The first domino in the 2012-2013 coaching carousel fell on Sunday, when Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart announced that football coach Joker Phillips had been fired.
Barnhart wrote an open letter to Kentucky fans, which said in part:
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.
As the letter indicates, Phillips will be allowed to coach the remainder of the 2012 season. He currently has 12-23 record at the school, is just 4-19 in SEC play, and as things stand, the Wildcats sit at an abysmal 1-9 in the 2012 season, and 0-7 in SEC play.
Speaking of the 2012 season, it has been a disappointing one in every manner for Phillips, who was already on the hot seat after last year’s 4-8 finish. Many believe if Phillips hadn’t beaten Tennessee (for the first time since 1986) to close the season, he may have been let go at that time.
Still, there is little excuse for what has happened on the field this year, and little patience for this season’s 1-9 record. Included in those losses is an 0-7 record in SEC play, a stunning 32-31 overtime loss to Western Kentucky in September, and a season-opening defeat to Louisville, Kentucky’s cross-state rival, which is now 10-0 on the season.
And in the end, Kentucky’s 40-0 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday might have been the final nail in the coffin for Phillips. Understand its one thing to lose big to SEC powers like Florida and Georgia, but quite another to lose to a club which was just 4-4 entering Saturday’s game. That loss came just a week after Missouri notched its first SEC win over the Wildcats as well.
What will be interesting now, is to see what kind of candidates Kentucky looks at to fill this job, and in turn, who might be interested in taking it. Playing in the SEC, with a limited recruiting local recruiting base and at a school whose emphasis is on basketball, makes it one of the toughest gigs in college football.
It seems almost certain that Kentucky will at least inquire with some of the big names on the coaching market, including Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino (which would be an ironic hire, if only because Petrino once coached at Louisville) and maybe even current Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes.
However, one name to keep an eye on might be Willie Taggart, the man who may have expedited Phillips’ downfall as the head coach at Western Kentucky. Taggart’s Hilltoppers beat Kentucky 32-31 in overtime in September which was one of the seminal losses of the Phillips’ era. As things stand, Taggart has Western Kentucky at 6-3 this season and have won 13 of 17 dating back to last year.
Kentucky is entering a bye week this Saturday, before closing out with Samford at home November 17, and a rivalry game at Tennessee on November 24.
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