Somewhere between Colt McCoy getting blasted in the BCS Championship Game and a massive political nerd fight breaking out on this very site, news broke that Joker Phillips’ first-year staff became two people lighter with the release of Jimmy Heggins and Rick Petri. The move seemed sudden and surprising as both guys are respected throughout football as being among the best position coaches in the country, with Petri even being named as a coach of the year finalist as recently as last season (he lost to this guy and his awesome name), and neither unit really lacking from a production or a development standpoint. From afar, you could argue that no two coaches on the staff were more secure.
But, there’s a new sheriff in town. And that new sheriff is, as he stated several times in his press conference, putting a more intense focus on recruiting. While there have been rumors of personality conflicts between Joker and Heggins (which may or may not be true), the lack of recruiting production being brought to the table by the line coaches is what will be cited as their cause for firing. What is completely undeniable, though, is that Joker Phillips might have been introduced on Wednesday, but the Joker Phillips Era officially started on Thursday and we got our first glimpse into what exactly it will hold. HINT: Not Rick Petri of Jimmy Heggins.
Under Rich Brooks, Kentucky found success in retaining the bulk of in-state talent and picking off three-star (and two-star) guys from Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Ohio, etc. who would come to campus and be slowly developed under a group of experienced, formerly high-profile cast-offs (Randy Sanders, Heggins, Petri). This season, the recruiting part of that strategy changed a bit as Brooks took a new approach of targeting more high-ranking high schoolers and waiting to the bloody end for their commitment. You can be the judge of how that worked (but not until they all use their eligibility). In hindsight, and especially given this change, you have to assume we got a glimpse into the Joker Phillips recruiting strategy and we can make our assumptions of who met their expectations and who didn’t.
In the end, it’s hard to say that Heggins and Petri didn’t do a good job here. There’s no question that they both had a large hand in the success of the program the last few years and there are going to be some former (and probably current too) players upset about the change. But, at the same time, you can’t blame Joker for pulling the trigger either. Joker Phillips just got handed his dream job with the expectations that he improve the program rather than just maintain its current level and is on a leash that’s probably a lot shorter than anyone wants to actually acknowledge. He might not know much about being a head coach yet, but the man does know recruiting. If he says he needs more than what Petri and Heggins bring to the table (especially with Charlie Strong in the state now), then I’ll take his word for it. After all, he’s made he very clear that he’s the guy in charge now.