FORMER NBA STAR Charles Barkley is furious that Auburn University didn't hire an African-American as its new head football coach.

And, not surprisingly, he is being very vocal about it.

On Saturday, Auburn hired Gene Chizik, the former coach at Iowa State, to replace Tommy Tuberville, who resigned earlier this month.

Both Chizik and Tuberville are white. Barkley said he wanted his alma mater to hire Turner Gill, who is black.

"I believe race had a factor. Of course I do," Barkley, who played basketball at Auburn for three seasons in the 1980s, told the Associated Press yesterday. "First of all, you can't compare [Chizik and Gill], their records. That's not even close to being fair."

Chizik was 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State. This season, he was 2-10 overall, and 0-8 in the Big 12. But he was also the defensive coordinator for Auburn in 2004 when the Tigers finished 13-0 and were ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Gill is 15-22 in three seasons at Buffalo. This season, the Bulls went 8-5 and won the MidAmerican Conference by beating previously undefeated Ball State in the championship game.

Athletic director Jay Jacobs, who interviewed both Chizik and Gill, denied that race was a factor, saying he picked "the best fit for Auburn."

Only time will tell whether Auburn made a mistake in hiring Chizik.

But there is no mistaking the fact that Division I-A college football should have more black head coaches.

Need proof? Do the math.

There are 120 Division I-A college football teams in the nation. And three - that's right, three - have black coaches: Buffalo's Gill, Houston's Kevin Sumlin and Miami's Randy Shannon.

That's 2.5 percent.

And that's appalling. *

- Tom Mahon