organization that closely monitors minority hiring in the coaching ranks of college sports. Dr. Lapchick is also co-author of Never Before Never Again (St. Martins), the autobiography of Eddie Robinson, the famed Grambling coach whose career mark of 408 wins ranks him second all time. To Dr. Lapchick, the current spate of hiring marks change we can believe in. “The climate has changed,” he said. Now, the reality check. During the last three weeks, three high profile NCAA head-coaching jobs opened up and African-Americans were barely on the radar as candidates. The first opening was at the University of Southern California where Pete Carroll left for a job with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. After considering several options, the school chose Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin for the job, thus creating an opening in Knoxville. Although Kippy Brown, a veteran assistant coach of African-American descent with more than two decades of NCAA and NFL experience was given the title of interim head coach, the permanent job went to former Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley. In Lubbock, Texas, the vacant Texas Tech coaching job went to Tommy Tuberville, the former coach at Auburn. Even the signs of optimism must come with two caveats. For one, it remains to be seen if these new coaches will get sufficient time to prove themselves and manage the ebbs and flows of a college program. In 2002, Tyrone Willingham, then head coach at Stanford, moved to Notre Dame. Despite two winning seasons in three years in South Bend, he was fired in 2004. From 2004 to 2008, Sylvester Croom served as head coach for Mississippi State University. He was the first African-American head coach in the Southeastern Conference, and he guided MSU to a Liberty Bowl win in 2007; Croom was also named SEC Coach of the Year by several organizations. However, when the team faltered the following season, pressure rose on Croom to leave his post and he resigned. Rarely do white coaches have so little time to establish themselves and their programs. The other key point is that despite the recent hiring spurt, the collegiate game lags far behind the National Football League in coaching diversity. Six of the 32 NFL head coaches are African-American and two of the last three Super Bowl winners, Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin, are black. In the NFL, there is “the Rooney rule,” which stipulates that the hiring process for every head coaching vacancy include at least one African-American candidate. Dr. Lapchick advocates a parallel rule in college football he calls the “Eddie Robinson rule,” and suggests that failure to consider African- Americans for head-coaching positions should result in sanctions and losses of athletic scholarships. We are still a long way from the evening when two African-American head coaches lead their team into the BCS National Championship game. This would be the collegiate parallel to Super Bowl XLI in 2007 when Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith led the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears in the big game), but this offseason has marked a big step toward that goal. The Association of Black Coaches and Administrators, a watchdog group, declared on their website that “we are experiencing a watershed of success after a sordid history of disappointments." But as the last few weeks also illustrate, there is still a long road ahead.

Martin Johnson writes about music for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate and beer for Eater, and he blogs at both the Joy of Cheese and Rotations. Follow him on Twitter