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“If you love something well enough to perform at it, you got to perform at it intellectually as well as physically. You can’t be a good football or basketball player consistently and be stupid,” Thompson said. “So (when) you are not in management, you’re still perceived as the one who picks the cotton rather than owns the plantation.”

Football coaches usually get their first top jobs after success as offensive or defensive coordinator. Strong was stuck for a decade as defensive coordinator for championship Florida teams, getting passed over for numerous head coach positions. In 2009, just before Louisville made him its head coach, Strong said he was told that one Southeastern Conference doormat did not hire him in part because his wife is white.

Franklin, 41, is a dozen years younger that Strong. In some ways, his rapid rise illuminates the greater opportunities available to a new generation of black coaches.

Franklin hopped back and forth from college to NFL jobs before spending 2008-2010 as Maryland’s offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting. Vanderbilt hired him for the 2011 season. Three winning campaigns later, he landed one of the most prestigious jobs in college sports.

Since his arrival at Penn State, Franklin’s narrative has not been about race - Mike Tomlin has won a Super Bowl down the road in Pittsburgh - but about restoring Penn State’s reputation, which crumbled beneath the horrific child rape scandal that ended Joe Paterno’s reign of 45 years as head coach.

“There’s no question that the so-called prime jobs, programs with great traditions, have been less available to African-Americans,” said Richard Lapchick, who has spent decades advocating for more diversity in sports.

He said it has been tougher for black coaches to build winning traditions because they usually get opportunities with losing teams, and it’s tough to turn that around before the ax falls in two or three years.

“Stepping in at Texas or Penn State,” Lapchick said, “makes that a lot easier.”


College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo in Indianapolis and AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno in Austin contributed to this report.


Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. He is reachable at or