Last week our own Matt Jones sat down with UK’s athletic director Mitch Barnhart to discuss a myriad of issues facing Kentucky’s football program. The topics included stadium renovation, the negativity surrounding the team, and the big elephant in the room, the job status of football coach Joker Phillips. Many Kentucky fans have long wanted Phillips out as head coach because they feel as an SEC program the Wildcats should be more competitive. They also believe that there has to be a better head coaching option than Phillips and, if contacted, would be happy to be the head coach of a SEC school. Honestly, I can’t fault the fan that thinks like this. Football is currently at the forefront of American sports and every fan wants to be associated with a winning program. Heading into this season Phillips will experience the most pressure from the Kentucky faithful that he has seen in his short career as head coach. It’s a weird situation for Barnhart, because on one hand Phillips’ team could be more competitive than last year but the standings might not necessarily reflect it. He would then face the tough challenge of staying with Phillips or conceding to a rabid fan base calling that has been calling for Phillips’ head. Looking at the Wildcats schedule for the 2012 season, this scenario is not completely farfetched. Phillips’ team might be more complete and still only manage a similar five wins. So what would be Barnhart’s next move? I think that despite the record this season that Coach Joker Phillips deserves more time to develop Kentucky’s program and here’s why:
–Changing the culture of a program takes time. Fans talk about the Rich Brooks’ era as if Coach Phillips was replacing Nick Saban. Yes, Brooks took Kentucky to four straight bowl games but we are quick to forget that there was three straight years of atrocious, sub-.500 seasons to begin his tenure. Coach Phillips should at least be given that much time to provide a winner. Phillips always talks about getting UK Football to a point where it’s competing for major BCS bowls, and even a national title, one day. I’m not quite sure he ever reaches that level, but I do think that he can get this program to great heights. Continuity and time are key factors in producing a winner in the game of football. Coach Phillips has a great staff in place with a great plan, but needs time to recruit the right players to be able to compete in this league.
–SEC dominance. Speaking of the SEC, it has been the premiere league in college football for a while now. The champion of the BCS title game has been from the Southeastern conference every year since 2006. Unluckily for Phillips he might have run into the peak of the dominance while trying to establish himself and his program. Along with winning every championship, this league has produced the most NFL players in that span as well. There were two SEC Championships games this past year for God’s sake, and one was the National Championship.
–Beating Tennessee. With halting the 26 game losing streak to the Vols, Phillips removed one of the darkest clouds over Kentucky football in its history. That should count for something right? Most fans were overjoyed with the fact that the Cats were able to take down Rocky Top but still managed to give Phillips no credit. The new generation of Kentucky fans have been waiting their entire lives for this to happen, and yet continue to call for Joker’s resignation. Is that fair?
As a fan base there should be a lot more support for a guy who is a former player and alumni. I respect Mitch Barnhart for the firm backing and retaining of Coach Phillips. His livelihood is based on hiring successful coaches in Kentucky’s athletic department and his support of Phillips shows that he is fully confident in him getting the job done. Coach Phillips has said all of the right things in his tenure and continues to make progress toward making the Wildcats nationally competitive. He seems to be recruiting a little better out of the state than Brooks did at this point, and as was said in the interview, that’s where the talent is. I’m fairly confident he will deliver a winning program if it he is given the time to do so. I’m curious to see how this plays out. Is the roar from the fans and media too loud for Barnhart to ignore, or does Phillips and his Wildcats surprise the world and deliver seven or eight wins? We shall see.