Kicking the can, uh football, down the road.
Charlie Strong is staying. Willie Taggart is going. Bobby Petrino, of all people, has been hired to replace Taggart at WKU. And, Mark Stoops has a staff in place a fortnight before Christmas.
• Strong re-affirmed his commitment to Louisville last week, but not before flirting with Tennessee and until Tom Jurich sweetened his contract.
• Taggart turned Hilltoppers football around, “saved football at Western Kentucky U,” some say. Certainly he changed attitudes and the culture as the Toppers go bowling three years after owning D-I’s longest losing streak.
WKU director of athletics Todd Stewart said, “I want our fans to know we made every effort to retain Coach Taggart as our head coach. I initially met with him during our bye week in early October and told him we had raised suffi cient private funds to offer him a package that could make him the highest paid coach in the Sun Belt Conference.”
Taggart opted to go home to South Florida. The cynic in me believes Taggart went home not for the weather, recruiting against the other Florida(s), and only maybe for a job with national title possibility, but for the money, $5.75 million over five years (good luck after year three).
Upside for WKU? South Florida must play a home-and-home series with Western in the future. And, Taggart owes Western $500,000.
On Monday, WKU gave a second chance to Petrino, the 51-year-old coach who was fired by Arkansas in April for a “pattern of misleading” behavior following an accident in which the coach was injured while riding a motorcycle with his mistress as a passenger.
Western Kentucky gave Petrino, who also coached at Louisville and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, a four-year deal with a base annual salary of $850,000. If he terminates the deal at any time, he must repay the university $1.2 million in six monthly payments starting the month after he leaves.
AD Stewart will get criticized for giving Petrino a four-year deal with a base annual salary of $850,000.
“What it comes down is that he made a big mistake and he acknowledges that and he’s taken ownership of that,” Stewart said. “And he’s paid a heavy price for it.
“But this is the United States of America, and we’re a country of second chances. I was confident after talking with him and with other people that he deserved a second chance and we are more than happy to give it to him.”
• At Kentucky, Coach Mark Stoops said last week: “This is the SEC. It’s a physical conference. I want to be tough and be physical. We have to build this foundation with great defense. There’s no way around it. If you don’t play great defense, you’re not going to win consistently.”
This week, Stoops could add, “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!”
Neal Brown is offensive coordinator. A disciple of Hal Mumme’s Air Raid offense, the Danville native and UK walk-on made Texas Tech’s offense second-best-inthe nation passing, 361 yards per game in 2012.
Lexington won’t name any streets for Brown just yet, but optimism is soaring.
This week, Stoops, Brown and others are out beating the bushes for wide receivers and tight ends. That’s code for pass catchers.
Cha-ching! Is the sound of ticket sales for University of Kentucky football 2013.
Dismiss all sunny pronouncements from UK athletics department spokespeople but rely on common sense that says home games with Louisville, Florida, Alabama, Missouri and Tennessee will be hot and scalpprice worthy.
Why ignore UK athletics releases? Credibility. This is the agency that reported 130,000 empty seats at seven home games last season as attendance. (Cheers to the Lexington Herald-Leader for uncovering the lie).
While Stoops is a veritable pup in his profession at 45 years old, he is clearly the senior member of a Kiddie Corps coaching staff.
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot is 36, offensive coordinator Brown is 32; line coach John Schlarman is 32; and running backs coach Chad Scott is 29.
Fiscal Cliff(s) Watch
In Louisville, after the pomp and you-are-my-hero ceremony for Charlie Strong for doing the right thing and back slaps for Tom Jurich’s “fiscal genius,” there is the backstory.
Strong’s testy denials of job offer rumors aside, the ball coach found new voice for his principles on loyalty (to recruits and ticket buyers) and commitment (to fulfill his contract). But it didn’t happen until after a flirtation with Tennessee, and maybe Auburn too.
Strong was reminded a Sugar Bowl date awaits; that Teddy Bridgewater and several pals return next season; and that ACC membership just over the horizon means a broader (and richer) media market.
And of course, Jurich threw more money – extending Strong’s $2.3 million a year contract to eight.
Context? Before another Louisville football season kicks off, undergraduates face a six percent tuition increase.
Nevermind. UofL Athletics is in fine shape. No fiscal cliff problem here.
In Lexington the pomp and ceremony for Mark Stoops’s arrival projected no concern for a fiscal cliff either.
With Joker Phillips gone with $2 million-plus buyout guarantee coupled with 130,000 empty seats last season, the athletic department must face a budget shortfall, right? Apparently not.
Price tag for a “Welcome to Kentucky, Coach Stoops!” celebration: $40,000.
Context? A letter I received from University of Kentucky recently. Titled “Annual Giving,” the second paragraph said: “More than at any other time, we are dependent upon private gifts from UK alumni and friends to help us make the University of Kentucky educational promise a reality.”
Budget problems? UK athletics is in fine shape. No fiscal cliff problem here.
One & Done Update
Ex-Kentucky shootist Doron Lamb is averaging four points in 13 minutes a game for the Milwaukee Bucks; Marquis Teague averages 0.9 points per game as Chicago Bulls benchwarmer.
Anthony Davis has missed a month (11 games), but may return to the New Orleans lineup next week.
John Wall has not practiced or played a minute for the Washington Wizards this season.
And, ex-Wildcat Terrence Jones was sent to the NBA’s Developmental League last week.
Never mind. All are 20-something millionaires.
And so it goes.