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Coaching matchup between Phillips, Franklin a first in SEC

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Saturday's game between Kentucky and Vanderbilt will mark the first time two African-American head coaches will be on opposite SEC sidelines. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Saturday's game between Kentucky and Vanderbilt will mark the first time two African-American head coaches will be on opposite SEC sidelines. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The SEC Digital Network points out today that the coaching matchup between Kentucky's Joker Phillips and Vanderbilt's James Franklin marks the first time two African-American head coaches will face off on opposing sidelines in the history of the Southeastern Conference.

For the first time in Southeastern Conference history, two African-American head coaches will be on opposite sidelines for a conference game when Kentucky visits Vanderbilt Saturday in Nashville.

Kentucky is led by second-year head coach Joker Phillips while James Franklin is in his rookie season at the helm for the Commodores.

The only other African-American head football coach in SEC history was Sylvester Croom, who led Mississippi State in 2004-08.

Phillips, a 1986 graduate of Kentucky, was an assistant coach for the Wildcats between 2003-09 before being promoted to the head coaching position.  In 2009, he was the head coach of the offense and wide receivers coach.

Franklin came to Vanderbilt prior to this season from the University of Maryland, where he had been assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach since 2008.

The game is significant for bowl eligibility as well.  Both teams, at 4-5 overall, need a victory Saturday in an effort to achieve the six-win benchmark needed to get into a bowl game.

The two schools have a history of firsts in opening doors to African-Americans in intercollegiate athletics.

Kentucky's Nat Northington and Greg Page became the first African-American athletes to receive an athletic scholarship at an SEC institution. They signed with the Wildcats in 1965 and Northington was the first African-American to play in a football game, during the 1967 season.

Vanderbilt basketball coach Roy Skinner signed the first black basketball players, Perry Wallace and Godfrey Dillard. Wallace plays in his first college basketball game in 1967, breaking the color barrier in basketball in the SEC.

There are currently 17 African-American head football coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Phillips and Franklin also have a shared history in that both were designated as coaches-in-waiting, Phillips at UK, where he is now obviously the head coach, and Franklin at Maryland.

"We go back a ways," Phillips said. "We had similar situations.  (His) Situation at Maryland was the same as mine here. We've communicated in the past.  It didn't work out there, but he got a chance to go to Vanderbilt, come in our league."

Franklin figures to make picking up wins over Vanderbilt this year and in the future significantly tougher, but Phillips has a lot of respect for the work he's done already.

"I'm proud of the way Coach Franklin has handled the team," Phillips said. "They've done a good job down there.  All he does is elevate our league."

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