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Paying Respect


It simply didn’t work.  Whether it was bad timing, rotten luck or a coach ill-suited to the rigors of the eternal uphill battle of coaching a perennial David in a conference full of Goliaths, the Joker Phillips tenure ended in disappointment.  (A fate shared with every coach not named Rich Brooks since Bear Bryant left for greener pastures in the 1950s.)  Joker needed to win in 2012 to stave off the wolves.  Instead, the season devolved into a seemingly-endless stream of non-competitive losses before an increasingly empty Commonwealth Stadium.  Worse than being angry, the fan base grew apathetic, and Mitch Barnhart gave in to the inevitability of the situation when he announced the termination of Joker’s contract on November 4th.


So now the Joker Phillips era has ended, and we, as the Kentucky fan base, have a rare opportunity to show our appreciation for a man who has dedicated nearly half of his life to Kentucky football.  An opportunity to resuscitate a dormant Commonwealth Stadium into a vibrant and positive place for once in this lost season.  That opportunity is Saturday night.


Joker Phillips undeniably contributed to the University of Kentucky.  As a player, he left his blood and sweat on the very field he’ll walk on for the last time this Saturday night.  He helped lead the Cats to two bowl games as a player, including a Hall of Fame Bowl win to culminate a 9-3 season in 1984.  After a stint in the NFL, he enjoyed success as an assistant with his Alma Mater, serving in multiple capacities for 16 years, to include four as offensive coordinator.  His 2007 offense was perhaps the most dynamic in school history, leading the mighty SEC in passing while averaging an impressive 37 points per game.  Once given the battlefield promotion to head coach, Joker became the first head man in school history to achieve a bowl game in his first season.  He also ended the horrors of both the Spurrier and Tennessee losing streaks.  Unfortunately, the on the field achievements proved to be unsustainable.  What never ceased, however, was Joker’s love and dedication to the program.


Joker is the very embodiment of Kentucky football.  Players don’t dream of playing football at Kentucky.  Joker Phillips did.  Coaches don’t dream of coaching football at Kentucky.  Joker Phillips did.  The tears of pride he shed at his introductory press conference were a testament to that.  Kentucky may well hire a better football coach in the coming weeks, but they won’t hire one more devoted, more true blue than Joker Phillips, a coach who views the Kentucky job not as a stepping stone, but as a destination.


Of course, love of your school is not reflected on scoreboards or in the athletic department’s budget, and it does not save jobs in major college football.  Joker Phillips would be the first to acknowledge that he is not owed anything by the University, who rewarded him handsomely for his work, and fairly let him go for not meeting the expectations of the fan base or the administration.  But that does not mean that his service should not be appreciated by Kentucky fans.  Over the years, one of the only prideful things that Kentucky fans could cling to was the mantra that we had the best, most loyal football fans in the country.  Where else would fans happily endure the perpetual torment that is Kentucky football, and still come back time and again?  But with the recent gate count, that position is getting tougher and tougher to defend.  Saturday night is an opportunity to reclaim that title.  By simply showing up and supporting the Cats, Kentucky fans can show their gratitude and respect for Joker Phillip’s football life.  The time to fracture the fan base between pro and anti Joker groups is over.  Joker’s coaching fate is sealed.  The only remaining side is Kentucky football.  Joker loyally and honorably served that, and we should show our collective appreciation Saturday night.

Article written by Duncan Cavanah

32 Comments for Paying Respect

  1. Mike W
    9:05 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    Great post Duncan, they do not come any better that Joker. I wished it would have worked out but we all know he gave it his best. I hope the next coach is given the tools, money and support that the program needs to be successful. Wish Joker the best, he is one of the good guys! Glad you are back on the writers job, need more from you since Turkey Hunter is AWOL?

  2. Choo
    9:08 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    Outstanding. Well said.

  3. CMACintheATL
    9:10 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    What a great article. Hopefully the BBN will have this in mind and come and show the passion we are famous for. The battle is over and the fans have won, now let’s show some pride and send this football team out in true blue fashion. Not only is a great ending but also the best way to usher in a new era in football for the University of Kentucky.

  4. Booger
    9:14 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    Great story!!!! His heart is BLUE all the way. I say UK might hire a new coach- but they won’t get the passion and devotion Joker gave. I applaud Joker for his continued support of uk and its big blue nation!!!

  5. MHFaulkner
    9:14 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    Guy Morriss didn’t leave as a disappointment.

  6. bbmike
    9:15 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    #Packcommonwealth #packcommonwealth2013

  7. Bluehaz
    9:37 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    Is there a coach , that UK can hire, who will turn the ship around and how long will it take?? Will he have a difficult first 3 years just like Joker ? Probably so! Then…….

  8. The guy Joker played for, Jerry Claiborne, didn’t leave having done too badly. He always won at least 5 games except his first year as I recall (and that’s cuz Fran Curci left such a mess), and that’s better than anyone else has done except PawPaw.

  9. And Bear of course.

  10. JHC
    9:43 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    Well written

  11. Lush
    9:47 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    Totally agree. Thanks joker for your dedication and hard work. However I feel like many fans won’t show because of the perception that Mitch Barnhart won’t even talk with petrino. A majority if the fan base desperately wants him to be hired. If Barnhart passes and the next coach flounders at all I think the fan base is done. 50 years of bad football is more than enough to do that, especially when many feel as if the ad is not taking to the guy most likely to turn things around.

  12. And count me among those who REALLY was pulling for Joker to succeed. With him being all UK all the ti

  13. Oops! All UK all the time and being such a good guy, I hate like heck that it didn’t work out. GOOD LUCK JOKER! ALL THE BEST!

  14. mudcreekmark
    10:12 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    I really liked Joker the player, Joker the assistant and Joker the Co-ordinator. Not so much as a head coach. I still cannot figure out why a coach in waiting wanted to get rid of the whole staff that had been successful in building the program from the ashes.

  15. Fake Kate Upton
    10:14 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    Hallelujah!! We will see you there as the true BLUE fans that we are. Bring it on!! We will not let you down!

  16. goUKats
    10:20 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    Apathetic ?How can you say UK fans became apathetic? UK fans became mad as hell and decided they were’nt going to take a pathetically coached football team anymore.And they took action to iniate change by staying away.And if the right hire is not made,i’m willing to bet they will do it again.

  17. LETSfinallyWIN
    10:47 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    8. You mentioned Claiborne always winning 5 games. You also have to remember that a 5 win season prior to Brooks years is like a 6 win season now. The extra cupcake added to the schedule would have sent us to a bowl in a bunch of other years. In those days, how many times did we actually go into the last game needing to beat Tn to make a bowl?

  18. Truefan
    10:49 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    Although barney insulted us the other day, I hope the fans get out for this game. if not for joker, then for the team!

  19. tyson
    11:10 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    Unfortunately I won’t be in town this weekend to go to the game. Otherwise I would be there to give Joker the proper sendoff he deserves for his loyalty to the program.

    19) I wish Barnhart’s statement hadn’t been glossed over on this site and others. He should be made to answer and apologize for his insult to the fans. He let his personal feelings for Joker get the best of him.

  20. Blue Baller
    11:32 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    I have a ton of respect for Joker and I really really wish it had worked out and he could be our coach forever. The man I’m upset with is Mitch Barnhart. How in the heck does this dude keep his job? How much money has he cost the University of Ky? #1 Billy Clyde 3 million buyout. #2 unknown millions in lost revenue this football season for not making the coaching change last year. #3 Joker’s 2.5 or so million dollar buyout. Plus you and every other fan knows he will botch this hire as well. I wish Joker the best and I think he will do just fine. The problem fellas is we still have ol’ Barn in charge so don’t count on anything getting much better.

  21. Ryan
    11:37 pm November 14, 2012 Permalink

    No one has mentioned Blanton Collier yet?

  22. njCat
    12:33 am November 15, 2012 Permalink

    #16 has is right. The fans have been anything BUT apathetic… they are pissed. And they are pissed at Barnhart, not Joker. I wish they could have another event where everyone honors Joker’s contribution, because its not really his fault that the program is in the state that it is. He never should have been hired in the first place. Barnhart is the real failure and until he does his job or is replace, things will not improve.

    Most fans have absolutely no confidence that Barnhart has what it takes to build a successful football program. No funding for facilities. No positive PR or presence in the community. He can’t even seem to get his boss to give a crap about the program. And he really helped himself by blaiming the lack of attendence on the fans, rather than taking responsibility and promising to fix it.

    Barney’s the problem and things will not get better ’till he either gets his act together or is replaced.

  23. burger
    4:33 am November 15, 2012 Permalink


    It’s sad when the guy deciding who your next football coach will be WASN’T AROUND YOUR PROGRAM BEFORE 2002.

    I remember the late 70′s, 80′s and the 90′s (Fran Curci, Jerry Claiborne, Bill Curry, Hal Mumme). My Mom and Dad tell me about the 60′s and the 70′s (Blanton Collier, Charlie Bradshaw, John Ray), and my grandparents tell me about the 40′s and 50′s (A.D. Kirwan, Bernie Shivley, Bear Bryant).

    Think of all the contributions my family & others have made over the years (not just ticket purchases, but Blue/White donations for lower level seats to bball & fball). All the road games we would drive to and support our team no matter the outcome.

    Here we are on the cusp of potential, where an AD who didn’t even know what Blue Blood was 10 years ago, is going to make a decision for me and my family and the future generations of Wildcat Faithful. Who knows if he or his family will be here… but my family will be.

    The Wildcat Faithful is a rare breed in today’s sports. How many programs have been so mediocre for so long yet continued to pack the stadium? No one understands it, but I only hope our message has been understood.

    It’s almost unfair that 1 guy can either make the right move, steer our program into a certain oblivion or make the “safe” choice to protect his job.

    Take a second to think about your job Mitch Barnhart. This isn’t about YOU!

    Give the Wildcat Faithful of the Commonwealth a chance to get all those programs back for having been patient & supportive all these years.

    Take the reduction in attendance this year as a MAJOR sign that “YOU” are on watch. A program who’s fans have always been behind it’s program and always continued to attend even during losing season even when we lost faith in it’s direction. This drastic measure so often taken by other programs fans as their first choice became hesitantly our only card left to play… and we held it back longer than any other programs fans that I can remember.

    This was a direct message to “YOU”.

    Get out of our way, make the decision that will give us a real chance, and by doing so you will be doing your job.

  24. michaelcatfan
    4:55 am November 15, 2012 Permalink

    #23 is a total troll

  25. wildcathero
    6:02 am November 15, 2012 Permalink

    I agree with #23, I mean honestly parents regale them with tales of Fran Curci? I mean really?

  26. Beavis
    6:47 am November 15, 2012 Permalink

    We all know how the AD one man coaching searches have turned out in the past. As AD,,,,it is his decision to make but form a search committee comprised of people that know something about football,,,UK,,and BBN. Better to have a committee making the decision than one man. Of course our AD won’t do that. He is a damn ego maniac who feels he knows better than anyone who to hire. Don’t expect a “home run” hire from this guy.

  27. HB Quinn
    7:16 am November 15, 2012 Permalink

    Duncan, great post. I had also hoped that Joker would be successful but it just didn’t work out. My daughter and son-in-law with be in my seat Saturday night. Hope others will try to #PackCommonwealth!

  28. Joker for AD
    8:27 am November 15, 2012 Permalink

    I got it…. The school owes Joker 2.5 mill regardless right? How about we keep him and restructure that over 6 years and make him AD? The school could then afford to buyout Barnyard and we would then have an AD that both loves football and cares about the university. I actually think Joker would do it and do a great job.

  29. KeeptheFaithBBN
    8:41 am November 15, 2012 Permalink

    #29, I’ll take ’em. Let me know where I can pick them up.

  30. Doug the Prosecutor
    9:21 am November 15, 2012 Permalink

    Well said, Mr. Cavanah.

  31. UKfansNKY
    10:09 am November 15, 2012 Permalink

    Great story we all wanted to see Joker succeed as head Coach. I really feel bad for him. All you guys dogging Barnhart what the hell, did he not bring you Calipari, boom!!!!…..shut up!!!!


  32. Joker Blows
    11:56 am November 15, 2012 Permalink

    “Joker Phillips would be the first to acknowledge that he is not owed anything by the University, who rewarded him handsomely for his work, and fairly let him go for not meeting the expectations of the fan base or the administration. But that does not mean that his service should not be appreciated by Kentucky fans.”
    So UK doesn’t have to pay him $2.5 million for the remaining 2 years??? Or is this a stupid ass article that we are so commonly reading lately on KSR?

    BTI never left he just changed his name!