Monday, November 14, 2011

A critical analysis of why Kentucky Football Head Coach Joker Phillips needs to go now.

(photo @ al.com)

On October 14, 2006, the University of Kentucky Wildcats lost to the LSU Tigers 49-0. For myself and many others, this was far beyond the last straw. We demanded as loudly as ever that Rich Brooks, our head coach for the past 3 losing seasons (and most likely a fourth) needed to be fired.

Our reasoning was quite simple: The team sucked. We lost to our arch rival, Louisville every year and got destroyed by nearly every other team in our conference. We hadn't been to a bowl game since I was in college. Even though Brooks was working off of a roster that had been hamstrung by probation and was only just now getting a full roster of players that he recruited, somehow this was still all his fault.

Two games later, Brooks would forcefully make me and many of his detractors drink a nice tall glass of "shut your mouth" and go on to upset Georgia, make it to the Music City Bowl, and beat Clemson.

                               webstaurantstore
There is nothing actually in the glass.
Rich Brooks just punches you in the teeth with it.


The following years saw Kentucky become a more and more respectable football program.  We dominated Louisville every year, were able to compete with and even beat Top 25 competition (along with actually making the Top 25 ourselves once in a while), and making it to a bowl game went from being a crowning achievement to an expectation.  

We weren't anywhere near the juggernaut status in football that our school was in men's basketball, but for once it felt like the program was moving in the right direction. The football team had become something that we could be proud of.

I took all this into account when Joker Phillips began to struggle after taking over for Brooks. Unfortunately, the reasons for Joker Phillip's struggles are not the same ones that Brooks had to overcome to push the program forward; they are of his own doing. While it may be obvious to most people that Joker needs to go, the following is a more critical analysis of the specific reasons why Joker is failing at his positions, why he does not deserve the same time table that Mitch Barnhart gave to Brooks, and why a new coach needs to be hired immediately.

Sorry!  That was premature.
Let's get started...

Joker Defense #1:  It's only his second year. Give him time.

No, it is not only his second year. Joker Phillips was named as the coach in waiting by Brooks in January of 2008. He has been with the team since since 2003. One of the main reasons for having a "coach in waiting" is that you do not have a loss of momentum or issues that arrive from installing a new system. Joker was supposed to take the baton from Brooks with players that he had helped to recruit (since he has been the recruiting coordinator since 2005) and in his offensive system that he ran as the team's offensive coordinator.

As anyone can see that has watched our team this year, the level of play (in a much weaker SEC East) is far below what it used to be.

Joker Defense #2:  Maybe it's the assistant coaches that need to be replaced.

Joker Phillips fired two of our best position coaches, Jimmy Heggins and Rick Petri. Heggin's replacement, Mike Summers, is currently coach our terribly underperforming offensive line. This coaching change was apparently done because of the need for better recruiting. Speaking of recruiting:

Joker Defense #3:  Recruiting has gotten better

This one actually holds some water. The problem is that the team has gotten so bad, the small gains that we have made in recruiting are already beginning to go away. We already lost one of our top recruits from the upcoming class and more are sure to come.

                                           kentuckysportsradio.com
RB Shadrach Thornton didn't want to play for
the lowest ranking rushing attack in the SEC...jerk.


Joker Defense #4:  Well, you can't win here anyway.  Kentucky is a basketball school.

This argument is beyond lame. Yes, Kentucky does have a much smaller and limited recruiting base to work with than most SEC schools. However, Matt Jones at KSR wrote an excellent article comparing our situation to the Oakland A's in 'Moneyball'. While we definitely have serious funding issues that need to be resolved, we are never going to change to fact that we are a low population state that borders northern and traditional football powerhouse states.  We will always have to fight a losing battle when it comes to recruiting.

What we CAN do is be unconventional and unexpected.

                                                             maizenbrew
Pictured:  Unconventional....and awesome.

Unfortunately, Joker Phillips seems obsessed with running a vanilla, pro style offense that requires our players and the schemes that they run to simply over power or run through SEC competition. It just won't work.

                                                   wanderingforward
Or we could keep trying this and hoping that our skulls don't split open.

This is not just a "The SEC is so tough" problem, either. Kentucky struggled to win this year against Western Kentucky and Central Michigan, two of the weakest teams in college football. As of the writing of this article, Kentucky is ranked 117 out of 120 FBS Division I schools in total offense.

Add to that the fact that Joker stuck with Morgan Newton way past the time that he should have when Max Smith was clearly the better choice, and you have a coach who seems truly out of touch with his personnel.

Speaking of the players: 

Joker Defense #5:  What about the players?  Aren't they at fault, too?

Once again, putting the type of players that we can recruit against SEC competition and expecting them to overpower opponents every week will not work. Not only that, but it is fairly clear that Joker has lost the team.  Here are some tweets from former players during Kentucky's 54-3 loss to South Carolina this year.  The images were posted to Kentucky Sports Radio.




As you can see, there is definitely some animosity from players that experienced both Brook's and Joker's coaching.

For the next example, we go to the ever controversial "black out" jerseys that everyone is so crazy about these days. Whether you like them or not, they tend to get players and fans incredibly excited, as evidenced by this video of the Ohio University football team:



Now watch how the Kentucky players react to the same reveal, despite Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan's best efforts (no embed because UK Athletics doesn't need the publicity I guess):


The players seem almost subdued, even the ones standing up and cheering. It's the same thing we've seen all season when the team comes out flat at the beginning of each game. Can you imagine one of Rich Brook's teams and their reaction if Derrick Locke or Randall Cobb walked in wearing black jerseys? The place would have gone nuts. As it is now, we have players that seem beaten down and filled with doubt about their ability to compete, something we haven't seen here in a very long time.

Joker Defense #6:  It doesn't matter because a great coach will never come to Kentucky!

This one is also most definitely wrong. If you haven't been able to tell, I'm pretty high on hiring Mike Leach, the mad genius/pirate that was so successful at Texas Tech. He's unconventional and he wants to come to Kentucky.

Don't worry about his firing from Texas Tech, either; do any amount of research and you will find that it was pretty much a sham perpetuated by a disgruntled spoiled brat with a micromanaging dad that worked for ESPN.

Not only does Mike Leach talk about how much he misses Lexington, but  all but comes out and says that he wants to come back and be the head coach here. Here's a video of Leach wistfully talking to Matt Jones about how great his days at Kentucky were, politely wishing Joker luck, and then holding back a scream of YES, I WANT TO COACH THERE!




Dear lord...he even addresses many of the challenges that were just mentioned in this article! He knows what needs to be done and he's confident in his ability to do it. Joker is a great guy and there is no doubt that he bleeds blue, but loving your school doesn't make you a great coach. If that were true, many of us would have passed Bear Bryant's win total years ago.

The time is now, Mitch Barnhart. If not you, then maybe it has to be Batman, but someone needs to save the Big Blue Nation from The Joker.

                                                                                               spreadshirt
And running quarterback draws up the middle on third down.


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