The primary topic on most Kentucky fans' minds right now is simply this...who will be the next UK football coach. For better or worse, most UK fans believe it is a given that a change will occur and the speculation is already running rampant about what the next step will be. For those of us, like me, that like Joker, this is unfortunate. I wish Phillips could succeed here, as he represents the best of what Kentucky football should be about. But it looks as if it is going to be nearly impossible for that to happen. Thus, even if we wish we didn't have to talk about this, it is human nature to want to figure out what is next. With that in mind, here are Five Tips to keep in mind as we begin this process.
These are based on my knowledge of the situation as it stands now which admittedly is not perfect (only Mitch Barnhart knows all in this process), but is likely a decent synopsis of where things now are situated:
1. Absent a Major Transformation, a Change WILL Happen
: In UK football fandom, there are three types of fans. The eternal optimists, the pessimists and the HUGE pessimists. For the latter group, there continues to be a theme of "I refuse to believe Mitch Barnhart will replace Joker no matter what." These people are incorrect. The situation at Kentucky right now with football is untenable. The loss in season tickets this season was unfortunate, but not debilitating. But another year of substantial loss in ticket sales (which would surely happen), combined with the continued advancement of other SEC programs, makes the status quo impossible to keep. If Joker Phillips were to go on an amazing run and take the team to a Bowl Game, then he would likely be retained. But the chances of that at this point seem the same as the chances of finding a flying unicorn to ride into Atlantis. The die has been cast and even though Mitch Barnhart loves Joker Phillips, a change will be almost certainly be made at the end of the season, if not before.
2. Be Careful Where You Get Your News
: One of my radio show callers, Jason, has talked for a long time about how one of the worst things to happen to Joker was that he didn't get the benefit of a coaching search. Fans LOVE a coaching search. People get to speculate on possible candidates, pass along rumors of horse farms being purchased and dream the impossible dream of huge names donning the Kentucky football coaches' sporty Nike polos. It is all tremendous entertainment and I am told by the experts (as I have never been a part of one in this medium), talk radio is the best place to work in such a time. With that said, if what you seek is truth, finding it can be very difficult. What generally tends to happen is that people start believing the "news" that they personally hope will take place. Just as Presidential campaigns will cite polls with their candidates ahead as authoritative, fans believe sources who place coaches they are in favor of as likely candidates. Here is my advice. Find a source that you trust...whoever that may be and stick with them. I hope that source is KSR, Matt Jones and Drew Franklin's beard. If not, then find someone else that you believe has the sources and has earned your trust. But if you want to be sane in the process, don't keep looking for information that simply pleases you. No matter what you heard, Steve Spurrier is not looking at horse farms in Jessamine County. Even though that message board commenter writes with authority doesn't mean his cousin is Bill Cowher's wife. Pick who you trust and ride the search with them...you will end up much more sane.
3. No Name is Off the Table
: If you have listened to the radio show, you know that this is the most surprising fact of the potential coaching search to me. I had always assumed, with some basis in fact, that there were individuals that for a variety of reasons, Mitch Barnhart would not consider hiring. I no longer think that to be the case. After conversations with various sources, I think this will be a "Shoot for the moon and land in the stars" type of coaching search where literally everything is on the table. An individual like Bobby Petrino, who I am certain has a number of major enemies in and around the football program and Athletics Department, is nevertheless a type of person who will get consideration. Everyone involved with this search knows how important finding such a coach will be to the future of the program. Thus I think all bets that were once safe, are now off. Now a lot of these names may have no interest in Kentucky and selling the program to any hot coach will be difficult. But those that at one time might not have been considered an option, may now see themselves getting a phone call.
4. No Coach Has Been Contacted
: This is an important point and is contrary to many of the message board rumors that have been spread. No matter what anyone is telling you, I can say with relative certainty that there has been no contact with any coach by anyone that has any level of authority over the process. Message board posters have run rampant with talk of "boosters" contacting Bobby Petrino and Mike Leach, and my guess is that nearly all of it is bunk. As Oscar Combs noted on radio with me today, some of these people may have made a phone call, but it is more to be able to brag about things with their buddies than to have any real say in the coaching process. For better or worse, Mitch Barnhart is a VERY independent guy. Boosters have almost no control over what he does, ESPECIALLY in the football program. People may have made calls on behalf of Kentucky, but that doesn't mean the caller has any authority to represent their interest. When all is said and done, Barnhart will make the hire and there will be very few people that are part of the overall process...and none of those people have contacted any coaches up to this point.
5. Money is No Object
: For many people, this fact is hard to believe. But I am firmly think it is reality. Barnhart came on my radio show this summer and said that if Kentucky found the right person, "we could make them the highest paid coach in America." I think this is true and from my conversations with folks, I think that Barnhart would covet such a coach. But being able to pay a top name salary, doesn't mean one can get a top name. Lots of other factors come into play, including tradition, recruiting base, difficulty to win and (possibly most importantly) facilities. The latter of these issues could see some improvement in the next few months (cross those fingers), but some of the others can't be helped. Thus luring a top name will be EXTREMELY difficult, especially when one considers the other jobs that will be open and the fact that 25-30 schools (at least) could also pay as much as UK would be willing to give. Kentucky will have a difficult time getting a marquee coach with a big name and reputation...but it won't be because of an unwillingness to spend money.
Those are the five things I think are important to remember as we head towards what is likely an inevitable process. We will pass along what we hear on the blog and radio, and along the way, I will do posts such as this to share what I know. However my guess is that true information will be somewhat limited. The next four months will be the most important of Mitch Barnhart's tenure. At the end of it, he will either have a football coach that will excite the Big Blue Nation and an approved plan to radically renovate Commonwealth Stadium, or he won't. If the coach is the wrong pick, the program might hit a low point that it simply cannot bounce back from...and there will be a secondary effect on many other programs in the University. He cannot screw this hire up, and that pressure, along with the regular excitement of looking for someone new, should make this fascinating to follow.