On the cutting edge: Kosha Irby

Kosha Irby (Right) and Mike Singletary (left) pose inside the Memphis Express stadium. Photo courtesy of The Memphis Express

“I want to be at the forefront of something that’s cutting edge,” Kosha Irby said.

These words best describe the path of former associate athletic director of Georgia State and current team president of the Memphis Express, a team in the brand the new Alliance of American Football league.

However, as an assistant athletic director Irby also knew that it wasn’t common for minorities to get the opportunities for leadership positions in football.

Still, for over a decade, Irby has worked to build and improve college athletic programs and give back to those that have supported him. Each time he has gone to a new program, he has tried to leave a lasting impact.

His first athletic director opportunity came with South Florida in 2005. A decade later, he’s doing something similar, but this time at the professional level. Irby is now through his second week of the AAF schedule and it reflects on how he came to be where he is currently.

Irby developed his passion for being a leader in sports innovation when he graduated from his alma mater, Memphis, in 1999. In 2001, Irby returned to Memphis to get his master’s in business,, specializing in marketing.

Irby also played football during his time at Memphis and became more interested in the business of sports. After he finished playing, he interviewed with Conference USA to work in the business of sports management.

“I quickly realized how [much] better I was at counting the number of fans [who] were in the stands and event management protocol than trying [do] to do a 100-yard dash,” Irby said.

One of the more interesting things about Irby was his desire to give back to his community and to fellow student-athletes who were in his shoes in college.

“I just wanted to be able to create an impact and I wanted to give back to the student-athlete community because it created so many opportunities for me,” Irby said.

Irby worked at Dell after completing his degree. While Irby did appreciate his time spent at the company, he also felt his impact was too small and the work he was doing was too miniscule of an effect in the grand scheme of things at Dell.

“The millions of dollars I brought in for Dell did nothing compared to the billions [Dell] was bringing, but the small minor deal I brought for St. Louis did wonders … so I wanted to create an impact,” Irby said.

When Irby left Dell, he became the associate athletic director for St. Louis and was able to generate a good percentage of money for the athletic department. While the money he brought into the department is smaller than the money he helped bring in at Dell, it was the impact he made at St. Louis that resonated with Irby the most.

In 2009, he faced one of his most toughest tasks in laying the groundwork for a brand new football program at Georgia State. At the time, Georgia State was most known for its basketball program –– and still is today.

He compared the creation of the Georgia State football program to that of a startup company. The first game is still looked upon as the proudest moment in the program, now nearly a decade old.

“I will never forget our first game at what was then the Georgia Dome with 30,000 screaming fans, and that was one the coolest moments and that was kind of a startup,” Irby said.

Both college and professional football have struggled to hire minorities in leadership roles.

“The percentages are still not where they need to be and this something that I think everybody needs to pay attention too,” Irby said.

Currently in the Football Bowl Subdivision out of the 130 head coaches, only 12 are African-American. However, within the Power 5, the Big 12 lacks any minority head coaches—last African-American coach was Charlie Strong in 2016.

As you climb the college football ranks, the percentages rises by a few points. In the FBS, there are 15 African-American athletic directors out of 130 schools.

The NCAA in 2016 asked their members to sign a pledge “establishing initiatives for achieving racial and ethnic diversity, gender equity and inclusion.” The NCAA, to its credit, did understand that they had an issue when it came to recruiting minorities to leadership positions and tried to get it rectified.

However, the measure itself was non-binding and had no teeth when it came to enforcing the commitment. This has caused some rumblings on whether a Rooney Rule, a rule that required NFL teams to interview minorities, is needed in college athletics.

“That’s a tough one because where do [you] stop … you can’t put in the [Rooney Rule] at every position,” Irby said.

Even with the percentages not being where he wants them to be, Irby has seen steady improvement.

“In the sports realm and in business realm, the playing field on how people are being treated is leveling out,” Irby said.

In the AAF, diversity has a strong presence as women are assistant coaches and three of their eight clubs have an African-American head coach, not to mention some teams like Memphis who have an African-American team president and African-American head coach.

Irby, throughout his career, has never shied away from opportunity to seek a new challenge in sports. In doing so he has challenged the status quo in sports by both being a minority in businesses dominated by caucasian males. By being able to make an impact he’s opened the door to other leaders and continues to blaze a path for himself. Irby’s continued work with small schools show that he’s also determined to give back to settings that give him a chance and by doing so highlights the importance of giving back to your community.