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By TYLER SMITH
Let’s get one thing clear. We love Joker Phillips as a person. Joker is a class act. He couldn’t have shed a better light upon the program while coaching here at UK. At the beginning of the season I was “all in” with Joker and his staff…but there’s been a lot of talk this weekend that Mitch Barnhart should come out and speak about the football program to give the fans direction on what their next steps should be. Both Larry Vaught of Vaught’s Views and the Kentucky Kernel have supported this stance. I tend to agree with both articles, because the leadership needs toshare what the next steps will be for the university. Kentucky does not have the luxury to sit back and to pick and choose who they want as their next head coach. Kentucky needs to be on the attack about what their next step will be.
What does that mean? In my opinion, come November 25th, Kentucky will be on the lookout for their next head coach. This means Kentucky will be battling: Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee, Texas, Missouri, and potentially Louisville and Mississippi State (if their coach leaves for a better program). Which school on that list does Kentucky look more attractive to coach? In my opinion…zero. If I were an up and coming head coach, or the hot assistant would I want to go to Tennessee or Kentucky…or even Louisville or Kentucky? If Mitch plays his hand right he could do some damage with his next hire, but Mitch must make a decision now.
Who should Mitch hire? Who are the realistic candidates for the next head coach at Kentucky? Here are the different names that are popping up around the state…
The “Long Shot” Candidates
• Kirby Smart- Why would a coach leave a successful program to come to Kentucky? Smart is “smart” enough to realize he could be the next head coach at Texas, Tennessee, or Auburn if he wants. It’s doubtful he ends up at Kentucky…
• John Gruden- There is 0% chance that John Gruden would take this position as the next UK head coach…I don’t even see Gruden taking the Tennessee position if it’s open. He winds up back in the NFL.
The “Win At All Costs” Candidates
• Bobby Petrino- See John Gruden…Mitch is a man who believes his coach should have moral integrity, and if you’re looking for that in a head coach, you’re looking the opposite way of Petrino. Petrino and his motorcycle are headed to Auburn anyway.
• Jim Tressel- The real question is will the sweater vest invade Commonwealth? IfMitch were going to make a “sketchy” hire, it would be Tressel. Tressel must sit out 5 games due to his “lack of institutional control” at Ohio St, and the program must be willing to sit out one year from a bowl as well. Are UK fans willing to do this for success down the road? Is Barnhart, willing to make the risky hire?
The “Up and Coming” Candidates
• Willie Taggart- The Western Kentucky coach who beat UK on a masterful trick play has Western sitting pretty at 6-2 and becoming bowl eligible for the second straight year. Could Taggard and Joker switch jobs next year? That would make for an interesting first game down in Nashville.
• Sonny Dykes- The Louisiana Tech head coach had his team ranked #24 before losing to Texas A&M two weeks ago in what was a shootout. Dykes has been able to turn a losing program run by UT head coach Derek Dooley, and turn it into the class of the WAC. Sonny likes to throw the ball around. It would be interesting to see if Dykes could have the same success here in Lexington.
• Gus Malzahn- The former high school head coach and former Auburn Offensive Coordinator, who runs an interesting style offense, would be an even more interesting hire here in Lexington. Malzahn turned down Vandy two years ago. Would he say yes to Kentucky if asked?
The “Been Around the Block” Candidates
• Mike Leach- The Washington State head coach who is better known for taking TexasTech to their highest ranking in years with Michael Crabtree and company would jump at the chance to come back and coach in the bluegrass state. The question is, would he resurrect the program, or would UK be another Washington State?
• David Cutcliffe- The current Duke head coach, who has had success in the SEC would be an interesting hire for UK in my opinion. Cutcliffe has Duke….let me repeat that, Duke on track to play in the ACC championship game. Cutcliffe would be the safe pick for Barnhart, he has the proven track record in the SEC, while having the ability to win at yes…..Duke.
Personally, if I am Mitch you make the announcement today and at the same time you make the “smart” decision and hand Kirby Smart a blank check. At the same time we know that Smart will land the high profile job (Texas, Tennessee, or Auburn). After Smart, Barnhart must go after either Dykes (who has proven that he can win where he has coached), or Cutcliffe (who has proven you can win at Duke). There are so many unknowns with this coaching search, but one thing that is for certain…Mitch must be on the attack. Please, all I ask is that we don’t sit back and become the last program in line to go after a coach.
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See what Tyler along with other writers including former UK basketball player Perry Stevenson have to say at www.SportsHeartbeat.com for up to the minute information on UK sports. You can also follow them on Twitter @Sportsheartbeat.