Kentucky Wildcats Football: Analyzing the options Part I

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Nov 13, 2010; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Joker Phillips before the game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Commonwealth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-US PRESSWIRE

In the midst of our bye week, all attention surrounding Kentucky football has turned to the coach search that is currently underway. While you’re going to undoubtedly hear hundreds of rumors surrounding candidates over the next few weeks, I’m here today to give you the skinny on each of the top guys. Remember, this is my opinion only. No NFL coaches are listed here.

MIKE LEACH – Head Coach @ Washington Sate
Why he fits: Leach is a former coordinator under Hal Mumme at Kentucky and was at the helm during the most offensively explosive period in UK’s history. He took Texas Tech from a doormat in the Big12 to a BCS contender, which is no small feat. He has expressed interest in returning to Lexington and has expressed that he believes that the right coach can build UK into a winning program.

Why he doesn’t fit: Leach left UK in the wake of scandal and ultimately probation. While he was never indicated as an offender, it does tarnish him slightly. More importantly, Leach was fired from Texas Tech for questionable behavior and ethics. While I’m not sure I believe all the accusations against him, there was obviously enough evidence for TTU to part with their most successful coach ever. Possibly most importantly, Leach is in his first year with Washington State and is unlikely to leave his school before completing even one full season. He will certainly have a pricey buyout as well.

The verdict: Leach is a name that most Kentucky fans know and know well. He is as odd of a person as there is in coaching but his results at Texas Tech are impressive and speak for themselves. Leach is a polarizing guy, but would be a huge hire if Kentucky is willing to buy him out of his WSU contract. The real question is and will always be, wether or not Mitch and company are willing to overlook his warts. While Leach is a big name, he’s a long shot too.
Grade: B+
Chances: Long shot

SONNY DYKES – Head Coach @ Louisiana Tech
Why he fits: Dykes is a big offensive mind that is impressing a lot of people with his team’s scoring ability this season. He is currently at the helm of a top-5 offense (nationally) and has played several teams well. His team is ranked at #20 in the BCS and is sitting pretty with a 9-1 record. In fact, LTU’s only loss this season has come at the hands of Texas A&M, and that is looking like a better loss all of the sudden with the Aggies’ victory over Alabama yesterday. He is also. Disciple of Mike Leach and spent time on his staff at both Texas Tech and Kentucky. With a current base salary of only $750K, Dykes is an affordable, hot name with a big offense and will be one of the top non-BCS coaches mentioned for any big job openings.

Why he doesn’t fit: Dykes is experienced as an assistant coach, but has only been a head-man since 2010 and only at a non-BCS school. Dykes took over for Derek Dooley when he left for Tennessee and inherited a program in relatively good shape as well, so his ability to start from scratch is suspect. Possibly most concerning, his recruiting has not been impressive at all and his teams win based more on scheme than talent. Sonny Dykes is the son of Skip Dykes and probably has the head coaching seat at Texas Tech in his crosshairs for his long-term plans, so his next stop could be a short one.

The verdict: While there are worse candidates than Dykes, there are better ones as well. I personally like him less than most and feel that he should be a backup option only if others fall through…but he will be an option.
Grade: C+
Chances: Serious option

TOMMY TUBERVILLE – Head Coach @ Texas Tech
Why he fits: Tuberville is actually the only Texas Tech-affiliated coach that doesn’t tie to Mike Leach. He is a proven winner and has been successful at both Ole Miss and Auburn in addition to Texas Tech. He has recruited with the best in the country consistently and is one of the most respected coaches in the country. Tuberville is an SEC guy and the uncertainty surrounding the Big12 at this time and he might be looking to get back to the security of his former conference.

Why he doesn’t fit: Tuberville has a better gig than people realize at TTU. The program has a relatively easy path to 8-9 wins each season with only a couple of really challenging games year in and year out. There are a plethora of recruits in Texas and he can take the scraps that Texas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma don’t want, and can still put together a top 15 recruiting class. The offense is run by Neal Brown and will put up 40-50 points each week, leaving Tuberville to concentrate on the defense. He has it pretty good as is unlikely to get a huge bump from his $2 million base salary either, making him a long shot at best.

The verdict: Of all the candidates, I like Tuberville the best. He is a proven winner, proven recruiter, and can build a team that wins in the SEC. His 2004 Auburn squad was one of the most complete football teams ever assembled and he would be the guy that could build UK into a real contender.
Grade: A+
Chances: Long shot

NEAL BROWN – Offensive Coordinator @ Texas Tech
Why he fits: If it’s a high octane offense you want, Texas Tech is a good place to start looking. Brown is energetic, exciting, and one of the most promising young names in the coaching circuits. As a Mike Leach disciple (like Dykes), hiring Brown would essentially be a way for Kentucky to get Mike Leach without actually bringing Leach himself in and all the baggage that accompanies him. Brown played at UK under Mumme and Leach and is also from right down the street in Danville. Moving to UK as a head coach would be a huge jump for him.

Why he doesn’t: Brown is VERY young at only 32 years old and has limited experience in coaching compared to other candidates on the list. He essentially took over a team assembled by Leach and recruited by Leach and used Leach’s offense at Texas Tech, so there is some concern about his ability to run a program on his own. Additionally, Brown currently has a pretty good gig at Texas Tech. He is the OC at a BCS school with a defensive guy as his head coach.

The verdict: There are probably better candidates than Brown but there are absolutely worse ones too. While he should probably be kept as a fallback at this point, Brown would be a great option if coaches with more experience and a more proven track record turn the job down.
Grade: B
Chances: Serious option