Tennessee State’s football feat in the Ohio Valley Conference earns Video of the Week

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Former Tennessee State head football coach L.C. “Lawrence” Cole poses with brother and former TSU offensive coordinator Johnnie Cole. The Tigers became the first Black college to win the conference in football in a tradition White conference in history back in 1998 & 99.

By Lenny Moon

During the 1998 and 1999 collegiate football campaigns, the Tennessee State Tigers, spearheaded by head coach L.C. Cole and offensive coordinator Johnnie Cole won consecutive Ohio Valley Conference titles as the only Black program in the traditional White conference. The brothers inherited a program that had 9 losing seasons in 10 years prior to their arrival. The Cole-led TSU Tigers compiled 4-7 records his first two seasons, including 4-3 vs OVC opponents. With Tennessee State being the only historically Black institution in the conference annals, the Tigers rose to the occasion during Cole’s third season at the helm with a 9-3 season record and finishing atop of the standings with a 6-1 campaign.                   

The 1998 OVC championship victory represented the first by an HBCU in the history of the conference, and the only time that this feat had been achieved by any Black program in a historically White league. In Cole’s fourth and final year at the Nashville, Tn based institution, he led his Tigers to their second consecutive OVC championship with an 11-1 season record and again finishing on top of the conference with an undefeated 7-0 mark. Although it’s been over two decades since Tennessee entered the history books with their late 90’s success on the gridiron, it’s barely penetrated the radar screen on the national sports landscape. Cole would earn OVC Coach of the year honors in both 1998 & 99 and was the 1-AA National Coach of the Year to cap off their second straight title.

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