It’s now the long good-bye for UK Coach Joker Phillips, who was fired after his team fell to 1-9 on the season after losing 40-0 to Vanderbilt.
Kentucky’s open date Saturday gives the lame duck coach pause to deal with “what if’s” then rally his thoughts and his troops and gather up for Senior Day when the Wildcats play Samford on November 17.
A week later, Phillips and his team can warm in the rally call “Win One For Coach!” as the Wildcats get on a bus and head for the most important football trip to Knoxville since the day a senior flanker played for Jerry Claiborne and beat Big Orange in Big Orange Country. The flanker was Joker Phillips. The year was 1984. The score, 17-12.
The ‘Kentucky Job’
Big Blue Nation should be slow to fall in love with its new coach until two things are clear.
1. A defensive coordinator is announced. The new coordinator had better show up ready to say, “Make no mistake, gentlemen, we ARE going to stop the run!” and “You’re too damned heavy!”
2. The new recruiting coordinator should be skinny and handsome and talk authentic cool (John Calipari). He must not be a fat guy. One who thinks a Rotary Club invitation means he’s a VIP and writes his free lunch up as a recruiting expense.
Kentucky football is a GOOD job. No laughing, please.
Think: Geography, weather, facilities, starved (if fickle) fan base, the SEC, Keeneland, free basketball tickets. And, the pay isn’t bad living in central Kentucky.
Kentucky’s new football coach must also recruit rich regions. While Georgia and Florida high schools have been good to Kentucky, southern and central Ohio along with Pennsylvania and, ready for this, New Jersey, are recruiting hot beds untapped by UK.
The new UK coach must also get a foothold in Jefferson County once again.
Joker, 49, is out after three years and a 12-23 record going into his final two games. College administrators who sign coaches to five-year contracts for rebuild jobs is a peculiar standard, don’t you think? Aggravated by ticket price hikes, the shelf life of fan support is three seasons (re: Gene Chizik at Auburn under fire three years after a national championship).
When Randall Cobb left early for the NFL, UK became a rebuilding job.
Phillips is due $1.7 million for each of the two seasons he won’t be on the sidelines. Fans can count on two things – the director of athletics will find ways to pay the buy-out and Big Blue Nation probably won’t like any of them.
Barnhart knows and we know his next hire will define his legacy, make or break his chance of having a statue erected of himself outside Craft Center instead of a portrait in a hallway.
Finding Kentucky’s next football coach, Barnhart should bend the axiom “hurry, but don’t rush,” into “no hurry at all.” With a three-win season at best, and staff gone, recruiting for 2013 will be leftovers. So, watch the coaching carousel fill up. There is no hurry at all.
Considering what’s at stake, Barnhart should discard the usual course, throw money to a national search-consulting firm to find and vet candidates. Instead, make his legacy hire a personal and public demonstration to fans of a man determined to find his man.
Consultation with UK All- Americans is a good idea – Howard Schnellenberger, Dermontti Dawson and Rodger Bird to start. Have lunch with high school coaches Dale Mueller (Highlands), Bob Beatty (Trinity) and Ty Scroggins (Louisville Central).
UK football’s demise this season has been less about Phillips’ caring and competence and more about his (overpaid?) staff’s inability to improve players fundamentally enough to compete in the SEC.
Because there is no whine in brutal-every-week SEC football, defensive coordinator Rick Minter and the others have no excuses. They failed their coach, but more, failed folks who paid $50 a Saturday (not counting pop corn), and Phillips takes the fall.
In lieu of Vanderbilt’s 40-0 beatdown in Lexington last week, if the Commodores give Tennessee a similar black-and-gold thumping in Nashville on November 17, then usual doormat Vandy could be the instrument in firing of two SEC coaches within three weeks. Tennessee’s Derek Dooley appears headed to the unemployed millionaires queue along with Phillips.
When word came that Joker Phillips was out at Kentucky, reaction from a Big Blue Nation internet board message board said enough: “… this is what the Big Blue Nation wanted, me included. But, for some reason I thought I would be happier.”
And so it goes.