Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

November 7, 2012

Barnhart in coaching crosshairs at UK


Nov. 7, 2012 — To no one’s surprise, University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart fired Head Football Coach Joker Phillips on Sunday afternoon.

The dismissal was announced on the athletic department's web site.

It came after the Wildcats lost their eighth straight game on Saturday, 40-0, to Vanderbilt at home.

With two games left, UK is 1-9 overall and 0-7 in the SEC, the nation’s toughest college football conference.

Phillips, 49, is 12-23 in three seasons as Kentucky’s head coach.

Counting his playing career and time as an assistant coach, he has spent 22 years at UK.

We found it interesting that a majority of the negative comments on media websites on Sunday were directed at Barnhart, not Phillips.

The fans in the so-called Big Blue Nation were blaming Barnhart for being less interested in football than they believe he is in basketball, where UK reigns as national champion.

Several pointed out that Barnhart let former head coach Rich Brooks pick Phillips as his successor two years before the actual coaching change.

We don’t feel too badly for Phillips. He will get about $2.5 million to help ease the pain of being unemployed.

The hiring of John Calipari shows that Barnhart knows how to find the best coach but can he do it in football?

More importantly, does he want to do it in football?

Kentucky’s tradition as the winningest program in the history of NCAA basketball is what brought Calipari to Lexington.

Like the entire basketball world, he already knew the brand.

But UK’s football tradition is a far cry from basketball.

The oldest Wildcat gridiron fans can barely remember the only national championship, in 1950 under Paul (Bear) Bryant.

And the most recent of two SEC titles was 36 years ago, in 1976, under Fran Curci and it was shared with another school. The other one was in 1950.

Bryant loved to tell the story of how Adolph Rupp got a Cadillac for his national title in 1951 but Bryant received only a watch for his national championship the year before.

UK’s basketball numbers are staggering: most wins ever, highest winning percentage, most NCAA tournament victories, most tournament appearances, and eight national championships under five different coaches.

Barnhart is in the line of fire of those Big Blue fans who believe UK football should be as good as basketball.

Now all he has to do is find a football coach who can recruit, win some second-level bowl games and not mind playing second fiddle.