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By LARRY VAUGHT
KentuckyÃ‚Â spokesman Tony Neely confirmed today that running backs coach Larry Brinson and defensive backs coach Chris Thurmond had been released from their duties and would not coach when UK plays Pittsburgh in the Compass Bowl Jan. 8 in Birmingham.
Ironically, a few hours later Pittsburgh announced that coach Dave Wannstedt had resigned under pressure after a 7-5 season. Wannstedt, the former head coach of the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins, took over at Pitt in 2005. He went 42-31 in six seasons, including a 26-12 mark from 2008-10 that is PittÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best for a three-season stretch since 1981-83.
Yet that wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t enough for Wannstedt to keep his job after the Panthers started the season ranked 15th and then blew a two-game lead in the Big East to finish only as conference co-champion.
That kind of pressure is why Phillips Ã¢â‚¬â€ even though I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t imagine UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart giving him less than three seasons to put his stamp on the program Ã¢â‚¬â€ has now released five coaches since being named head coach a year ago following Rich BrooksÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ resignation after UK lost to Clemson in the Music City Bowl.
And one of the new hires at Kentucky will be a co-defensive coordinator. That means current defensive coordinator Steve Brown at best has to share his title now and likely will not have as big a voice in the defensive play as the new co-coordinator will.
Brinson spent the last four seasons with the Wildcats, helping the program produce 1,000-yard rusher Rafael Little and second-team all-SEC selection Derrick Locke last season. Thurmond spent the last two years at Kentucky, coaching second-team All-American Trevard Lindley in 2008.
However, UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s secondary play was suspect this season and the Wildcats also did not have the production in the running game that many expected.
Now the question is where will Phillips turn for replacements. Count on it being coaches he already knows well. He hired David Turner, a long-time friend, away from Mississippi State to coach the defensive line this year. He brought former UK assistant Greg Nord, who tutored Phillips when he was a graduate assistant at UK, in as special teams/tight end coach. He persuaded Lexington native Mike Summers to return home from Arkansas to coach the offensive line.
One possible replacement Ã¢â‚¬â€ and co-defensive coordinator Ã¢â‚¬â€ could be Rick Minter, the former Cincinnati head coach. Phillips worked under him at Cincy. Minter was also defensive coordinator at Notre Dame and South Carolina and is a no-nonsense, tough coach in the mold of UK strength coach Rock Oliver. He was fired at Cincinnati and is the linebackers coach now at Indiana State.
Former Miami coach Randy Shannon, who was fired recently, knows Phillips. The UK coach could approach him about joining the staff as co-coordinator.
Remember former UK assistant Wesley McGriff. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been on the Miami staff and was rumored to be headed to Kentucky a year ago. He can coach running backs or the secondary.
However, perhaps the most intriguing hire could be former Georgia high school coach Steve Pardue. He recently resigned at LaGrange High School Ã¢â‚¬â€ the same school that sent Wesley Woodyard, Braxton Kelley and others to UK Ã¢â‚¬â€ after compiling a 161-46 record with three state titles in 17 years.
It would be easy to haveÃ‚Â him on board by Monday when the mandatory waiting period after a job posting is made ends and he would be available to coach in the bowl game. UK would still have 11 more practices and that would give Pardue plenty of time to get acclimated.
While there has been speculation that Nord might move back to coaching running backs like he has, sources indicate he will continue to coach tight ends and Pardue could be the new running backs coach.
Pardue knows Phillips well since thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how the LaGrange pipeline to UK started and he is well respected in the Georgia high school coaching ranks. It would be a similar move to what Brooks made when he hired current UK linebacker coach Chuck Smith after he led Boyle County to six straight state championship game appearances.