I have always held the opinion that Joker Phillips has been on the hot seat at Kentucky s..."/> I have always held the opinion that Joker Phillips has been on the hot seat at Kentucky s..."/>

If Joker Phillips is not the Man for the Job, then who is?


I have always held the opinion that Joker Phillips has been on the hot seat at Kentucky since Rich Brooks made the announcement that Joker was the coach in waiting. Nothing against Joker, he is a Kentucky native and he played for the Big Blue, he just wasn’t a sexy pick.

Cat fans had visions of Bill Parcells and Steve Spurrier dancing in their heads, not offensive coordinators with zero head coaching experience. Not only did Joker not have the HC credentials or the sexy factor, fans weren’t that big on his play calling to begin with. Many questioned how much control Brooks actually had over the offense or if it was Joker’s to run 100% of the time.

After one and one quarter of a season as UK’s head coach, Phillips has the following records: 1-1 against Louisville, 2-6 in the SEC, 0-1 in bowls, 6-1 non-conference and 8-8 overall. Despite the non-conference games, one can argue that his records are mediocre to lousy. After all, he inherited a team that Brooks had drug out of the doldrums of Hal Mumme’s probation and into uncharted territory as far consecutive bowl games are concerned. Brooks had the Cats trending upward and Joker was the man to take them into even loftier heights: SEC East titles and maybe even a spot in the SEC championship game.

And then Saturday night happened. Louisville came in with a 1-1 record and a loss to FIU, the scourge of the Sunbelt Conference. We all know the story by now: UK had won the last four against Louisville, the Cats were athletically superior in every position, the Cards were young and inexperienced and it was going to be a blow out. But the reverse happened. Kentucky looked young, Kentucky looked slow, Kentucky looked confused, Kentucky looked lost. Where does the blame fall? Joker, of course.

The two coaches on the field could not have been any more different. Louisville’s Charlie Strong was yelling, jumping, high fiving his players and fighting with the refs on every call for every inch of field. He was a man on a mission to win and his players and crowd fed off of him. Joker Phillips was quiet, stoic and even had a few moments where he looked like he had no clue what to do or what play to call. His players and fans followed suit. The stadium was dead and so was the effort on the field.

The big topic today all over the message boards and blogs was Joker’s job. In case he didn’t know it’s already in jeopardy. Names of replacements are already being floated around by fans and bloggers alike: John Gruden, Mike Leach, Bill Cowher, Butch Davis and Jim Tressell are on the wish list.

Gruden and Cowher are Super Bowl champion NFL coaches that are turning down premium NFL jobs to stay at their cushy, well paid TV gigs. Why would either come to UK to rebuild a football program that has little to no success in the SEC? I guess actual coaching in the SEC could be a lure and maybe their egos would allow them to believe that maybe they are good enough coaches to turn UK into a title contender. But don’t bet on it. A few years into it and if the Cats aren’t winning, they are gone back to TV or the NFL. Those guys aren’t coming to UK.

What about Tressell, Davis or Leach? All three guys have been to big time bowl games, they have won big division games and have had huge success. Kentucky would be a perfect opportunity to relaunch their careers. But there’s the kicker. This trio have baggage that would make even South West Airlines charge to carry. Does UK really want guys that are, as of now, shunned from the college football world?

Right now Joker is the coach and he will be for at least one more year. Mitch Barnhart will not fire him unless he doesn’t win a game the rest of the season. Which could happen. Phillips came out swinging today in his press conference. He claimed that he loves Kentucky more than anybody. He says that he gets a lot of negative emails from fans and they go right into his trash bin. He said he learned from Brooks, who also saw a lot of criticism his first few years at Kentucky, to block things out and to keep plowing forward. Besides, the Cats are 2-1, not 0-3. If they are 2-10 at the end of the season then the fans can come talk to him.

Well, they want to talk to him now. There was a lot of big talk this preseason about the best offensive line in football and a young quarter back that had immense skills. Both look shaky. He also discussed rising to the top of the SEC and competing for titles. Not this year.

So where do Phillips and the fans go from here? There is still a lot of football to be played but if the same team that got beat at home by a hated rival that was also inferior, then Joker can count on a half filled stadium the rest of the season.

I will always support my team. But asking me or any other hard working fan to shell out $80 right now to watch a sub par product is asking too much. I want Joker to succeed. I think he is a great guy, he is genuine and he cares about the program, but right now I am not seeing the direction he is taking us. Joker needs his team to pull themselves up and figure some things out quickly before crisis mode is in effect.

If not Joker, then who? The athletic department at UK has never shown the willingness to bring in a big time money coach like they have for the basketball team. I don’t trust them to start doing so if Joker is shown the door. As far as a new coach is concerned, we would be looking at another coordinator from another school or somebody a little long in the tooth in coaching years, much like Brooks was. Don’t count on any prime timers knocking at Mitch’s door.

Let’s give Joker a chance. We can complain all we want, after all we buy the tickets and the merchandise so we have ever right to, but let’s not forget to support our coaches and our players even in dark times. I still believe in coach even though things are not looking good right now. If he can win 4 or 5 games in the SEC this year, then everything is salvaged and we are talking about what a masterful job he has done. Fixing Kentucky does not start with a revolving door of coaches. Joker has established recruiting relationships that are actually bearing talented fruit. We don’t want those to disappear.

Joker hasn’t had a fair shot yet. I say we give him one before shoving him aside. After all, what other realistic options do we have at this point?

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