By Charles D. Smith
There have been precious few bright spots in Kentucky’s 2012 football season: Saturday in Columbia, Missouri against the University of Missouri Tigers was definitely not one of them.
The game started out on what some might consider a fairly level playing field: the Tigers are brand new to the SEC and had been winless against conference foes going into Saturday’s showdown. Kentucky is one of the SEC original members is also winless in the conference this year.
If you’re thinking that UK’s years of SEC experience might have propelled them to a victory, don’t be fooled. UK started out like they wanted to get off the snide, but after moving the ball impressively on the first two offensive drives; the team made only two first downs the rest of the game. The defense played good enough to win, but were finally worn down in the fourth quarter and Missouri got their first SEC football victory, 33-10.
It should be no surprise to anyone that much of the Big Blue Nation has already turned its attention to basketball and the promise of another great season to come. The remaining members of the Big Blue Nation – FBS (football subdivision), who are still interested, have turned their attention to who will be the next UK football coach.
This loss joined with losses to instate foes, Louisville and Western, and blowout losses to Florida and Arkansas; have made most fans ready, willing, and able for a change in the head coach.
Many names have been bandied about by pundits and callers to sports radio shows Presumably Mitch Barnhart has aides who have provided him with “binders” of possible candidates for the job. Names included: retreads (Phil Fulmer, Jim Tressel) current head coaches with SEC experience (Tommy Tubberville, David Cutcliffe), Hal Mumme disciples (Mike Leach, Sonny Dykes), and wildcards (Bobby Petrino, Butch Davis). There is Jon Gruden, who many believe could do for UK football what Coach Cal has done for basketball, but if he does coach again, would he come to Kentucky? Many think it will have to be an up and coming coordinator who is successful at a BCS school; much as Joker was six years ago when he was named the coach in waiting.
The problem for Kentucky is there will potentially be four coaching vacancies in the SEC alone: Arkansas, Auburn, and Tennessee may well have vacancies in addition to Kentucky. In a school-yard pick-um, Kentucky would probably get stuck with the fourth pick. Why? : Because no coach has left UK with a winning record since Blanton Collier in 1961. An upgrade in facilities is necessary to recruit against the Cats’ competition and fans will have to be convinced to come back to Commonwealth Stadium.
Will any coach want to accept the challenge to build a winning football program at basketball-centric Kentucky? A change will have to be made, but will UK really end up with a better coach than the one it has?
With three games left to play - and who really cares who the Cats are playing - the season for beleaguered coach Phillips, has, regretfully, taken on the aura of “dead man walking.”