A lot of the times when we’re talking about what’s wrong with a situation, we tend to listen to anybody with an opinion – even people who have no idea what they’re talking about. And Kentucky football is no exception. Everyone has their own ideas about why the program isn’t competitive in the SEC, including me. But it’s nice to take a step back from that occasionally and take into consideration the ideas of someone who has been around the Kentucky football program at its most basic level.
Josh Jaggers signed to play with UK out of Danville High School and was there for Mumme’s last season before it all went downhill. Jaggers transferred from the program after the Cats were hit with probation, when he said he “wasn’t having fun” there. With probation stripping everything from the program, that’s not hard to imagine.
The guy has been around football his whole life (his grandfather is the legendary Joe Jaggers), and knows his stuff. I sat down with Jaggers for nearly two hours this week and talked to him about a whole host of football topics, including what is wrong with Kentucky football. His view on the matter? The administration isn’t committed enough. We’ve heard that a lot before, but I don’t hear it a lot from guys who were formerly involved with the program. Makes you think there might be something to it, huh?
According to Jaggers, Kentucky football will be a success when the administration considers the sport as important as basketball. We could go around and around on this topic for days – the argument is, “Well, Kentucky basketball has produced.” But it could also be said that the football program hasn’t been given as big of a chance to produce.
“It’s hard to compete in the SEC when you’re working with Mid-American funds,” said Jaggers. “You look at Alabama or Georgia’s recruiting budget, and it’s not that much, but they don’t need that much. They never have to leave the state. Alabama could recruit just out of Tuscaloosa and still be good. When you’re Kentucky, you need to have the best recruiting budget out there.”
When talking about the football program and the funding it receives, basketball will always be brought up in comparison. It’s the nature of Kentucky fans. But the view of Jaggers is that we’ve got to get both sports on a level playing field, or at more level than it is now.
“Calipari can absolutely coach his butt off,” said Jaggers. “But he’s also been given the resources to compete and to win… People say you be great in both sports, but I don’t believe that. It’s like having a Cadillac and wanting a Land Rover. People say you can’t have both… Well, yeah you can, but you might have to sacrifice what kind of house you’re living in.”
He gave Florida and Texas as examples of programs that have competitive football and basketball programs (obviously Texas hasn’t been fantastic the last couple of years, but the program is still solid as a whole, and football speaks for itself).
So what is there to be done? Obviously UK is not (and should not) yank a ton of funding from basketball to give to football. But should football become more of a priority in the future? Yes, in my opinion, and in Jaggers’. When you think about it, did the basketball team really need a new Wildcat Lodge (especially one that’s the size it’s going to be)? Cal got #1 recruiting classes with the old Wildcat Lodge, and he didn’t need a new one. Granted, I don’t think that project was funded all the way by the athletics program, but the concept is still there. Football is not a priority to the administration, whichever way you look at it.
When money starts to funnel into one program, and when that program is made a true PRIORITY to the administration, great things can happen. I believe that.
Jaggers gave the Boyle County situation as an example, and it’s the perfect story to illustrate the points he made. Boyle County was a bottom-feeder in football in the early 90s and before. Then came Chuck Smith. Jaggers said that Boyle County looked like “a high school and four cow pastures” before Smith came along – no football facilities to speak of. Then, Smith and the athletics department decided they were going to have a quality football program. The rest is history. By the late 90s/early 2000s, a dynasty was being built, and five straight state championships were in the making.
(Yes, I am aware that that is a high school program, and the SEC is different. But the overall concept is the point I’m making).
P.S. Chuck Smith is UK’s linebackers coach now, in case you’ve forgotten. We’ve got a guy on the staff who understands the importance of making a program a priority before that program can be truly successful – heck, all the coaches understand this. It’s making the administration understand this that is the problem. They’ve also got to understand that Kentucky basketball probably doesn’t need every penny they’re receiving right now. UK basketball can survive alone; UK football cannot.
Does all of that responsibility fall on Mitch Barnhart? Absolutely not. There is a board of trustees, a university president, boosters and all kinds of other people that are in the mix when it comes to funding, etc for athletic programs.
It will take a huge overhaul to get Kentucky to where it needs to be in football –at a truly competitive level in the SEC. It takes the help of everyone, including fans vying for the program to be a priority.
Certainly something to think about.
Follow me on Twitter @AshleyScoby , and thanks to Coach Jaggers for a great interview.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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