Kentucky Football: The Latest on the Head Coach Search

Mark Zerof-US PRESSWIRE

A tongue-in-cheek update on the Kentucky search for a head coach.

I have some big news for Kentucky football fans. UK will be hiring Bobby Petrino as head coach, Kirby Smart will be signing on as defensive coordinator, and Kliff Kingsbury is the new offensive coordinator. Also, word is that the Board of Trustees has decided to shelve plans for the update of Rupp Arena in favor of new luxury boxes in Commonwealth Stadium, which will also be expanded to seat 90,000, and that they would be taking over the coaching search for Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, and who reportedly also told UK president Dr. Eli Capilouto to "Shuddap an siddown, we don't need no steenking ethics talk around here, we wanna win football games!"

My source for this is the deceased Frank Zappa, who came to me in a dream last night, singing to the tune of Cosmik Debris:

Petrino's comin over
And his vertebrae are all right
For a few million bucks and some coeds
Football Nirvana's in sight
If you're ready, willing and able
To pay him his regular fee
He will drop all the rest of his pressing "affairs,"
And devote his attention to thee

And I said, "look here, brother..."
"Who you jivin' with that cosmik debris?"

I'm jivin' you, of course, dear reader. Brother Frank may well be whispering this to somebody from the grave, but my dreams were about basketball championships and leaving UCLA in the dust. Sorry. Call me obsessed.

Honestly, though, we do have coaching search updates, the main one from Matt Jones at KSR. You can read the whole thing, or you can have the CliffsNotes version below in case you don't have a cup of coffee to dedicate to it. I must tell you that none of it is earth-shattering or reveals anything that we didn't already know or suspect

  • Bobby Petrino is an unlikely, but not impossible hire.
  • There are a number of candidates, as many as four, in line ahead of him (I think there might actually be more than that)
  • David Cutcliffe is no longer being seriously considered. Matt says it's because some of the people involved think he's a retread. I think it's because we know perfectly well we couldn't get him. He is famously loyal and left Ole Miss when they tried to force him to replace some assistants.
  • An elaboration on Phillips' decision to stay, most of which has been reported in the media.
  • There is lots of interest in the UK job, but most of it is from agents and people who would have no chance to be considered.
  • A clarification of his position on Petrino, which is to say that he is not for or against that hire at this point (I think most thought Matt was opposed).
  • The Big Blue Nation is bitterly divided on Petrino.
  • The intimation that a hire would not take place until after the season.

On balance, I think everything that Matt wrote is correct. I don't think there's a lot there that's new, if anything, but I do think he does a fine job of assembling what we do know, or think we know, and laying it out with some background.

On that last point about the timing of the hire, I have been saying this for weeks. The reasons are simple -- no coach is going to take a non-destination job before the season is over. Why? Well, because destination jobs, such as Tennessee and Auburn, might not be coming open until then, so no head coach worth a hoot is going to take himself out of the running for those positions for the opportunity to coach UK. If UT or Auburn offer a coach a job before the season is out, there is a good possibility that coach would take it -- Hello, destination job!

What's amazing to me is how many people on the message boards and forums are touting their knowledge of the situation, and based on what we actually do know, none of them make sense. We have folks out there assuring all and sundry that the Mitch Barnhart has been removed from the process because he won't consider Petrino, and that Dr. Capilouto has also been sidelined. I don't know how to put this politely, so I'll just say it -- anyone who believes that is a juvenile, or a fool. UK doesn't pay Barnart and Capilouto to shut up and sit down, and the Board of Trustees is not going to take this job on themselves. Ever.

To be sure, there are boosters and UK heavyweights who are throwing their lot behind Petrino, and I believe that there is just as much opposition from equally powerful people. I don't think that matters much at all. I recall a time when it was widely reported that the boosters and other heavyweights had universally abandoned Tubby Smith, and the very next year he was given an extension. So if you believe any of this talk about Barnhart and Capilouto being pushed around, may I respectfully suggest that you back away from you computer and try to re-enter the real world.

Splits in booster opinion like this are very common during coaching searches, probably at every university in America. I remember when Barnhart hired Rich Brooks, it was widely panned as uninspired, and I have no doubt that there was a lot of opposition among the boosters who actually care about football. We see how that worked out.

The bottom line is, Barnhart is listening to some people and not to others, and he will make the decision himself. He's going to own whatever it is, and depending on how it all works out, reap the rewards, or the frustration. That's his job. He gets paid a lot of money to make these kinds of decisions, and the idea the Board of Trustees would subvert their own hire without dismissing him is, in a word, insane.

Now, for some news you can use. Coachingsearch.com has this update on Kentucky (now a couple of days old) that does raise one name we have not heard before:

While the coaching search is just beginning, don't be surprised if San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre, UL-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspth, and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner enter the mix.

...

Sources tell me that [Mike] MacIntyre has a connection within some close to Barnhart in the athletic department. The third-year San Jose State head coach is 7-2 and still alive for the WAC championship. He's says it's because his players are enjoying practice. MacIntyre previously served as the defensive coordinator on David Cutcliffe's staff at Duke. He's has also coached with the Dallas Cowboys, NY Jets, and at Ole Miss under Cutcliffe.

...

Of course, becoming a consistent upper-echelon SEC football team seems an almost impossible task. Some people don't want to hear that; some people want a guy who has enough audacity to think otherwise, which brings me to another possible candidate. UL-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspeth clearly has that type of personality and mindset.

UL-Lafayette fans have enjoyed Hudsepth's approach and way in which he has rallied their fan base. A year ago, the Ragin Cajuns' flooded the city of New Orleans during bowl season.

Randy Fitchner's a name that I haven't seen before.

Read the whole thing. All these guys are intriguing, particularly Hudspeth, and the Ragin' Cajuns just came within a hair of taking down Florida in The Swamp. Both MacIntyre and Hudspeth have been mentioned before in connection with Kentucky, but I have no reason to believe that either is currently on Barnhart's short list. Sonny Dykes is almost certainly #1, and Kirby Smart #1a. After that, I'm sure he has several people, but I'm not sure it's these guys. But they could get on there in a hurry if some of the higher names start dropping off the board for lack of interest or more interest in other programs.

So is Petrino on there anywhere? I have heard nobody credibly claim that he is, but he really doesn't have to be, does he? He is the 800# gorilla, and anyone who is flatly ruling out the possibility of his consideration is probably kidding themselves. As much as I loathe Petrino, if I were in Barnhart's shoes, he would have to be somewhere in the background, probably along the lines of a failsafe. I do think that if we ever hear his name credibly uttered in connection with Barnhart, we can be assured that he is either hired or about to be hired.

The next month is going to be one fascinating adventure in UK athletics. The worst possible scenario is if Petrino somehow goes this cycle without being hired anywhere, and UK hires someone else. That will keep the current fan division front and center, and put a lot of pressure on the football program If Petrino gets snapped up by Auburn or Tennessee, that probably won't happen, and the new coach will get more support from the currently fractured fanbase.

But you can forget about Petrino agreeing to coach anywhere before the season's over. It wouldn't be in is best interest, and if there's one thing Petrino is good at, it's looking out for his own best interests.

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