By LARRY VAUGHT
For the first time since he fired football coach Joker Phillips with two years left on his contract, Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart answered questions about what lies ahead for Kentucky football after UK lost 37-17 to Tennessee here Saturday.
“The goal is to continue to build on the foundation that Joker’s put in place … the young talent that we’ve got, the respect and the accountability that he’s gained in the locker room for the way we conduct our business,” said
Barnhart during a four-minute session with media members. “Those are the things that we want to build upon and we’ve been working at it, and we will work our way through that process … we’ll let you know when we get done.
“It is a good job. People are excited about the opportunity to coach in our league and to coach at the University of Kentucky, and we’ll continue to work at that. That’s sort of where we are. That’s about the update we have.”
Barnhart said no one has been offered the job and that he has no timetable for naming a replacement. He also would not reveal if he had anyone helping him with the search process.
“We don’t have a timetable. Like I said, we’ll respect the process and we’ll continue to work our way through it. And we’ve been working at it since we made the change a couple weeks ago,” Barnhart said. “The players have been great through the whole process. The coaching staff’s been wonderful through the process. Joker is class as class can be. He has been an amazing, amazing guy which hasn’t changed at all.
“He’s just exactly what he’d expect … he expects our players to conduct themselves in a certain way and he’s been an absolute example of how to do that. I respect him very, very much and on a day where we close our season down, that’s about where I’ll leave it with you today.
“No one’s been offered the job. People have been responsive … people have been responsive to talking about the job. It was much different the last time. We were on probation looking at 19 scholarships down. There wasn’t a lot of folks that were really thinking it was a really great opportunity.”
That’s when Barnhart initially consulted with former Oregon and NFL coach Rich Brooks and ended up hiring Brooks after several other candidates turned down the job. This time there has been speculation that Cincinnati coach Butch Jones has been offered the job and that Barnhart has also inquired about several NFL coaches.
“Coach Brooks came in here and took it by the horns and fought through some really, really difficult times. The opportunity we have ahead of us, as you’ve seen today, we put over 400 yards of offense on the board, we’ve got some young guys still trying to figure out what to do and how to get it in the end zone and finish those pieces, and that will come,” Barnhart said. “The person that walks in will have an opportunity to inherit some of that young talent.
“There’s obviously some things we’ve got to get better, and we all know that. And that’s why we’re in this position. We do have some young players in this locker room that do care about this program and that have the chance to move it forward. We’ll just continue to work through it. We’re working our way through the process. At the end of the day, we’ll work our way through all that.”
Kentucky linebacker Avery Williamson and quarterback Patrick Towles both said players have not been given any insights on who the next coach might me.
“We are just waiting and wondering like everybody else,” Towles said.
Barnhart would not offer any specifics about what qualities he might want in a new coach.
“Not going to get into specifics really. I want a person that … like we’ve talked about. You’ll know it when you see it, you’ll know it when you feel it. We talk about fit, and we’ll work our way through that,” Barnhart said. “There’s no blueprint for these things. I’ve seen it a lot of different ways, a lot of different places that have had a lot more tradition, a lot less tradition. Mid majors, big-time places, there’s no blueprint for these things. So we’re looking for the right fit and we’ll continue to work our way through that.”
The athletics director said he understands that “misinformation flies around” and will continue to circulate until a new coach is named.
“I won’t respond to that noise and we’ll just keep working our way as we always have here for the last 10 or so years. I appreciate the way y’all (in the media) have respected our team and our coaches. We’ll hopefully get to you sooner than later, so thanks for your time,” Barnhart said.
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Ashley Scoby contributed to this article — and saved me a ton of time by transcribing tape.