While it’s easy to forget now, it was just seven years ago that the biggest story in the lead-up to Super Bowl XL was the race of the head coaches Lovie Smith and Jim Caldwell. The pair were the first African-American coaches to ever go head-to-head with the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the line, and it was all anyone seemed to talk about in the days prior to kick-off.
Thankfully though, that kind of conversation has seemed to slow down of late, specifically in college football. And while there will always be some issues when race is involved (like the one surrounding Jon Embree at Colorado in November), this bowl season has seen more minority coaches win big games than ever before. And thankfully, all anyone seems to be talking about is the quality of coaching on the sidelines, rather than the skin-tone of the men calling the plays.
To see how far things have come, all one needs to do is look at Friday night’s Cotton Bowl, and Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin in specific. Sumlin’s father Bill once coached at a segregated high school in Alabama, before moving his family to Indiana when Kevin was just two years old.
Still, when Kevin was named head coach at Texas A&M it was an emotional moment for his father, who never thought he’d see the day his son had an opportunity to coach in the SEC. Actually, as he told ESPN.com’s Ivan Maisel this fall, the elder Sumlin never thought he’d see his son coach anywhere below the Mason-Dixon line:
"I never thought he'd be a head coach in Texas, either," the elder Sumlin, 77, said. "I never thought he'd be a head coach anywhere in the South."
On the opposite coast, David Shaw is finding success at his alma mater Stanford, a place where his father was nearly named the head coach over 20 years ago, before famed ex-NFL coach Bill Walsh got the job.
Regardless, the younger Shaw has seen Stanford win 23 games in his two seasons in charge of the program (including this year’s Rose Bowl), and in the process the school has become a cradle for young African-American head coaches. Stanford was the proving ground for new South Florida head coach Willie Taggart, who was the Cardinal running back coach from 2007-2009, while current offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is expected to get major consideration for job openings during the 2013-2014 coaching cycle.
And finally, the Sugar Bowl provided Louisville head coach Charlie Strong his one shining moment, after years of being bypassed for head coaching jobs. Strong was outspoken on the subject prior to his arrival at Louisville, when he claimed that the race of both he and his wife played a role in him not getting certain jobs.
Strong told the Orlando Sentinel in 2009:
"Everybody always said I didn’t get that job because my wife is white," said Strong as he prepared Florida’s defense for Thursday’s national championship showdown with Oklahoma.”
More importantly, it seems like diversity has come all across major college football, and not just at the biggest schools.
For comparison’s sake, Sumlin was just the eighth minority head coach in college football when he was hired at Houston 2007.
By 2012, he was one of 18.
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