The thing we all knew was gonna happen at the end of the season actually happened two weeks early when Kentucky fired Joker Phillips on Sunday. Here's the announcement via athletic director Mitch Barnhardt (who definitely couldn't be a newspaper columnist since he actually uses paragraphs):
After much conversation, evaluation and prayer, I have determined that it is in the best interest of our athletics program to make a change in our football coaching staff at the conclusion of the season. I do so with a heavy heart for a man who has served his alma mater for almost 22 years as a player and a coach. Joker Phillips has carried the banner for the Blue and White with honor and pride. I have enjoyed working alongside him and am thankful for his friendship for the last decade. His concern for the entire program, his work and teaching of young people, his humanitarian work, and the friendship we all enjoy with him will long surpass the scoreboard. I want to thank him for all of those things on behalf of Kentucky.So that's that. Phillips will coach the final two games and then be done, most likely with a record of 12-25 since Kentucky is headed for a 2-10 finish that will include a loss to Western Kentucky, a 42-point loss to the tire-fire version of Arkansas and a 40-0 loss to Vanderbilt. Good Lord.
The search for a new head coach will begin immediately and will be managed internally.
In three years, Phillips will have gone 6-7, 5-7 and presumably 2-10, and barring a win over Tennessee this year, his only SEC wins in the last two years will have been in 2011 against a Tennessee team that won one SEC game and an Ole Miss team that won zero.
The thing is, Phillips was a pretty decent offensive coordinator under Rich Brooks. Remember when Kentucky was, like, going to bowl games and stuff? In Phillips' four years as O-coordinator, Kentucky went 8-5, 8-5, 7-6 and 7-6 and won three bowl games while the offense was rolling out dudes like Andre Woodson, Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke, et al ... en route to finishing 31st, 24th, 106th and 93rd nationally in total offense in those years. So I dunno. It's possible that the early numbers were somewhat of a mirage; last year's offense finished 118th in yardage and 117th in scoring, and this year's is currently 120th (dead freakin' last) in yardage and 118th in scoring. A guy who's a pretty good offensive mind and has SEC-ish talent should be able to do waaay better than that.
Regardless, he's gone, which means Kentucky has an opening and a job that looks pretty crappy based on the last couple years but does have some potential. Kentucky isn't Idaho; winning bowl games and being something resembling competitive in the SEC isn't totally out of the question since Rich Brooks was still doing those things four years ago (and Hal Mumme was doing those things a few years before that until getting himself run out of Division I football for a while for various recruiting shenanigans).
The obvious guy out there who could do what Phillips couldn't (both in terms of producing points and winning games): Bobby Petrino. Kentucky's level of interest in Bobby Petrino: zero, according to Yahoo.
With Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart officially announcing the firing of third-year football coach Joker Phillips via an open letter to fans Sunday, the search is on for a replacement. And it will not include Bobby Petrino, according to sources with knowledge of Kentucky's initial list of candidates.Oh. There's no explanation as to why. I mean, yeah, Petrino had an unbelievably stupid affair; he also produced elite teams via elite passing games at both Louisville and Arkansas, both of which went into the toilet immediately upon his departure since it's really hard to duplicate an NFL-level playcaller. And it's worth noting that (a) Louisville is in Kentucky and (b) Arkansas is in the SEC. There's no other plausible candidate out there who checks off every possible box on Kentucky's list; I don't get it (unless the assumption is that he'd have some success and then be gone, in which case I kinda get it, but that would still be preferable to being terrible).
Anyway, a little more from that Yahoo piece:
Sources tell Yahoo! Sports that the candidate list includes Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes and Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, plus several college offensive coordinators. Among those believed to be interested in the job are Florida's Brent Pease and Texas Tech's Neal Brown, both of whom have ties to UK – Pease as a former assistant and Brown as a player.And another name from National Football Post:
Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky: This job is Taggart's to turn down, in my opinion.Interesting. Backing up a little, I'm not sure Koetter (who's probably gonna get interviews for NFL coaching jobs this year) is realistic. Dykes makes a ton of sense, though, since he's got the offense (10 years as an Air Raid coordinator under Hal Mumme/Mike Leach), the Kentucky connection (a grad assistant in '99) and the demonstrated success as a head coach this year with a Louisiana Tech team that's scorching the earth and might end up in a BCS game. The only real question with Dykes is whether there will be a preferable offer out there (say, Tennessee and/or Arkansas).
Taggart would be the polar opposite philosophically (he's a pro-style guy all the way) but has a comparable resume that includes several years as an assistant under Jack Harbaugh at Western Kentucky, a couple years as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and a pretty miraculous rebuilding job as head coach at Western Kentucky, which went winless the year before he took over and has since gone 2-10, 7-5 and 6-3, with a 9-3 finish this year likely. He also just turned 36 (wow) and presumably has a lot of current in-state recruiting connections that would be of some unquantifiable value.
I have no idea whether either of those guys is a legit favorite; I'm pretty sure both will be on the short list, though, and what matters isn't as much philosophy (although scoring points Chip Kelly-style helps a little in terms of recruiting and selling tickets and all that useful stuff) as just winning some freakin' games. It can be done. The good news is it really can't get any worse; the bad news is it really can't get any worse.