Kentucky Wildcats athletic director Mitch Barnhart announced Sunday on UKAthletics.com that head coach Joker Phillips will not return to the program in 2013.
Phillips, a Kentucky alum who took over once Rich Brooks retired in 2009, has posted a 12-23 record through three seasons as head coach with the team sitting at 1-9 with two games remaining in the 2012 season. Although the Wildcats did post their first win over rival Tennessee since 1984 under Phillips, the team never posted a non-losing record and saw their total wins go from six to five and now down to one.
I honestly feel bad for Joker Phillips and the way things played out at his alma mater, because he seemed to be one of the “good guys” in coaching and also made one of the smartest comments I have ever heard concerning players using social media, saying that
“we tell [our players] to say ‘Dear general manager,’ (because that’s basically) who you’re sending it to.”
However, the numbers don’t lie concerning the fact that Kentucky suffered a huge drop-off during his time as head coach, and it became very clear after the Wildcats’ one-point loss to Sun Belt opponent Western Kentucky that Phillips was in hot water; throw in five losses by twenty points and more, and the result is a head coaching search.
With Phillips now out of the picture, who will be the next Kentucky head coach? Here are five candidates that I believe have a legitimate chance of being in Lexington come 2013:
Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech HC – Dykes, the son of legendary Texas Tech head coach Spike Dykes, has the Bulldogs sitting at 8-1 and a great chance at winning the WAC title for the second straight year, which would be the first time Louisiana Tech has won a conference title in consecutive years since the 1977 and 1978 squads won the Southland title. A former Kentucky assistant during the Hal Mumme era in Lexington, my gut says Dykes will probably wait on a better job (possibly Arkansas), but that doesn’t mean that the Wildcats shouldn’t gauge his interest.
Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky HC – Taggart has done a tremendous job in helping the Hilltoppers transition from the bottom of the Sun Belt to serious contenders for both conference and non-conference opponents. While there is a pretty good chance to Taggart opts to stay at his alma mater for just a little longer, a move in-state wouldn’t be a huge surprise to me.
Bobby Petrino, former Arkansas HC – Let’s face the facts: Robert P. Petrino is a slimeball, but he’s a slimeball that wins. The Kentucky athletic department has had no trouble hiring guys with less-than-acceptable character (see: John “Taking the SAT is Overrated” Calipari) and there football program is in the toilet, so why not make the move? It would give the Wildcats their most talent head coach since Bear Bryant (I think Bear just rolled over in his grave) and would definitely lead to a big jump in interest in Kentucky football.
Tee Martin, USC WR coach – Martin, a former Tennessee quarterback who led the Volunteers to the 1998 national championship, has experience with the Wildcats, serving as the wide receivers coach for two seasons before leaving for the USC job prior to this season. I know Tee Martin wouldn’t exactly be a “big name” for UK, but there is a realistic chance that the guys listed before Martin on this list pass on taking the job, leaving the 34-year-old in prime position to get his first head coaching job.
Chris Hatcher, Murray State HC – Hatcher, a Kentucky assistant from 1997 to 1999, has thirteen years of head coaching experience with stops at Valdosta State, Georgia Southern, and Murray State with an impressive 107-36 mark, including a Division II championship with Valdosta State back in 2004. Although the Racers haven’t been great this season (currently holds a 4-5 record), Hatcher looks like a capable young head coach and could be a darkhorse candidate for this job.
I’ve seen several websites state that Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville and Duke head coach David Cutcliffe are candidates for the Kentucky job, but I believe there is little to no chance of either one of these former SEC head coaches becoming the next Wildcats head coach. If either of these guys returns to the Southeastern Conference, it will be with Tuberville becoming the Arkansas head coach or Cutcliffe taking the Tennesee head coaching position.