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UK coach Joker Phillips

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — The numbers against Joker Phillips keeping his coaching job at Kentucky are staggering — and Saturday’s 40-0 loss to Vanderbilt here certainly did not help.

That dropped UK’s record to 1-9 and was the team’s eighth straight loss. It meant UK has been outscored 78-8 the last two years by Vanderbilt. Kentucky has now lost 13 of its last 15 Southeastern Conference games and the average margin of defeat has been 26.9 points per game. Phillips is also just 12-25 since taking over a program from Rich Brooks that had been to four straight bowl games.

Worse yet, fans are staying away in record numbers. Attendance was announced at 44,902 but that more likely was empty seats than fans in the stands. That number was based on tickets sold and included anyone also working at the game. Actual attendance might have been less than 25,000.

“I get this business. I get the criticism,” said Phillips. “Nobody in this program wants this place to have success more than me. I understand this is a business that is based on results and we have not got results.”

He even acknowledged that he is “making it real tough on him” when asked about UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart obviously trying to find a way to keep his head coach for a fourth season. He again cited being “depleted” in the junior and senior classes — but remember Phillips was on the UK staff that brought the juniors and seniors into the program before he was head coach — and that Kentucky would win “when you have veterans at the top.”

Phillips’ postgame press conference was dominated by questions about his future rather than his team’s play. But that had to be expected.

Vanderbilt scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and had five touchdown drives of 59 or more yards on its first six series to take a 34-0 lead early in period three. Vanderbilt eventually won a SEC game by its largest margin since 1948 and got its first SEC shutout since a 6-0 win over UK in 1968.

Kentucky had just 260 yards of total offense and what scoring chances it had, it could not convert. The Cats were sloppy on special teams with five major mistakes and other than linebacker Avery Wiliamson (11 solo stops, nine assists, one forced fumble) way too lax on defense. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders got so flustered with freshman quarterback Patrick Towles (8-for-23, 93 yards, one sack) that he walked away from him several times on the sideline rather than talk to him after the Cats were stopped.

So does Phillips thinks he even deserves another year even though he has two years left on his contract?

“That’s not for me to decide, but we’ve tried to do this thing the right way. We’ve got to come up with ways of keeping our kids in our program.  We’ve put together some things that allowed us to do that. There’s a lot that’s helped us to do that,” Phillips said. “Again, we have a lot of young kids in this program, but that’s not for me to decide.

“The other thing, our last 12 (SEC) games, we’ve played a true freshmen at quarterback. There’s no excuse. These are facts. I’m not making excuses.  I’m giving you facts.”

So would he like to be back considering the team’s record, low attendance and overall negativity about the program?

“I’d love to. No doubt I would love to. It’s not for me to decide. I understand Mitch’s position and the things that go into,” Phillips said. “We’ve got some good young kids here that are hurting worse than any guy that is associated with this program. I’m talking about fans also.  Those kids are hurting. They’re hurting badly by the way we performed today.”

Phillips emphasized he did not want kids “to shoulder things coming at me” and that he wanted his players to continue to do the right things academically and socially, which he says they have been doing. He also said if Barnhart had reached a decision about his future, it would be announced.

“If there was a decision either way, I would think it would be important for me or Mitch to come out and make a decision, either way. Help get another guy or help us in recruiting. So, we have not talked. Again, it will be evaluated at the end of the season. That’s all I know about it,” Phillips said.

If Barnhart doesn’t announce, he’s doing a disservice to the team, players and even Phillips and his staff. This team played like a team that had lost all hope for the most part. Not sure the coaches were not the same way. And obviously even many of the most die-hard fans have bailed on the team. It’s a lethal combination and one that won’t get better during a bye week or with the remaining games against Samford and Tennessee.

“There are some hurt young men in there right now. They are definitely not proud of the way we performed today. It was not a very good performance by us,” Phillips said. “What is kind of hurtful is how we played two weeks ago (in a loss to Georgia) and we haven’t gotten to that level the last couple of weeks.”

No, and that’s what it would have taken to save Phillips’ job. No way Kentucky can keep a coach that has lost by a combined score of 78-8 to Vanderbilt the last two years. This is Vandy, not Alabama. This is Vandy, not Florida or LSU. This is the same Vandy that lost 48-3 to Georgia, a team Kentucky had a chance to beat before losing 29-24 two weeks ago.

Towles said the players “love” Phillips and want to win for the coaching staff as well as each other and the fans.

“We are trying as hard as we can to put positive stuff up there, but we just aren’t doing that right now,” Towles said.

Not even close.

So what does Phillips’ gut tell him might happen with his job status in the next few days or weeks?

“My gut was that we’d win this game today, okay?  That’s where my gut was. You can’t go on your gut,” Phillips said.

He’s right. Instead, you go on wins, overall play and attendance and that has to make this decision painfully obvious to everyone.

24 Responses to Numbers against keeping UK coach Joker Phillips just continue to get even more staggering

  • johnl says:

    One of the bigger questions that has not been asked,Why has’nt Joker made a significant change with his staff ? If he was concerned with his job,he could at least make some moves with his staff to show fans that he is concerned about the progress of his team.

    • Jim says:

      Was your comment a joke? Either you have been under a rock or are totally clueless, regarding Joker’s tenure at UK. He has replaced 90% of his staff. Had he kept the old staff, he might be still going to bowl games.

  • BD WELLS says:

    Come on Larry, get real. I know UK owes Joker and that he is a great guy and has given UK over 20 years, but HE IS A LOUSY HC! The Juniors would have been his first recruiting class as HC, the Seniors his last as HCIW, what the hell happened Joker? I just wished he would come out and explain those two recruiting classes. After all, this is exactly what the HCIW was supposed to ensure wouldn’t happen. I’ve followed UK Sports for 48 years and this is the most flustrated I have ever been. We’ve had bad FB teams before and except for late in Curry’s era, they were competitive. This team is not. Jokers been HC three years, every year has been a step backwards. 18,500 tickets scanned today, that wouldn’t fill old Stoll Field. I know you have covered Joker a lot of years, and feel a loyal to him. Nothing wrong with that. But the question now is whats in the best interest of the program. Jokers not all thats wrong with the program by any means. But, change has to begin with him. In your heart you have to know its time for him to go.

    • Charlie Darrington says:

      You must not know football at all his first class would be red shirt SOHPs with two more years to play. The True fr. and red shirt fr. will have three more years. If Joker go all these guys will play some where else in the SEC next year!

      • Eric says:

        I’m not sure what you are disputing–red-shirt sophomores came in with the junior class three years ago, Joker’s first year. And do you really think there will be a mass exodus if Joker leaves? Sure, some will transfer, but all of them?

  • donv says:

    If Joker really loved this University he would resign and pay back the money he stole.

    • UKFMLY says:

      B S

    • Jim says:

      Joker didn’t steal anything. I do not know if you really meant to use that word or are speaking metaphorically, but I think it is bad form. Not having success is not the same as missing work and shirking your duties. Joker may resign, if he and UK come to terms on a severence package. Love has nothing to do with a man making a living. I want a new coach as much as anyone. But, I sure don’t expect anyone to walk away from that kind of salary without a severence package.

  • BobbyBlue says:

    Sad..He’s one of the nice guys,and really loves the University…maybe Leo Deroucher was right… “Nice guys do finish last. ”
    Unfortunately,and I hate to say this,but I can’t see any justification, for continuing with Joker as the head coach,and it needs to be announced now.

  • Ira says:

    Well according to Mitch Barnhart, ” We’ve just stubbed our toe.” Hilarious!

  • Barney says:

    “Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders got so flustered with freshman quarterback Patrick Towles (8-for-23, 93 yards, one sack) that he walked away from him several times on the sideline rather than talk to him after the Cats were stopped.”

    If you were in attendance and say this today, this should be the icing on the cake of Sanders not being welcomed back!

  • grant says:

    did not see the game today , but as the final score indicates i did not miss much. well i guess when vandy piles on , that means we are really on the bottom. this is a train wreck. at this point i am not so sure samford won’t give us a game, should they probably not , but hard to count anyone out now. bad!

  • Eric says:

    It was nice of the ESPN U folks to try to make a case for Joker by comparing his record to Brooks’ record his first three years, but they left out some pretty significant information. Brooks came into a program that was a mess and dealing with NCAA sanctions. Brooks brought in a totally new staff and system from the system Mumme had recruited for and needed time to bring in the players to fit his system. Joker took over a team that had been successful and was poised to take the next step and be an 8-4 or even 9-3 type team. Joker retained the vast majority of the previous staff and seems to be trying to run the same system he implemented as Brooks’ OC. Like another poster said, the whole “in-waiting” thing was supposed to allow for a seamless transition where the team would build on the previous successes without taking a step back first. Whether it is that the talent he’s bringing in is not SEC caliber talent or that talent is not being developed, there is something not clicking and no one seems to notice or know how to fix it. Yeah, I know we are playing scads of freshmen, including both quarterbacks. But we have a senior quarterback who has been in the system for years and still when he started the Florida game we heard the familiar refrain about having to simplify the offense because he didn’t know the whole thing.

    That being said, I don’t want to take anything away from the job Franklin is doing with Vandy. They shouldn’t be blowing UK out, but he looks like he is building a competitive program down in Nashville.

    • larryvaught says:

      Eric, I am with you. It’s not like other teams don’t play some young guys, too. And Joker can’t blame anyone else for low numbers in junior/senior classes

  • KYfaninTX says:

    Joker will not give up coaching UK, unless he is fired.
    Barnhardt does not show any signs of firing Phillips.
    If Joker is coaching UK next season; you think the crowd was small for
    the Vandy game, wait to you see the crowd for next season.
    What a shame an AD is destroying a football program…and for what ?
    Someone needs to do the math….less attendance means less funds
    for UK athletic programs (discounting any tv money, that is not guaranteed)

  • Pacman says:

    I have watched uk football for over 50 years and this us the first time
    I have seen fans completely abandon the program. I think
    To stop this madness it will require pressure from higher than Mitch
    Mitch is very loyal and generally that is a good trait but
    In this case it is destroying our football program. Mitch is
    Burning bridges he may not be able to rebuild. It is likely he may
    He may retain joker and then resign himself as ad after next year

  • Jim says:

    Apparently Mitch Barnhart thanked the “real” fans for coming to the game and took a jab at fans that want a coaching change. I believe that the players deserve better. UK should announce that it is Joker’s last season and he could get a send off for his last home game.

    Pay for a top notch coach that will win games and be sucessful. Kentucky football brings in the most revenue, in large part to its affiliation with the SEC and the lucrative tv contracts. If UK invested in a winning program, they would incease revenue, long term. When an AD is publicaly ridiculing the fan base and refusing to fix a problem, he may be part of the problem. I am wondering if the University of Kentucky should consider looking for another Athletic Director, as well as a new football coach.

  • Andy P. says:

    Well said, Jim. We need a new athletic director before we go looking for a new football coach.

  • grant says:

    Jim, i could not agree more. Barnhart quickly saw the writing on the wall with Gillespie and subsequently jettisoned him. Now its quite clear that Barnhart and Gillespie were not friends like he is with Joker , but if you’re Barnhart how can you treat basketball so cut throat, but football is different .Afterall football is the money maker and Mitch seems to be doing his best to not make it any money. I can only speak for myself, but i would be glad to make the 7 hr. trek from my house here in Illinois for a football game at UK. But not under this losing regime. Nope not at all. Like i said before, i have Illinois State University 30 minutes away and U of Illinos 1hr. and 30 minutes away from me, so i have plenty of bad bad football real close if i feel the need to waste money and see some pathetic football, i don’t need to drive to kentucky. Now if barnhart makes a change, hires a real coach , i will be there for my first ever game and be damn glad to support UK football. But i am not a blind lemming that Barnhart wants. He wants the stands full for a 1 win team. Sorry Mitch , the fans are speaking, and if you do not want to acknowledge them , you’re job should be reviewed as well. In my opinion football should be treated equal if not better than basketball.

  • Jim says:

    I orignally thought Mitch Barnhart was a great hire by Kentucky and that hey finally got a “fooball guy” for an AD. But, lets look at what Mitch had done at Kentucky. You can disagree with me all you want, but what the AD should be judged on is how handles the two money making programs, men’s basketball and football ( the cash cow of the athletics department).

    UK has a long rich tradition of winning in basketball. One would think that it is such a well oiled machine that you can’t screw it up. Mitch did just that with the hire of Billy Clyde Gillispie. That was okay, because basketball rebounds quickly with a great coach and a single recruiting class.

    A football program, that competes in the toughest conference in the nation and doesn’t have much of a winning tradition, can not afford a lot of mistakes when it comes to coaching hires. Mitch did a solid job with the Brooks hire and stuck with him during the bad times. It paid off and Brooks brought a string of bowl games to the program. The joker hire can not be blamed on Mitch, if the rumor is true that Lee Todd forced him to go along with the coach in waiting plan offered by Brooks. Joker has not worked out, winning fewer games, each season. Mitch has refused to fire Joker and has publically rebuked the fans who call for a change.

    Is Mitch really the right AD for the job? Is he capable of hiring a top football coach? Maybe UK should look at getting a new Athletic Director? Who would I choose? Derrick Ramsey. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derrick_Ramsey If he were hired, I would have faith that he be able to land a top notch football coach. I do feel that Kentucky not only needs a football AD at this time, but needs a guy with Kentucky roots to guide the football program to greatness.

  • Larry says:

    Larry, will you refresh my memory? A lot of the media are making good points about how UK gave Rich Brooks a fourth year when the UK program was about as awful as it is now, but my question is, had BBN given up on that team us much as they’ve given up on this team? I’ve been one of the few holding on to hope that injuries/youth have have been the biggest downfall of this years team, but, when you’re only playing in front of 19,000 a game, I think a change HAS to be made. Thanks for clarifying.

    • larryvaught says:

      Larry, had not given up on that team because it had rising stars in Woodyard, burton, Tamme, Little, Woodson and more and that team also came back to make a bowl game. This is low point right now for fans

      • Larry says:

        Thank you Larry. Then from a business point, i’ll take the same stance as everyone else. Love Joker as a person! I happened to be in the right place at the right time, after we beat UGA in Athens a few years ago, I happened to cross paths with the UK coaching staff as they were coming down from the pressbox. Because I was the only blue in the crowd, Joker Phillips excitedly high fived me! It was the highlight of my life, but I also enjoy watching a competitive product on the field. It makes it a lot easier on me down here in Bulldawg country…

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