You don’t know as much about the University of Kentucky Athletic Department than Mitch Barnhart. You don’t know as much about coaching big time college football than Mark Stoops, Rich Brooks or, yes, even Joker Phillips. You don’t know more about coaching college basketball than John Calipari, Tubby Smith or even Billy Gillispie. You don’t know the intricate details and behind the scenes workings at UK and neither do I. To pretend otherwise is folly. Even if you know a guy that knows a guy. And even as learned and as savvy as the Big Blue Nation is, there are a lot of things, collectively, that we don’t know.
At some point, being fan has shifted from simply rooting for your team to win to criticizing every play, reviewing every mistake and demanding things instantly that take years to build. Yes, I have been guilty of this at time myself, I try to keep in mind that even at the University of Kentucky, the athletes are just kids and that the players, coaches and administrators want to win more than I do. Even if you’re the biggest fan, you have to at least consider the fact that Coach Stoops wants to win more than you do because he gets paid to win and if he doesn’t win enough he’ll be fired. As for the pervasive thought among a lot of BBN folks that somehow Barnhart didn’t care about football…. I mean, you can’t be serious, right?
The double-edged sword with the Big Blue Nation is how passionate its citizens are. The BBN travels near and far to support the Cats. They pack Rupp Arena and, for the most part, Commonwealth Stadium. Year in and year out, the University of Kentucky is near the top in merchandise sales (Lord knows we love our T-shirts). At times, however, that deep passion can manifest itself as a feeling of ownership, over the team itself, over the coaches and the players. That is the point where demands and expectations become impossible for any coach or player to meet.
In Big Blue Country, we see those type of wild expectation mostly with men’s basketball, but now some of the football faithful have fallen victim to the guaranteed disappointment of unrealistic expectations. In basketball, if your mindset is “Championship or Bust,” you’re going to be disappointed most of the time. Even with 8 NCAA Titles, that means there have been 65 years that the Cats didn’t win the title and 58 times the Cats didn’t even reach the Final Four. Were all those players and coaches garbage or not up to par? You wanna tell Dan Issel that he wasn’t a great player because he didn’t win a title? How about Sam Bowie? Kenny Walker? Rex Chapman? Chuck Hayes? Patrick Patterson? Or Tayshaun Prince? When you set the bar too high, disappointment is sure to follow.
With football, I don’t believe the average fan knows how far behind the rest of the SEC Kentucky is. It’s more than just an upgrade in facilities, although those are much need and way overdue. It’s more than just one recruiting class, or even two. With the high schools in Kentucky not producing and abundance of in-state Division 1 talent, UK coaches have to recruit outside of the Commonwealth and compete with other football powers for talent. For a Kentucky coach to go to Alabama, Georgia or Florida and recruit against the Crimson Tide, Bulldogs and Gators is tough. Not impossible, just tough to do. A lot of fans gave former head football coach Fran Curci some grief when he gave an interview last week that shed light on the difficulties that he had to face in 1970s, the same issues that Bear Bryant faced before him and every other coach since. But, of course, the average fan is going to know more about Kentucky football than the last man to coach the Wildcats to an SEC championship.
I get it. You buy your ticket. As fans, we watch the games on TV. As fans, we support the Wildcats and hope they do well. That makes you a fan. We don’t own the team. We don’t own the players or the coaches. I think it’s faulty to believe that we care more about the outcome of games than the people’s whose livelihoods depend on a Kentucky victory. Be best fan you can be, but placing unrealistic expectations on the Wildcat teams doesn’t do anybody any good.