THIS IS THE PROGRAM WE SHOULD BUILD OUR PROGRAM LIKE
How do we make Kentucky a serious college football contender? Is it possible at all? Matt has argued many times that it is not possible for Kentucky to be a consistent power in college football, but rather try for great seasons every 5 years or so. I actually disagree. I think it's very possible at Kentucky. But, I think the fanbase is far too impatient. I get the sense people think the program can be turned around in 3-5 years. I am here to argue that it will take upwards of 10 years to make this happen. But, if run correctly, Kentucky can set the foundation to be a consistent SEC power. Below, I give the 5 things that make a college football program great. Some top programs are not excellent in every area, but they are in most. Kentucky is not good in any of them right now.
1) Exciting or Reputable Head Coach
-To be a top tier college football program, you almost always have to have a head coach that either brings a great amount of excitement to the table or has the results to bring a credibility to the program. A guy like Houston Nutt brings an exciting personality to a program, which is attractive to recruits. A guy like Mark Richt or Nick Saban brings results to the table. If your coach does not excite the fanbase and doesn't really have the resume, then he can be the Jesus of Coaching but players have no reason to play for him.
Frankly, we have not been great in this department. Bill Curry brought an average resume into Lexington. Hal Mumme was a very exciting figure, but it turned out he cheated. Guy Morris, boring. Rich Brooks. Boring but had a decent resume. Joker Phillips. Underwhelming so far. Point being, Kentucky has not hired an exciting figure or a top-name resume coach in my lifetime. Mumme was close, but his infractions got him canned.
2) Consistency at the Coordinators
-It is always a bonus if a head coach can keep his top assistants. Sometimes assistants do so well, they have to leave to take head coaching positions. But, when a program can keep consistent figures leading the program, the players have a better, and more confident, comfort level. In Steve Kragthorpe's 3 seasons at Louisville, he had 3 offensive coordinators and 3 defensive coordinators. How did that turn out? Florida's offense has not been the same since Dan Mullen left. The list goes on and on. It's not always the head coach that makes the program. In many cases it's the assistants.
During the Rich Brooks' 4 bowl seasons, he had 1 offensive coordinator (Joker) and 1 defensive coordinator (Steve Brown). I firmly believe this was a HUGE reason Kentucky was able to take a step up. Now with Brown possibly on the way out, it worries me. Any way you look at it, a new coordinator brings new ideas. Ideas which may not gel with the current personnel. Ideas that the current personnel were not recruited to play with. Pull the trigger too quickly on assistants, and the problem might be worsened.
3) Recruiting Advantages and Location
-Not going to rehash this from yesterday, but the schools in the south, Texas, and California have advantages. They just do. Despite what some may argue, most kids like to stay within a short distance from home. Thus, the Texas and Florida's of the world don't have to travel too much to find enough elite kids.
No school in the SEC has more recruiting disadvantages than Kentucky. Not only is the in-state recruiting not great, but the states around Kentucky with talent (Ohio and Virginia in particular) are dominated by national powers. There is really nowhere for Kentucky to dominate except for the state of Kentucky, and that's not enough. All of that wouldn't matter if.....
4) Prestigious History
-The University of Michigan has ONE national title since 1948. ONE. But, they are the University of Michigan. They have developed that reputation as one of the most prestigious football schools in the country. Whether or not their results back it up, their reputation allows them to recruit nationally and grab kids from states all over the place. Virginia Tech has proven you can MAKE a prestigious program. They had one total conference title until 1995. But Frank Beamer built something out of nothing, kept his assistants, and built a run of 10 great years. Now, Tech has developed a reputation to where when Beamer leaves, the program should not fall.
Simply put, winning 6 and 7 games a year is not enough. Kentucky has to somehow find a string of 10 consecutive 7-10 win seasons to develop a reputation. In that 10 year span, they need to compete for a conference title at least 4-5 times, and a national title once. Obviously, the program is not close to this right now.
-You have to spend serious money to win in football, both in recruiting and in facilities. The SEC has proven this more than any in the country. Do a quick search of top college football facilities, and 3 schools show up continuously: LSU, Florida, Oregon. If the Ducks can beats Auburn this year, those 3 schools will have won 4 out of the last 5 national championships. Coincidence? Likely not. Top level facilities obviously attract top recruits, and personally, I think a player's mental state can also be so much better when walking into a top-class training facility or stadium. Remember the HUGE billboard in NYC of Joey Harrington from Oregon. That cost a ton of money, I am sure. It also raised the profile of Oregon.
Kentucky ranks 10th in the SEC in money spent on football. That will never work if they want to be a serious competitor. Kentucky's stadium is one of the worst in the SEC and has structural problems. The facilities are some of the worst in the conference. Despite having one of it's best players in history, Randall Cobb was not promoted anywhere. People outside the SEC barely know who he is. That is a travesty. Joker Phillips is paid the 10th most in the SEC. Need I go on? Kentucky does not spend enough money on the program.
So, what is the BTI plan to make Kentucky a top level football team? First, we have to admit that it will take 10-15 years for this to happen. Joker can not suddenly take a group of 3-star players and win the SEC. It's not going to happen. But, the process should go something like this:
Insert more money into the program RIGHT NOW, upgrading practice facilities. This would also include a HUGE upgrade of Commonwealth Stadium or the construction of new stadium. Also, spend serious money bringing in a top tier head coach and finding long term assistants. (2-3 YEAR PROCESS)
Turn these new facilities and/or coaching upgrades to bring in a higher level of player. It doesn't mean you will be able to bring in ten 5-star players every year. But, the typical recruit needs to turn into 4-stars, not 3-stars. The upgrades in facilities will allow Kentucky to bring in kids from places not usually tapped by Kentucky football, potentially Texas and Florida. (2-3 YEAR PROCESS)
Turn this new caliber of player into 8, 9, and 10 win seasons for 3-5 consecutive years. This will lead to not only a better caliber of bowl, but also an increased interest and passion from the UK fanbase. This will lead to higher ticket sales, advertising money, and booster contributions. Which in return, can lead to more upgrades in facilities. (2-3 YEAR PROCESS)
Turn these better bowls into a increased interest from the elite players of the country. Steal a couple 5-star kids yearly. Dominate the state of Kentucky, dwarfing Louisville and barely making them relevant. Make this program a caliber of program that a coach does not want to leave. Make this a job that coaches WANT to come to. (Although, it is always helpful to avoid coaching changes, as mentioned above) (2-3 YEAR PROCESS)
Turn your new, 5 and 4-star top talent, long tenured coaches, and increased fanbase into conference championships, and a perfect scenario, a national championship. (2-3 YEAR PROCESS)
So, there it is. The BTI 10-year plan to fix Kentucky Football. It is a long shot. It will take an athletic director a serious committment to the sport. And that same A.D. will have to make sure basketball is not hurt by this increased attention given to football. That is a must. BASKETBALL CAN NOT BE HARMED BY FOOTBALL. I am not arguing otherwise.
But, it took Frank Beamer 7 years at Virginia Tech to win 9 games in a season. By his 13th season, he was in the national championship game. He has had 12, 10-win seasons since that first breakthrough season in Year 7. I think this is the perfect blueprint on how to build a program. It required patience from the fanbase. It required a dedication to make it work by the athletic department. And it took a singular coach to commit himself to that program. Here is to hoping Kentucky finds a way to make it happen. I, for one, am tired of seeing the ship sail past us.