(Credit to the ShaggyBevo poster known as “Thujone” for the MS Paint masterpiece.)
Kentucky Football. Two words that invoke strong opinions from just about anyone with a pulse and blue blood in their veins. And now with a potential coaching search looming on the horizon, opinions have become even more passionate from the fans who populate Big Blue Nation. Opinions, everyone has them as the old saying goes. One undeniably gaining popularity around the Bluegrass State is where Kentucky would be a phenomenal fit for ex-Arkansas coach, Bobby Petrino. Controversial would only begin to describe that hire if it were ever to come to fruition. That being said, would Kentucky fans revel in it or forever shun the existence of the football program due to his past character issues? Well, fortunately for the former argument this University has supplied us with some recent controversial hires that will give us an excellent gauge on whether or not Kentucky fans would support a hypothetical Petrino hire.
Controversial Hire #1
We know this man. He built UMass into a national title contender from absolute nothingness. He resurrected Memphis into a national contender. And now he has returned Kentucky to college basketball’s peak. This man can coach, but as we all know, he’s the most controversial character in the game. The story is familiar to us all; two Final Four’s vacated before becoming Wildcat headman, and it didn’t take long for controversy to follow when he became Kentucky’s skipper either, recall the Eric Bledsoe investigation. While he was never named by the NCAA in any of these investigations, John Calipari is no stranger to outside issues.
Long before this hire happened there were strong feelings coming from Kentucky fans about John Calipari. Some negative, some positive, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the middle of that discussion. Way back in 2007 when Tubby Smith left to become coach of Minnesota the creator of this very site authored an article titled “What A Day!” in which many people of the famed comment section had an opinion on who the next coach should be. JimmieJoeJohn went as far as saying the following, “Worst Mistake UK could make right now is Calipari, unless they want NCAA Sanctions for paying Players.” There were some calling for Cal to be head coach as well, but judging from the comment sections around that time, opinion on Calipari was on the fence. Some didn’t want him for his past and some wanted him because of his abilities. When he was eventually hired two years later, opinion changed. On March 31st in an article titled The “We Got Cal” Live Blog, there was little negative being said, everyone seemed to be elated the game’s best coach was coming to Lexington.
Even though opinion on the right way to run a program differed previously, people came around. The rest as they say is history, Calipari has guided Kentucky to two Final Four’s in three seasons while taking the program’s eighth national title. Countless draft picks and recognition for the program have brought Calipari’s once divided opinion numbers through the roof among UK fans. From his winning ways on the court to his charitable ways off the court, you’d be hard pressed to find a Kentucky fan that doesn’t adore Calipari now.
Controversial Hire #2
Billy Gillispie was also a trademark example of a controversial hire, as we now know. But, fan reaction after the initial hire was overwhelmingly positive. Take some examples from the KSR comment section for instance. TheDude said on April 6th, 2007, that Gillispie was a, “Great hire for UK. The man is obsessive compulsive when it comes to basketball. That is what we need. I was a Jay Wright fan, but this works for me. Now lets see if it works for UK. Almost no way it cant.”
Random Goober went on to add the same day, “Seriously, I don’t think any coach in college is better. Watching A&M this year, they played with FIRE and purpose. They were better coached than any team on defense. The only negative was at the end of games they had such a great player in Law the offensive flow stopped and Law took over. But Gillispie was showing adaptability by coaching with what would win. And that’s the bottom line. I’m tickled blue.”
While two anonymous message board posters may not be prime examples do we see a trend here? After scanning through many other comments, there were very few mentions of the painfully obvious character issues that plagued him throughout his career. To the vast majority, 2 DUI’s and “people issues” were non-issues. People supported the man because they thought he could lead us back to the promised land. I was one of those people. I overlooked those issues because he could win basketball games. Simple as that. I, alongside many Kentucky fans, supported a man who on multiple occasions endangered people’s livelihood’s by driving intoxicated. People love to cheer for a winner, or what they may think is a winner, so that seems to overshadow many things.
Back to football, it’s still a very long season and Joker could turn this ship around making this all a moot point. I’d like to add it would be great for the University if he could pull it off. But, let’s say the ship isn’t righted and we’re in the market for a new coach come November and Bobby Petrino is interested in taking the reigns as UK head man. Would you support it? This University is no stranger to controversial hires and if past comments and feelings are any indication, I’d be willing to bet that Kentucky fans would be willing to overlook past issues in the name of winning. Now, there are certainly inexcusable events that make a person un-employable (See Penn State), but recent history tells us Petrino’s past would quickly become a non-issue.