As some of you may have noticed, I've been on hiatus for a couple of weeks. I'm back just in time to go over what is one of my favorite sports weekends of the year. The last weekend of November and first weekend in December have replaced bowl season as my favorite time period in college football. We'll see a lot of great games today and tomorrow, starting with the Arkansas Razorback- LSU Tiger tilt, on through the Iron Bowl, several PAC-10 rivalry games, to Stanford Cardinal-Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Tomorrow marks a chance for the Kentucky Wildcats to break a 26 year losing streak against the Tennessee Volunteers. If some rumors are to be believed, it is do or die time for Joker Phillips, and it is possible he won't last the weekend at UK. Some words about this. First, I know nothing, and have in fact heard nothing. The only things I've heard are things said publicly by mainstream media, and no one is actually reporting anything. Here is what I think, though: It is naive to think that someone on behalf of UK has not reached out to certain potential coaching targets. Even if it isn't official, powerful people with Mitch Barnhart's ear are working angles somewhere. Another piece to the puzzle is Joker's buyout. The UKAA isn't going to want to pay for that out of pocket, so any plan to oust Joker would also involve raising huge booster cash. This money might be gratuitously offered. That is one thing I have heard rumblings about, nothing I'd put in print except to say the version I heard indicates that money is in place if needed.
On the other hand, I'm starting to wonder how big of a deal the buyout is at this point. If changes aren't made in the football program, its looking like 2012 will be an attendance disaster. That is one factor Barnhart and Co. cannot ignore. If UK can get the right coach in here, it might recoup its $3.4 million investment by avoiding canceled season tickets.
You can now count me among those who don't believe Joker is going to have success as Kentucky's Football coach. I've seen enough. From the BBVA Compass Bowl on into this season, there have been too many disappearing acts and too many gaping holes that need to be filled. Our team began the season woefully unprepared to play football and never really recovered. When Morgan Newton sacked himself against WKU, we've all should have realized this was going to be a long year. When the coaches started playing the "we don't have enough talent" card in the middle of the year, my eyebrows raised. I was ready to chalk this season up to a ridiculous lack of offensive talent, though, and move on prior to the Vandy game.
Along with my son, I traveled down to Nashville to watch that game, leaving my house at 6:30 in the blessed AM. What I saw was hard to put into words. It wasn't so much that UK had quit as it appeared they didn't plan on playing football that day. It's hard to imagine a worse outcome if Max Smith had called his own plays. It wasn't a lack of effort, it was a lack of being a football team. It was weird.
I just don't think the program can recover from that. The Vandy loss is extra tough to swallow because it is proof positive that coaching can make a difference. James Franklin has made a difference in that program. Has to have. In 2010, Vandy had to be one of the worst SEC teams in recent memory. Its hard to believe they could improve enough to beat us like that. They did.
So, I am in favor of UK letting Joker go if, and this is a big if, Kentucky has a suitable replacement ready to go. I'm pessimistic about this. In the past couple of days, I've taken to the message boards to see what all the "rumors" supposedly are. While there, I was struck at how unrealistic some fans are about who would come in here. One thread suggested Boise St.'s Chris Peterson. That guy could probably have all but 10 of the D1 jobs right now just by asking. He could have left for greener pastures years ago. I'd love to see Houston's Kevin Sumlin, but I'm not even sure he'd leave there for Kentucky. Gus Malzahn would be one to get a call, but he reportedly turned down Vandy and a truckload of cash last year, so that might not be realistic either.
Of course, Mike Leach's name comes up over and over. As I mentioned at the beginning of the story, I'm sure someone has talked to him and Barnhart has a good idea of where his interest lies. Leach may be radioactive, both because he is suing his former employer and because he could be tough to deal with.
Finally, there is the issue of money. Coming to terms might be tougher than you think. Joker was at his alma mater, and wasn't exactly fighting off other school that were offering gigs. Anyone else who comes into this situation will want more than Joker's $1.7million. And if they are willing to work for less, they probably are the person you are looking for.
If Kentucky can't get the right guy now, we are better off supporting Joker and hoping he can scrap together a better team in 2012. I'm certain that without real improvement, that will be his last.