I'll readily admit that I plagiarized that title from Jesus. But just as Jesus had to select a rock solid foundation for the building of his church, so too must Mitch Barnhart select a coach upon which to build the program for the future. Who he selects will say volumes about his philosophy and what is most important in his view for the University of Kentucky. Will he go for an offensive guru (as seems to be the most likely based on the reports out there of who he has contacted) or a defensive stalwart?
We all know the old adage, "defense wins championships." And in today's Quickies, Tru links a discussion with Howard Schnellenberger in which the crusty old coach opines that you either go big or go home and if you aren't shooting for a championship, you're doing it all wrong. With all due respect to the former UK player and UofL coach, there's aspirations... and there's reality. Our first question needs to be, what can Kentucky realistically shoot for? I would argue that a championship in the SEC is currently an unattainable goal in the climate of the slog of slogs that is the SEC schedule. (Soon to be more daunting if the league makes a move to a nine game schedule.)
So if we can agree that a championship is not a reasonable short term goal, then what should our goal be? I would argue that a general attitude shift in the program and in the fanbase is the most important immediate order of business. If we decide that is the most appropriate approach, then what becomes the best way to achieve that?
I would argue that while defense wins championships, offense puts butts in the seats. A gimmick offense would raise the excitement level around Commonwealth stadium. "But chirop," you might say, "Gimmicks don't work in the SEC." Tell that to Urban Meyer who built his entire offense around the philosophy of putting the ball on the far hash mark and then get it to a converted track star in wide open space.
As I said above, Kentucky does not now nor will they in the immediate future have the talent to compete in the SEC on level footing. There's many reasons for that, but we don't need to get into them in depth. What Kentucky needs is excitement from the fanbase to build on. Spread options like Florida. Air Raids like TTU. Tempo like Oregon. Pick your flavor of the week. Any one of them would get fans into the stands.
Additionally, watch the match-up with Bama and Oregon in a couple months (if we're lucky enough to get it.) I fully believe Bama will win that game... and they should, they'll be putting at least 15 guys on the defensive side of the ball into the NFL over the next three years. But Oregon who realistically only has two or three guys on offense who will play in the league will give them fits along the way.
That's the sort of gambling shot that Kentucky will need to take. Get excitement in there. Make it sexy to play in Lexington in a sport other than basketball. Get athletes who want to show their stuff. If you sustain it long enough, then you can start to attract some defensive depth and start to build for the future.
In short, the best way to build for the future is to begin with an attitude change that begins on offense and then build toward a higher profile that will allow you to compete on a more level footing with the big boys in the SEC.
You heard that Mitch: Go find us a Mad Scientist on offense!