The Southeastern Conference's lack of diversity among head coaches has long been vilified, yet virtually no one has seemed to notice that when Kentucky and Vanderbilt meet this Saturday, it will mark the first-ever SEC football game featuring two African American head coaches in Kentucky's Joker Phillips and the Commodores' James Franklin.
"Today is the first time I've heard or thought about it, honestly," Franklin said after practice Wednesday evening. "I hope we can get to the point real soon where it's not even a discussion point. But I also understand the significance of it, and I'm proud to be here with Vanderbilt, and proud that it's Joker. I've got a tremendous amount of respect for him. I've known him for a long time and I know who he is as a man."
The focus among media around both teams hasn't been the cultural impact of Saturday, but the immediacy of a win: Franklin and Phillips also share four-win records, and along with Tennessee, the three teams will rotate playing one another over the final three weeks of the season, with each team fighting for bowl eligibility. Vanderbilt's record is 8-25 since the school's 2008 Music City Bowl appearance, its first postseason appearance since 1982.
Former Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom became the first African American head coach in the SEC in 2004, and in 2007, the Chicago Bears' Lovie Smith and Indianapolis Colts' Tony Dungy met in Super Bowl XLI, the first NFL title game featuring two African American head coaches.
"If this was 20 years ago, this game would be a bigger story, but that only means we're headed in the right direction. I think it's interesting too, when you at Vanderbilt, when you look at [Vice Chancellor of Athletics] David Williams in his position as an African American, and myself, what that means to the community here in Nashville," Franklin said.