Joker Phillips is out as Kentucky's coach. - Wesley Hitt
Mitch Barnhart did what he had to do. That was the easy part. Finding a new Head Coach, that is another matter.
Yesterday afternoon I was checking out the 1pm NFL games on the couch and dozed off for about 30 minutes. When I awoke, the scroll on WKYT indicated that Joker Phillips had lost his job. I was mildly surprised by the timing, although there were internet rumblings on Saturday that the deed would be done before the weekend.
I applaud Barnhart for making the move now and giving himself a head start over teams like Tennessee and Auburn, who are sure to be looking for a coach in a couple of weeks. Those are more attractive destinations for a potential hire, so any advantage we can get is useful. That is not to say that this search is going to end any time soon. If we are targeting a current college head coach, no moves are likely to be made before December.
Some facts. National Signing Day is February 6th. We are currently in a recruiting quiet period that ends November 25th. Right now, athletes can visit campus, but no further contact is permitted. On the 25th, coaches can start making off campus contacts. So while things are less critical over the next three weeks, once the 25th rolls around, every day we do not have a staff in place we are losing traction.
Who are the potential hires? Here is a list compiled both based on internet rumor and common sense:
1. Sonny Dykes, Head Coach Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. Dykes is a former UK assistant who has done wonders at Louisiana Tech. He makes $750.000 there. A former Mike Leach disciple, he also coached alongside Dana Holgerson at Texas Tech. Dykes would be a popular hire among Kentucky fans who long for the Hal Mumme era. This would be a very good hire that I'd have no complaints over. Dykes, however, may be in line for a better opening if he plays his cards right.
2. David Cutcliffe, Head Coach, Duke Blue Devils. Long time Tennessee assistant last had a chance in the SEC as a head coach of Ole Miss from 1998-2004. He was fired after a 4-7 year only one season after winning the Cotton Bowl with a 10-3 team. Before that he had sustained success that most UK fans would find acceptable. After 4 losing season, he has Duke bowl eligible this year. That is no mean feat. It also isn't enough to get me real excited about him. Still, this would seem to be a solid, safe choice.
3. Butch Jones, Head Coach, Cincinnati Bearcats. I'm hearing this name a lot, but in my mind, you can cross him off the list. Jones has a good thing going at Cincinnati, and the UK job isn't much of an upgrade, if at all. Jones came from Central Michigan, where he went 20-3 in the MAC and led his team to a bowl all three years.
4. Dirk Koetter, OC Atlanta Falcons- This name surfaced yesterday and on paper he may be what Mitch Barnhart is looking for. Koetter got things started at Boise State as the head man in 1998-2000. He parlayed that into the head job at Arizona State, where he was fired in 2006 despite a winning (40-34) overall record and taking the Sun Devils to bowls in 4 of his 6 seasons. He has been a coordinator in the NFL since that time.
5. Bobby Petrino, currently unemployed. I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but I don't see a scenario in which Barnhart even interviews Petrino. It isn't just the latest incident that cost him his job at Arkansas. He has a long history of dishonorable behavior that Mitch isn't going to stand for.
6. Phil Fulmer, former Head Coach, Tennessee Volunteers. I know, I know. He is older, he is a retread, he ultimately was fired at UT for not winning enough games. If you look past that, though, Fulmer would bring a lot to the table. He is well respected enough to put together a great staff. He has connections throughout the south that would be a boon to recruiting. He certainly knows how an SEC program is run and wouldn't shrink from the opportunity. Most importantly, I think he take the job.
7. Mike MacIntyre, Head Coach, San Jose St. Spartans. This name began surfacing today among local media. In three years, MacIntyre has gone 1-12,5-7 and now is 7-2 for a team that was ravaged by scholarship losses when he signed on. He has experience as an SEC assistant (Ole Miss 1999-2002) and as a defensive backs coach for a few years in the NFL. He just signed the WAC's best recruiting class. This wouldn't be a sexy hire, but it could be a good one.
There are two ways to go with this thing. Barnhart may be looking for a proven head coach who has shown he can run a program. He may even want someone who has coached in a big conference and handled a UK sized budget. On the other hand, UK could roll the dice with a comer who maybe hasn't run a program but is a more exciting hire.
My endorsement for this job is for Texas A&M Offensive Coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury was a record setting quarterback at Texas Tech, where he threw for 12,429 yards and was an Academic All-American. After several stints in the NFL and CFL, he began coaching for the Houston Cougars under Dana Holgerson and later Kevin Sumlin. After coaching QB Case Keenum to record setting success at Houston, he moved to A&M with Sumlin where he is now mentoring freshman QB Johnny Manziel through a magnificent season. A&M has announced its presence with authority in the SEC, and Kingsbury is a big reason. Kingsbury is 33 and is an SEC coordinator after coaching in college for only four years.
Just as importantly, Kingsbury is an air raid guy. That will make the fans who want to see basketball on turf very happy. Finally, Kingsbury looks like a movie star, which never hurts when you are trying to sell a program.
For UK, this is a time to swing for the fences. Kingsbury will be a head coach somewhere in the next two years. With his track record, I think he'll be a very good one. I'd rather catch someone on the way up than on the way down.
Let's talk about it all here. I'm interested in all of your thoughts.
Follow me on Twitter @AlexScutchfield