Alabama and Kentucky have hired Mike Dubose and Hal Mumme, respectively, as their football coaches, which means the SEC and the WAC are the only major conferences never to have had an African-American head football coach. Though the SEC has a good record of hiring minority basketball coaches (e.g. Nolan Richardson at Arkansas and Tubby Smith at Georgia), when it comes to football, a lot of well-heeled boosters in the so-called New South still want a white coach to hang around the country club with.
In hiring Dubose, a defensive coordinator for the departing Gene Stallings, Alabama at least stayed within the family. But Kentucky went a long, long way—all the way to Division II, in fact—to pluck Mumme out of Valdosta (Ga.) State, in the process passing up qualified African-Americans like Sherman Lewis, the offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers, and Larry Kirksey, the receivers coach for the San Francisco 49ers. Given the choice of being the first SEC school to hire an African-American or the first to name a Division II coach, Kentucky opted for the white guy, even though he has never even been an assistant in a big-time Division I program. Mumme did go an impressive 40-17-1 at Valdosta.
Kentucky would have seemed the logical choice to break the SEC's coaching color barrier. In the mid-'60s the Wildcats integrated SEC football by signing Nat Northington. And after CM. Newton, now Kentucky's athletic director, went to Alabama in 1969, he became the first hoops coach in the SEC to start an all-black lineup.
In '89, when Newton was looking to hire a Wildcats football coach, he got an application from Lewis, then the 49ers receivers coach. Newton rejected it, saying he would consider only applicants with head coaching experience. As Lewis said then, "That disqualifies every black candidate." This time Newton again blew off Lewis, granting him only a short phone interview despite Lewis's imposing credentials and Kentucky roots. (A '60 graduate of Louisville's Manual High, Lewis was a football star.)
"I thought I would have been a good fit," Lewis said of Kentucky. Now, he is hoping his success with the Packers lands him an NFL head coaching job. If he gets one, it will only make Kentucky—and the whole SEC—look bad for clinging to an Old South prejudice.