Saturday’s devastating loss to Western Kentucky was a shot of reality to a program that has seen its share of struggles in the last year. Barely squeaking wins out against Central Michigan and WKU last year was bad, being blown out by Vanderbilt was worse, and losing to Louisville 32-14 (in a game that wasn’t even that close) was awful, but losing to Western at home was probably the final nail in the coffin for Joker Phillips. So where do we go from here? Here’s my advice…
1. Recruiting is going to be tougher than ever now, but it is probably one of the only things that can save you. The fans aren’t going to be happy with a very good class now. It will have to be a STELLAR class with multiple four-star guys. A top-25 class coming in could make it harder to give you the boot at season’s end.
2. Beat a couple of teams that you’re not supposed to. Florida and South Carolina are coming up, and while the task seems insurmountable, neither team is invincible. Winning both games would quickly erase the problems that came from losing to Louisville and Western. Beating these two is probably the toughest task that the staff will ever take on, but it will probably be necessary to turn things around. Get blown out though, and it’s just fuel to the fire.
3. Get the younger players in. No more favoritism, no more rewarding upperclassmen who have earned playing time. I love CoShik Williams, Mikie Benton, E.J. Fields, Gene McCaskill, Etc, but the reality is that they’re seniors and playing them gives you nothing to build on in what is looking like a lost season. Those guys and others are going to have to be victims of circumstance here, because you’ve got to show the potential for immediate improvement.
This is really simple. The players just need to go out and fight. You’re officially the laughing stock of the conference (along with Arkansas), so what do you have to lose? Don’t play for the coaches, the fans, or anything else. Play for yourselves and your teammates. The performance against Western was a disgrace and you’ve got a lot of proving to do. Compete with each other, but more importantly, compete with the SEC.
The decision to keep Joker or not needs to be made within the next two weeks. If you’re going to keep him for one more year:
1. Prepare for the fan backlash. Make sure that your financials are in order as well, as you probably will see commonwealth as empty as its ever been.
2. Get behind the staff 100%. You’ve got to be all in on this as it will likely be you guys against the world.
3. Behind closed doors, start gauging interest in the job right away. It will probably leak out that you’re looking, but everyone already knows you are anyway. Things could get better, but they could get a lot worse too. Don’t let this spiral out of control to save face.
If you decide not to keep Joker:
1. Terminate Joker, Minter, and possibly Sanders effective immediately. Give those guys a chance to start looking for new jobs and give the fan base the blood they want. Having “dead-men-walking” on campus isn’t good for anyone. This will also allow you to reach out to new potential coaches without having to go through back channels.
2. Name Mike Summers the interim coach right away. He is probably the most qualified guy and will bring the most instant stability.
3. Go after Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, John Gruden, etc. the answer is almost certainly going to be no, but it’s worth a shot. If they’ll even listen, offer them WHATEVER it takes to get them here. Cut a couple of non-revenue sports if you have to, because you’re going to have to eventually anyway if Commonwealth stays empty.
4. Call Neal Brown (Texas Tech OC) and Tony Franklin (Louisiana Tech OC). Both guys are from Kentucky and are putting up offensive numbers that are other-wordly. Both teams are in the top ten nationally in several offensive categories.
5. Do not seriously consider Bobby Petrino.
6. Do not seriously consider Mike Leach.
7. Do not seriously consider any coach with a severely checkered past. There’s enough problems inside the football program as it is. A guy like Jim Tressel would be fine, but whoever it is needs to have minor warts, not major ones.
8. Sign somebody and have their staff in place by Mid-November. They’ll need time to recruit.