Kentucky Needs to Pull the Trigger
By Jacob Shoor
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Times have changed, and that is why Kentucky cannot afford to keep Joker Phillips.
The apocryphal tale - which considering the personality of the Baron could be gospel truth - is that Adolph Rupp was so bothered by the immense football successes and popularity of Paul Bryant that he maneuvered behind the scenes to make the Bear flee to then hapless Texas A&M. From that time, UK football fans have taken solace in little, save that they are not Vandy fans and that Louisville is irrelevant.
Times have changed, and that is why Kentucky cannot afford to keep Joker Phillips. There is excitement around the Commodores football program that has not been felt since Whit Taylor quarterbacked the team to eight wins. Perhaps worse, a very young Louisville Cardinals team is ranked and could play in another BCS Bowl this year. The football future in Louisville looks brighter than the basketball future.
Unless UK fans are content to play at the bottom of the SEC and become the state's number two gridiron program - and number two in a small state that plays poor high school football is a lowly position indeed - a change must be made.
Defenders of Joker Phillips will note that only a handful of Wildcats head coaches have won a higher percentage of their games the first two years than Phillips. But they tend to ignore the fact that no other UK coach inherited a program that had come off four consecutive bowl teams.
In judging whether a coach should be retained, two things must always be taken into account: the school's football history and what the previous coach accomplished, especially his final two to four years at the school. Considering UK's football history, Joker Phillips' record after two seasons (11-14) would be acceptable; good enough to warrant a fourth season unless the bottom were to fall out this year. But considering the state of the program that Phillips inherited from Rich Brooks - which is the second healthiest it has ever been - 11-14 is a poor record.
Many years ago, I came to the conclusion that virtually all coaches demonstrate within three years whether they can top or at least equal the accomplishments of their predecessor. If at least one of a coach's first three seasons at a school is not clearly a good season for that school based on its history the four or five seasons prior to the new coach, the odds are extremely slim that new coach will ever pan out at that school.
The clock is ticking on Joker Phillips. Getting manhandled by Louisville should signal UK football boosters that unless there is some kind of major turn around miracle this year, they either make the change or resign themselves to expect their Wildcats to sink to what we used to denominate as Vanderbilt status, flailing hopelessly at the bottom of the conference.
The ghost of Adolph Rupp would prefer that UK be happy with John Calipari's one and done recruiting empire of basketball dominance, but will the UK athletics department once again settle for the bottom of SEC football as long as its basketball is nationally prominent?
There is an easy answer should the UK brass choose to compete seriously in football: as soon as this Wildcats team has six losses, announce that Phillips will not be retained and his replacement will be Bobby Petrino.
Considering Petrino's history, many schools will pass on him for at least one more year. But UK already has Calipari, and apparently is the antithesis of shamefaced about that. Feeling too righteous to hire Petrino would be the most absurd moral stance in the history of the SEC.
Football is simply bigger than basketball, and considerably so. That ought to matter even to Kentucky people.
Derek Dooley seems finally to be turning the corner from the mess he inherited at Tennessee. Georgia keeps reloading under Richt. Florida will not remain down for long. Steve Spurrier has built a program at South Carolina far better than anything the school has ever seen. As noted above, Vandy seems to be on the rise. Missouri is positioned to be competitive in the SEC.
The longer UK waits to hire a football coach the caliber of Bobby Petrino, the deeper the hole it digs for itself. And now, both Vandy and Louisville fans are laughing down at UK football fans.