Most Recent Posts
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By RICHARD CHEEKS
Ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, and with all due respect to each of you, the answer for UK football does not start with hiring another coach this year, next year or any year unless and until the UK administration becomes committed to building a SEC quality football program. We have had good coaches come in here over the years, and while some of them have experienced more success at UK than others, none of them have enjoyed as much success at UK as they experienced at their stops prior to UK. Coach Claiborne was the envy of the Big Blue Nation while he worked at Maryland and Virginia Tech over the course of several years.
Claiborne came here as his last coaching stop, a favor to his alma mater, and he put the best defenses on the field over the course of his tenure that we have seen in these parts since, but he was hounded by the fan base for his outdated wide tackle 6 defense. What could Claiborne have accomplished at his alma mater, if he had the UK administration taking the steps necessary to move this program into the real SEC world? Ditto for Brooks. What could he have accomplished here if he had the UK administration commitment to SEC level success? Clearly, Coach Brooks did not believe he had that level of commitment, given his parting advice to the administration.
Joker is stumbling, and as some say, bumbling his way through what is now his third year. I see improvement on the offensive side of the ball. I see improvement on the special teams. I see potential for improvement on defense in the next 1 to 3 seasons (probably not this season).
Unless the UK administration steps to the plate with a serious plan for football success, I oppose another senseless swing of the revolving coaching door, and I oppose that coaching change until Coach Phillips has had a legitimate opportunity to move this program up with the administrative support that is now lacking. With that UK administration commitment, I believe Joker can build a competitive football program here, and he bleeds blue more than anyone else I can see out there who would be willing to come here and step into his shoes. The long term interests of this program will be best served by giving Joker, and not some yet to be named, coach the benefit of that institutional commitment.
I believe the problem is not fixed by changing the name of the head coach.
I realize that making this argument begs the question, what commitment from the Administration is required? I know that is an honest question, and my honest answer is that I do not know. If I did know, I would be qualified to serve as an Athletic Director at an SEC school. I have wrestled with this very question since I reached this conclusion in 2000.
I had six season tickets at that time. I sat through all the heat of September, rains of October, and cold of November for decades. I traveled to one to three road games each season from the late 1970s (Curci) through 2000. My fall seasons were completely committed to my favorite activity, UK football. In 2000, I finally concluded that the array of head coaches I had supported for those years was not the cause of the languishing program. I stopped spending my time and money on the activity, and promised that I would not resume until I saw commitment to UK football.
Lastly, let me say that my conclusion has not made me happy. I have not celebrated that conclusion, because fixing a bad coaching hire is relatively easy to fix, as we saw in basketball, and as Louisville has shown us again in football. However, fixing an institutional resistance, overcoming an institutional negative inertia, does not have an easy fix.
Nevertheless, I remain convinced that an institutional level solution is required. Let me give you two examples that may at least point to the nature of the Institutional issues.
Some fans point to facilities holding this program back. I don’t know if that is the principal issue, but when I learn that the Commonwealth of Kentucky has bonding restrictions in place that limit UK Football’s ability to improve facilities, I see an institutional barrier to success. Some fans argue that Mitch Barnhart is the most football friendly athletic director at UK since Bernie Shively back in the dark ages of Bear Bryant, and before when he actually served as the head coach. I agree with that argument about Mitch Barnhart, yet when Coach Brooks was walking out that door, his parting advice was to begin to spend the money on the football program if UK wants to sustain the program’s improvement under his watch. Yet, I still see the same old same old, and I see it as institutional, and probably above the Athletic Director’s office.
It is time for a candid public debate about the institutional support or lack thereof for the UK football program.