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Former player explains problems he sees with Kentucky football trying to climb to top of SEC


With the success that baseball, softball and tennis teams have had at the University of Kentucky this spring, some have wondered why the UK football team has not been able to challenge for Southeastern Conference titles like those teams have done.

Kentucky had been to five straight bowl games from 2006-2010 before dipping to a 5-7 finish last season that included a rare season-ending win over Tennessee. Yet even during UK’s record straight five bowl seasons, the Wildcats were only 36-29 overall and never won more than eight games. In the other five years during the last 10-year period, UK was 21-37 (including 7-5 in 2002 when it was not bowl eligible because of NCAA probation). That leaves the Cats with a 57-66 mark the last 10 years and not a single season when it really challenged for a SEC title.

But why not? That’s a question I posed on vaughtsviews.com recently and got some interesting feedback from a former UK standout.

“The short answer is it’s practically impossible to get high caliber talent to come play football at Kentucky. All the talent is from states where there are elite football programs. How do you get someone in Georgia to say, “I’m not going go to Georgia or Auburn. I’d rather go to UK.” It will rarely happen.

“Truth is (coach) Joker (Phillips) is fighting an uphill battle. Coach (Rich) Brooks got lucky with in-state talent in (Andre) Woodson, (Jacob) Tamme, (Corey) Peters and (Keenan) Burton. And some low rated prospects turned out great with (Jeremy) Jarmon and Myron (Pryor) and Trevard (Lindley). Look at Randall Cobb. He was such a blessing for the program, but if Tennessee was on him earlier he probably would have been a Vol.”

The former player asked not to be identified because he did not want to be viewed as being disloyal to UK or Phillips, who helped recruit him and was a major reason he came to Kentucky.

But he also wants UK football fans to understand that Phillips’ 6-7 and 5-7 marks in two years as head coach following Brooks are not disasters by Kentucky standards. He remembers a family member asking him if he got the head coaching job at Kentucky and then got an offer from an Alabama or LSU, what would he do.

“I like Kentucky in my heart and I would want to say no, but I would not see how you can say not. That got me to thinking about other sports teams doing well. If it was any other sport – I could see how it could happen at UK. But with football there are so many different pieces and when you look at the talent produced by the state most years, it’s not good. Even in a good year it is not like any other SEC state,” the player said.

He noted how Alabama coach Nick Saban is regarded as a “great coach” but that he recruits top talent that turns into first-round NFL draft picks.

“He does a great job preparing his players, but he’s getting the cream of the crop. You don’t get that in football at Kentucky,” the player said. “How do you get those kids? Honestly, for the life of me I don’t see how. Even a top kid in state, what would keep him from leaving for better weather down South and more established programs? How do you go into Alabama and recruit top five players? How do you beat Georgia or Auburn for players in their state? It’s almost impossible to get five-star players, even four-star players, to leave and come to UK.”

He feels Louisville’s rise under coach Charlie Strong gives UK an even “bigger uphill battle” against SEC teams.

“Look, our best recruiter, Tee Martin, comes and does a great job. No argument about that. But he gets an offer at USC and what did you expect him to do. I do not say he’s a traitor. If someone comes to Kentucky and does really well, you do not expect him to be there long unless it is somebody like Joker that is a Kentucky guy.”

“I want to stay positive. I am not saying Kentucky can’t win eight or nine games. But I just don’t see Kentucky reaching the level of success some other SEC teams do. People can talk about coaching and facilities, but the recruiting base is the problem and always will be. And when you go out of state, Joker can come in and say you will be our starting linebacker and we can go to the Chick-fil-A Bowl or Outback Bowl. Saban says we are going to redshirt you and after that you will help us win a national championship. So what do you do?

“Look at Kentucky basketball. Four straight No. 1 recruiting classes with players from all over the country. SEC basketball teams can’t compete with that. It’s the same way for UK football.”

Permanent link to this article: http://vaughtsviews.com/former-player-explains-problems-he-sees-with-kentucky-football-trying-to-climb-to-top-of-sec/


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    My sentiments also. The top SEC schools redshirt guys that we would start. They get that extra year of strength training and adjustment to life both on and off the field. At UK talented Freshman are ask to contribute early but seam to end the season on the injured list. I think we have to look back several years to find a true freshman RB at UK that did not end that season on the injured list. I remeber the LSU game when they brought in their second string defense and the cornerbacks were still fastter that any starting reciever we had on the field.

    The reason UK BB has had 5 different coaches win Championships is not just because of the coach but also it’s KENTUCKY BASKETBALL. We don’t have that in football and I’m not sure if even Sabien could turn UK into a perennial FB power house contenting for the SEC title year in year out(it would take three or four straight years of top 10 recruiting classes like he has had at Bam to even crack the ice).IMO

    Very nice read from a man with perspective but I am sure some other ex-player may disagree.


  2. Aaron Cordero

    Larry, hope things are well. You are the best in the business my friend. Yes, UK has a ton of challenges. As we know, they are the most northern school in the SEC. Think about that. Kids south, don’t like to go north. Kids from the north, grow up Big 10 fans, etc. First step for UK is to land the top in state kids. This is happening. Lamar Dawson, Jon Davis and several kids in the current class are examples. These kids need to grow up wanting to be Cats and UK must sign them. Joker targeting Georgia simply because they produce so many D1 kids. They all can’t sign with Georgia. Still, Nick Saban and others are plucking top ranked kids from there as well. UK has to get on kids early and recruit them until the very end. Guys like Bud Dupree are rare. He could play at any school. Now the issue is recruits are not sure who the coach will be if they commit and sign with UK.

    1. larryvaught

      Aaron, thanks for the comment because no one covers football better than you. Think the coaching situation is a big obstacle in recruiting right now. Beat Louisville and lot could change

  3. catcrazy4sure

    Believe he hit the nail on the head. Also, how many colleges with outstanding football programs also have top basketball teams and vice versa…….in most years absolutely none. It’s just the way it is….maybe it’s related to priorities or not enough resources to do both major sports exceedingly well.

  4. Bill

    I have a sense that there has been a significant increase in the number of talented players in the “recruiting pool.” This may level the playing field, if it is true. I’ve heard all the arguments about redshirting players and how the football powers have the depth to let players develop and mature. Having an inquiring mind, I check Alabama’s roster for 2011. There were 5 true freshmen at the top of the depth chart as starters. There were an additional 2 redshirt freshmen starting and 9 true freshmen listed as the #1 backup at their respective positions. I chose Alabama’s National Championship team since it seemed appropriate to start with the best of the best. To avoid argument or disagreement, my intention was to to slight any other team. The number of true freshmen that were starting and listed as the #1 backup surprised me to be truthful. If you have a top 10 recruiting class for 5 years I would not expect that you would have to rely on true freshmen to start. This is just an observation and when I have more time I plan on checking out other “top” sec teams. Even though it makes “sense” to redshirt freshmen to give them the extra time to develop and mature, this isn’t happening to the extent some may believe.

    1. larryvaught

      Bill, have to admit I did not know that about Alabama. Makes a strong case for playing the top guys right away

  5. keith


  6. Shinny

    Interesting read but what the former player says is a duh! The fact is Georgia turned out 150+ div 1 prospects last year and will again and again. We need to get our share and with the ties the staff has that will happen. Louisville is recruiting better now since moving to the big east and Strongs ties to Fla. That will change again soon because he will get a big time head job. I think our future is bright with a stable of RB’s and Towles coming on the scene. Will we ever recruit a stable of 4stars and 5stars like bama–i doubt it–but we can be just a notch below LSU,FL,BAMA and that will be an exciting time. Joker isn’t going anywhere else and in time(2 to 3) more years it will begin to happen. I BELIVE IN BLUE–HOW ABOUT YOU?

    1. UKFMLY

      I BELIEVE ENOUGH TO SPLIT SEASON TICKETS WITH A FRIEND(first grandchild on the way in July and a son heading to college next year or I would have purchased the whole package! !


  7. Bill

    I checked out the rosters and depth chart of several other SEC teams and it seems that Alabama made use of more freshmen than the other rosters and depth charts I checked. LSU seems to stand out in using RS and experienced players. I am just puzzled as to what happened to all the 4 and 5 star players Alabama recruited 3 and 4 years ago. They “should” be at the top in the development and ready to make major contributions. Then, of course, there’s Texas. Brown has had his pick of 4 and 5 star players. It suggests to me that using a RS depends on the player and if he can contribute at a high level.

  8. Joshua

    I have always gone to bat for Joker when it comes to recruiting and hiring decisions. I really have felt that he has done a great job in these areas. However, my question since the first year of his era was whether or not he could develop talent and how he would handle gameday preparation and execution. Rich Brooks and his staff seemed to be able to take 2 star talent and compete against 4-5 star talent on any given Saturday. With Joker, I’m still not sure. His overall record is not what I would have expected (especially in terms of SEC competition), but on the other hand he has wins over Spurrier and Tennessee. I am hopeful that this year will continue the trend we saw over the last two games of last season, and that the fans will be willing to wait until the season ends to judge his success.

    1. larryvaught

      Great point Joshua on the job Rich and his staff did developing talent. Most overlooked part of his tenure. Believe on Chuck Smith and Randy Sanders are left on staff from the Brooks era along with Joker

      1. Joshua

        Joker and Randy are definitely in different capacities today than they were under Brooks. I’m not sure if the additional duties have affected their ability to work one on one with the players, but the development of Morgan Newton as well as some of the wide outs have been a major disappointment to me.

        Chuck Smith has done an amazing job developing the LB’s. A few names has coached include Wesley Woodyard, Micah Johnson, Sam Maxwell, Johnny Williams, Braxton Kelley, Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy (all went on to the NFL) and now Bud Dupree. Since the day he joined the program, the LB’s have been a strength of the team. Unfortunately, a lot of the inability to land the top in-state recruits has to land on his (as well as Greg Nord’s) shoulders. The fact that he was an extremely respected (and still is) Kentucky high school coach was suppose to give UK an edge with the in-state talent (with the exception of the Louisville area, which is Nord’s).

        1. larryvaught

          Fair points Joshua and I will say this. Sometimes UK stays in the hunt for in-state talent longer than it would have simply because of Chuck and respect state coaches have for him

  9. grant

    well i would take recruiting at a level of a tcu. they always seem to be in the top 20 in recruiting and they also have to against texas and the big 12 . uk will never be able to get bama lsu recruits consistently , but they can do better can’t they? the old ball coach can still get players. arkanasas gets players. wow and uk can’t? crap vandy is better. wonder what would happen if uk decided at some time to just give some big money out to a marquee football coach , or an up an commer and see what happens. i just don’t buy that they can’t do better. aim small miss small.

  10. JBR

    Ahhhh…I see that Larry is drinking the blue kool aid giving Cordero an “at a boy” above. We can all sit around and make these excuses all day long, and blame this and blame that…but it may really surprise everyone what a little something called winning will do to a program. To do that, you have to have a solid coach that gets players to overachieve. Rich Brooks did that as good as anybody has at UK. He developed talent, and I was ALWAYS a fan, even in the beginning when we were losing, because I saw things that were positives and gave me hope that he got it. Even though he did such a good job, we still dropped those 1 or 2 games a year that should have been wins, that would have vaulted us into much bigger bowls, thus able to recruit better players…see the cycle here? Win, recruit, win, recruit better. Mississippi State and Tennessee killed us in Brooks’ years on those type of games I just mentioned that could have changed seasons from good to great.

    Now enter Joker…tagged as a good recruiter, which he has done fairly good at TO THIS POINT, but has not shown any minute evidence that he can actually coach anything. I would like to challenge you, Mr. Cordero, to step away from all the ethical and subjective discussions on Joker, and step away from your hitman there on your site…and talk real football. I would like for you to tell me anything, and I mean anything FOOTBALL related that you have seen from Joker since he has taken over that gives you ANY reason to believe anything will improve…any positives. I am a football guy….rare for a UK fan…but I have had season tix right behind the UK bench. I study the game, I watch the players on and off the field, the coaches, the discussions…Joker has not had the respect of his teams or control since he has been here. He plays favorites. Some insiders I know say that the locker has been divided because of this more often than not…this is coming from families of players.

    I will give you the example of Boise St. Last time I looked, Idaho is not a high school hotbed of talent. They have a tiny population there, and I know the smaller school haters will come out and whine about the conference, schedule, etc. Well, they would not go undefeated in the SEC…no one else would either…but they would hold their own, and they would take us to the woodshed. That is because they are well coached. Our recruiting classes are often ranked higher than theirs, but they take on anyone that will play them, and almost always beat them. Do you know why? Do you watch the games…a hint…motivation, discipline, precision, football IQ, innovation, desire…all things that COACHING STAFF brings to those players.

    Is it more difficult for UK here in the SEC…yes. Is it impossible to think that someone could do better? That is a ridiculous question. We have a coach right now that has no clue what is going on. Joker apexed when he was the recruiting coordinator, that was his ceiling. So, if we continue to make excuses and accept things for how they have always been, then we will continue to fail…and the portion of the fanbase that accepts this stuff is enabling it. If you don’t believe me, go ask Mitch about how season tix sales are going about now.

    1. larryvaught

      JBR, Aaron spends a ton of time covering football. Can’t dispute that.
      Joker’s two biggest pluses — he beat South Carolina and Tennessee. Almost beat national champion Auburn.
      Biggest negatives — players have left team, lack of inspired play last year, questionable play at quarterback last season, not enough players have dramatically improved.
      This is make it or break it year for Joker in my opinion.
      As for recruiting like TCU, would take that any day. Good team, good talent, and good job developing players

      1. Joshua

        It’s not only a make it or break year, it’s a contract year. The question becomes, is it all about the final record and making it to a bowl game? Or if we go 5-7 again but with wins over Louisville, Florida, and/or Tennessee, is that good enough to get another 3-5 year deal? Joker does have a lot of young talent. He has halted two major embarrassments to the program. I’m just not sure the fan base will be willing to look at anything other than the final (and SEC) record. In all honesty, I think this staff deserves the chance to develop the great young talent that they have brought into the program. However, I really would like to see at least competitive efforts against the SEC elite this year.

      2. JBR

        Larry, I agree that Aaron spends a ton of time covering football, but that does not make it something that someone has to be good at…just because they do it a lot. I really do not have a major problem with Aaron personally (he seems like a nice guy, unlike some character named Messenger that writes on that site), but the coverage is very soft, pro Joker “no matter what” and rarely talks about the true nuts and bolts of football and why things are happening the way they are at UK. It is more of a watered down recruit interview site, with more ethical, or what is fair, about the administrartion, Joker, and why we cannot succeed (i.e. excuse making). And again, nothing personal against Aaron, but until our fan base, and the only dedicated site I know to UK football, get serious about understanding the game and addressing what are really the issues, then we are enabling this debacle that is in full force on the field.

        I will ask this…was our basketball fan base ready to give Gillespie a third year? They would have had Mitch’s head had he done that…Joker has been equally disappointing , but nobody cares. And Larry, I will give you the South Carolina win…that was the ONLY good win Joker has had. The Tennessee win…looks good on paper, broke the streak…but did you watch that game? I am glad the streak is over, don’t get me wrong..but to include that as a positive for Joker…it was like watching two bad HIGH SCHOOL teams playing that day. Both teams were atrocious…so was it good we broke the streak? Yes, but was it a feather in Joker’s cap that equates success…hardly. And, when I asked that question, I want football talk. I want things from the field and locker room to look for positives…not just a game here or there. What have we really seen from any of Joker’s teams that give us any reason to be positive or expect success. I have asked that on several boards, and it has yet to be answered. That is a problem.

        1. larryvaught

          JBR, I think there is no positive answer one can give fairly at this point. Why the Louisville game means so much. that’s the chance to prove the program is improving. Lose that game and sure looks like another long season to me

  11. grant

    Really , Larry , It is time for a culture change in UK football. Step up to the plate. Like i said, do i expect them to beat LSU and BAMA , all the time . No. But like JBR mentioned Boise St. or like i mentioned a TCU, they are extremely competitive, and apparently can recruit some really good players. Culture change? Yes. Get a coach! I have nothing personal against phillips, but i have a craving for UK to $buy a good coach. It can be done! Whether they want to is a different story. So what if UK football can’t walk in to a kids’ home and sway them out of going to an sec powerhouse, you don’t have too, there is apparently talent everywhere in the country. Uk is mired in football hell, and the worst part about it is, that its accepted as ok ,and the norm. Bull—t! Sure did not take Mitch long to show Billy Clyde the door! Why because that crap he was doing was NOT accepted, why should football be different? I am telling you like i have so many times before, when there are arses in those seats at the football stadium, you are accepting and encouraging mediocrity.

  12. grant

    If the whitesox can win a world series, then uk can get a coach and win!

  13. Matt Slone

    I have really enjoyed reading all these comments. Lots of very strong opinions for sure. I, for one, am not sure when or if we can recruit at a level of the SEC Big Boys. But to add a thought about Boise St. & to the years when we had Woodson at QB… a couple ideas come to mind. 1st, having one great QB can bring the level of competition a lot closer than any other position. His Jr & Sr year had us competing at close to an even competition with most SEC schools then. We could hide the fact we weren’t as deep as others on the O-line or D-line. And our skill positions,( with last seasons Wide-Outs not withstanding ) can usually play for most any school. Lets hope Towles or someone else can bring us back there quickly.
    And 2nd, there’s a lot to be said about schemes such as Boise St have to help camouflage less superior athletes. This is not entirely on scheme alone though as JBR stated correctly. Coaching & discipline have major factors on this being possible. Call it innovation or imposing your will on a system you believe in, but, there are ways to close this gap. When you come off a season like last year, ( very uninspiring ) changes need to be made before it festers too long. At times, they really didn’t resemble a major college football team last season. We have to change the atmosphere of losing very soon. I wish Joker the best, I know he tries hard.

    Thanks to all the comments I’ve read and to you Larry!!

    Go Big Blue!!!

  14. Pacman

    Larry, a couple of comments
    1 is I am glad we have a football discussing occurring this early
    2 if Baylor can be challenging for the big 12 championship and a berth
    In the national championship it can happen at KY
    It would take a charismatic coach with a unique scheme to attract and retain
    Quality players and assistants. UK has everything else it needs
    To do what Baylor, Boise St, TCU, others have done

    1. larryvaught

      Keep the belief Pacman

  15. nawlij

    With all due respect, Larry, what this individual said is common knowledge…the problem is the university had rather just cash the check FB provides versus trying to level the field for Joker or whomever is successor will be.

  16. uktime

    This in away is a funny article. 1. Say rich brooks got lucky and landed the above mentioned players. Jacob Tamme would have never played at uk if it was not for rich brooks. 2 Asked for his name not to be metioned. (Have a very good idea who this is) Which i would say what are you afraid of? 3. Clemons , Faulkner,west, and serval others on this team were all highly recruited. Uk has some talent but not enough for depth. UK Football need something so they can sell there program to recruits. Bring a guy in like mike Leach who can sell players on playing in a fun style of offense. Joker is not the answer he should have never been the coach in waiting. Uk will be improved ,but will not win enough to save jokers job. Joker is a good guy,but just was not ready to be a head coach this soon.

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