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BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Can Close Games Make or Break a Coach?

What makes the difference between a good coach and a bad coach?  Is it motivation?  Is it recruiting?  Is it the ability to make in-game adjustments?  It’s probably a little bit of everything wrapped into one.  But, sometimes it’s just luck.  And as we have seen over the years, often times the ball bounces your way in close games, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Look at how 2 guys did in close games, those decided by 7 points or less, during their time at Kentucky.  And keep this thought in your mind: If Joker Phillips just gets 2 or 3 of those losses to bounce his way, would he still be the coach at Kentucky?  And if Rich Brooks didn’t catch the breaks to get 15 wins by 7 points or less, including 3 in each of his last 4 years, would he have lasted as long at Kentucky as he did?

I only point this out to highlight how precarious a head coach in college football can have it.  Mark Stoops can do everything right, put the right players on the field, and still lose the majority of games inside 7 points, and he is suddenly out of a job.  Here’s to hoping Stoops has success like Brooks, at least in his latter years, in close games and not Phillips.

2013 (0-2)
Lost to South Carolina by 7, Lost to Mississippi State by 6

2012 (0-2)
Lost to Western Kentucky by 1 (OT), Lost to Georgia by 7

2011 (1-1)
Beat Tennessee by 3
Lost to Louisville by 7

2010 (2-3)
Beat Louisville by 7, Beat South Carolina by 3
Lost to Ole Miss by 7, Lost to Auburn by 3, Lost to Mississippi State by 7

2009 (3-3)
Beat Louisville by 4, Beat Auburn by 7, Beat Georgia by 7
Lost to South Carolina by 2, Lost to Mississippi State by 7, Lost to Tennessee by 6 (OT)

2008 (3-4)
Beat MTSU by 6, Beat Arkansas by 1, Beat Mississippi State by 1
Lost to Alabama by 3, Lost to South Carolina by 7, Lost to Georgia by 4, Lost to Vanderbilt by 7

2007 (3-1)
Beat Louisville by 6, Beat LSU by 6, Beat Vanderbilt by 7
Lost to Tennessee by 2

2006 (3-2)
Beat Mississippi State by 3, Beat Georgia by 4, Beat La-Monroe by 2
Lost to South Carolina by 7, Lost to Tennessee by 5

2005 (2-2)
Beat Mississippi State by 6, Beat Vandy by 5
Lost to Louisville by 7, Lost to Ole Miss by 6

2004 (1-2)
Beat Vanderbilt by 1
Lost to South Carolina by 5, Lost to Tennessee by 6

2003 (0-2)
Lost to Florida by 3, Lost to South Carolina by 6

Article written by Bryan the Intern

24 Comments for BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Can Close Games Make or Break a Coach?

    9:11 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    I think this post is a perfect example of how recruiting affects winning. In many of these games, our first 22 (on offense and defense) played as well as or better than the other teams first 22. However, it’s having depth late in the game that often wins the game. In so many instances, we did not have the depth necessary keep our players fresh, so that we could stop a late drive (Auburn in 2010 is a great example), prevent a late score, or make a critical third down conversion late in the game.

    This is why I am so excited about the tack that Coach Stoops is taking and why I think he really does have the chance to be successful at UK. Building SEC caliber depth at all positions can put us in the position to win these close games.

  2. Jim Schu
    9:19 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Winning makes or breaks a coach.

  3. Adam
    9:20 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Good post, but the difference in close games isn’t all luck, it’s execution. That’s why rich brooks record got better as he coached here, and joker’s got worse. As rich’s guys graduated or left jokers undisciplined guys lost the close games. That’s why I’m confident that stoops can turn that record around the longer he is here just like rich did after starting 0-2 in close games.

  4. Reality
    9:21 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    The biggest difference between Brooks’ tenure vs Joker’s tenure wasn’t the close game differential, it was the fact that in Brooks’ last 4 years he had 17 games decided by 7 points or less against teams like Louisville, Auburn, Alabama, Tennesee, South Carolina, Georgia, and LSU. If you look through his record, only the surprisingly close MTSU game is a non-conference opponent. Brooks’ squads won the games they were supposed to win and were usually competitive even in the games they shouldn’t have.

    Joker had 4 against badly weakened teams (except Georgia who were probably looking past UK) in his last 2 years, lost 3 of them, and was blown out by 3+ touchdowns pretty much every week except against the cupcake teams (one of whom we still lost to).

    • theWilkman
      12:23 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

      This sums it up nicely.

    • rockatao
      4:46 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

      EXACTLY. I’d love to see EVERY loss by 7 points or less. and no more of those 40-50 point blowouts. That would be major progress. Maybe I’m settling for too little, but I would be satisfied if UK were just competitive every week.

  5. Kemper
    9:22 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    While luck is important, this stat shows the better our has been, the more chances we’ve had to win close games. Under Brooks, we were a better team, so we played more teams close. We were so bad under Joker we didn’t have many close game opportunities. Even if Joker has won one of those close games his last season, we would have 3 wins instead of 2, which doesn’t move the needle. In other words, Joker didn’t get fired because he lost close games, Joker was fired because we had less close game opportunities. For Ky football, having 6-8 close games is a successful season regardless of the outcome.

  6. Dubbya
    9:29 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Even he found a way to win the two in 2012 I don’t see how Joker would not have been fired. That would have put them at 4-8 with one good win over Georgia, who, for some reason we always seem to play well against. Joker was fired because of the hopeless state he had lead the program into. 2012 might have been the lowest point in UK Football history, and that’s saying a lot. There was no BCS level talent, AWFUL play calling, they were getting blown out basically every week, and they weren’t even entertaining… at all(How many bubble screens can you call in one game?). It would take more than winning a close one over Western and a fluke over Georgia to save his job.

  7. Tom
    9:33 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Good comments people.
    To be lucky you have to be in the right place at the right time. That’s either instinct and or coaching.
    We’ll see.

    • CPACAT
      9:42 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

      I can’t believe I am about to quite Ashton Kutcher…but “Luck often looks a lot like hard work.”

  8. DHo
    9:50 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    For a coach to stick around, they need to win at least half of their close games.

  9. Tom
    9:53 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Let’s discuss this.
    If we have another two win season, which is unlikely, will Stoops be on the hot seat? They gave Joker three years, and he played with Brooks’ recruits. Sorry, the head man says who gets signed, live with it.
    If we win against some one in the SEC who has a winning record at the end of the season, I’ll be happier than a pig in slop.
    If we don’t, is there ‘drastic improvement’?

    • Dubbya
      10:31 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

      It’s improvement based of where the program is at. It probably won’t show in the win column, but look at the massive improvement in recruiting, play calling, and overall vibe of the team. Stoops inherited a huge mess, Joker took a decent program Brooks had built and drove it off a cliff. It will take time to start actually winning games, but the program is undoubtedly in a much better place than in 2012. I just hope we will have the patience to let him rebuild the program.

    • raccoon
      11:57 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

      If we go 2-10 yes Stoops will start the 2015 season in the hot seat. Of course he will. I think that is incredibly unlikely. The bigger question is what the feeling will be if he goes 3-9 or 4-8. I feel like everyone will be ok with 5-7. That means that we either beat UL and win one SEC game or win two SEC games. I think 4-8 is what he needs to not feel a little fire heading into the off-season. That means taking care of business in the three games we should under no circumstance lose and winning at least one SEC game or beating Louisville. That is not too much to ask from a coach even though he inherited a mess.

      Honestly we have a pretty good schedule this year. All of our home games are winnable, though UGA and USC would be minor miracles. And the only road game you can already chalk up as a loss is LSU I think. I know we haven’t beat Florida in like a million years, but they are reeling bad.

    • Tom
      12:56 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

      IS an addition win each year going to be good enough?
      i.e. three wins this year. Four the next.
      You know, baby steps.

    • raccoon
      3:53 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

      I think yes, but barely. I imagine if we win 3 this year and 4 next year then Stoops gets another year. Then you’d have 5 the next and 6 the year after? At that rate he would be on the hot seat the whole time, but probably would stick around so long as the other things like recruiting and the general feeling around the program remained positive. And any regression along the way would make this less likely. If at that point (~2017 going forward) we are a consistent 6-8 win team then I think the fans and UK would be satisfied. As much as I’d like to be a consistent 9-10 win team, that is the kind of thing that typically takes decades, not years, to accomplish. Honestly if Stoops becomes a consistent winner I’m not sure he will stick around – and the hardest thing for Kentucky has always been and will for the foreseeable future be continuity.

  10. Boo
    9:54 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    That’s why it’s called a coach? Dumb post

  11. Tom
    10:06 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Explain you’re comment.

  12. Tom
    10:24 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Ater re-reading the article I understand it better.
    SO – if we are seven points or less behind when the clock runs out, we didn’t really lose.
    We just don’t have enough points!
    SO – if at the end of the season, if your opponents haven’t outscored you by (12 X 7 = 84), 84 points we’re a winner.
    Well, that certainly clears things up, don’t it?
    Why keep score at all. Some one just leaves unhappy.
    Remember the score doesn’t mean as much as who has the prettiest uniforms

  13. 2020
    11:15 am July 28, 2014 Permalink

    The “ball bounces” 1,000 times each game… blown calls, missed assignments, tipped passes… They tend to average out to no effect. Better coaching has much more of an impact.

  14. Georgia Blue
    12:14 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    Keep Blaming Joker for everything. Stoops and his Staff got a raise for Recruiting not winning. So I guess he will get another raise this Offseason to for a top 20 recruiting. We know he can recruit but can this Staff coach with the Big Boys of the SEC

  15. Tom
    12:49 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink


  16. Tom
    1:01 pm July 28, 2014 Permalink

    I saw Joker as a sacificial lamb.
    He paid his dues. Was an alum, Knew the players, etc.
    AND – the biggest factor, Barnhart didn’t have to go through a coaching search.