So, the football recruiting gala has ended and Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips has landed the Rivals ranked #49 class in the country, and new Louisville Coach Charlie Strong has landed the # 51 class. Not terribly bad for a couple of guys that didn't know they would be in these positions a couple of months ago, but nothing spectacular to speak of either, right? Well, the answer to that question may be a little more complicated than one might think.
Charlie Strong brings an impressive recruiting resume to Cardinal football after his tenure in the Florida program. He was hired because he can bring in the "big gun" recruits that had UL knocking on the National Championship door a few years back. They got a taste of the good life under Bobby Petrino and they liked it. And to be honest, I was very impressed with UL's meteoric rise from being an also ran to being discussed in the top 5-10 programs in the country so quickly and convincingly. Alas, success is a fleeting thing in some areas, and unless you are an established powerhouse, the BCS and all of it's trappings does not offer much solace for a school when they cannot continue the climb. Enter Steve Kragthorpe, etc, etc, etc. So Louisville decided that Strong was the answer, and so far he seems to be re-energizing the fan base, pulling in some decent recruits, and making life palatable again for those in Cardinal Land.
Joker Phillips brings, well, Joker Phillips. Uk Alum, homegrown and trained, annointed by Coach Brooks as his successor, blue collar, low-key, roll up your sleeves no nonsense football coach, much like the manner of Coach Brooks himself. Joker is a very likeable, competent, and all-around good guy success story, as the second african-american head coach at the University of Kentucky. Is that significant, well, no not really, unless you are counting the fact that the Commonwealth's 2 biggest schools both now have african-american head coaches. When Tubby Smith arrived at UK to lead our beloved Wildcats in 1997, the inevitable head shaking and hand wringing began over the fact that he was the first african-american head coach at Kentucky. Bringing home that 7th National Championship cemented Tubby with a very large part of the fanbase (at least the part of the fanbase that has any sense). And he was able to forge what I consider to be one of the best working situations at a big time college program for a minority coach there was out there. There were always a few nut-job detractors, and yes, racist scum is included in that, that were not sure of Tubby's abilities, that claimed he only won with Pitino's players, etc, etc, etc. Well, I can honestly say that those days are over for the true fans of the Big Blue Nation, and now it seems for the University of Louisville.
There are still very few african-american head coaches in basketball or football at Division I-A schools. But the really great part of all of this for the Commonwealth, both the UK and UL fans alike, is that in the case of the hiring of both of these individuals, race was never an issue. Kentucky and Louisville didn't go out there looking for the best head african-american head coaches they could find, they went after the best head coaches they could find. Both Joker and Strong have excellent coaching pedigrees. They have both found success as assistants in programs that are both, and it makes me so proud to be able to say this, winning programs. They both have now brought in a decent recruiting class, and they are off and running to get ready for spring practice sessions. As the son of a man who was raised in the most backwards of areas in his childhood in the 40's and 50's, and who was taught by his father that 2 different classes of people existed in this country, who was taught by his father and so on, I truly can say I am proud of UK and UL, not just for hiring two coaches that bring a credit to their race, but also to their profession, and who I hope one day will finally be able to lay to rest the stigma that has been placed upon this Commonwealth. We should all be proud of who we have as our coaches, but Kentucky gets to take a step up in the eyes of the rest of the world of college sports now. Not one other state in the union can boast what we can, and I for one am tickled pink to see it.
* Editing Note: I had made menton of Strong being the first african-american head coach at UL, and that was dead wrong. I had completely forgotten Ron Cooper who was there from 1995-1997. My apologies to Coach Cooper.