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By LARRY VAUGHT
Bill Cowher to Kentucky?
That’s the speculation that some UK insiders are still saying as the Kentucky football coaching search continues. While it is impossible to know which rumor could be true, this is one I just do not believe.
First, Cowher has won the Super Bowl. He’s an NFL guy. Why come out of coaching retirement to suddenly have to recruit 18 to 25 teen-agers per year and then try to coach them to compete in the SEC? Plus, his ball-control offense is not likely to work at UK like he has with the Steelers. With Pittsburgh, he usually had superior talent and a lockdown defense. He won’t have that in the SEC at Kentucky.
So based on what I am hearing and what seems logical to me, Cowher to UK is just not going to happen. Maybe there’s another NFL assistant coach who might make that move, but not Cowher.
Now to Sonny Dykes, the head man at Louisiana Tech. Remember, he’s the first name I mentioned before I decided that Bobby Petrino’s winning ways and availability could make him the best priority. However, Dykes is young, has a unique offense thanks to offensive coordinator Tony Franklin and has ties to UK and the SEC.
Then if you go to footballscoop.com, it says that Kentucky has considerable interest in Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, who has been favored by numerous UK fans. He’s winning and certainly has a recruiting base that would be favorable at Kentucky.
And what is UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart saying? Nothing. He’s avoiding the media because he doesn’t want to limit his focus or say something about what he’s looking for in a coach that could be misinterpreted.
So for the time being, informed speculation like this is the best you’ll get — and feel free to keep sharing your thoughts. Have loved all the discussion.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Before I head out to watch Kentucky fans stomp on Christian Laettner — remember it is all to benefit the V Foundation at a fundraiser hosted by Dick Vitale, Jeff Sheppard and Laettner — I thought I would share some of the many theories I’ve heard today on the UK football coaching search.
Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones says Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes and Alabama defensive coordinator are UK’s top choices. No argument here against either. Dykes and his Tony Franklin-led offense have been terrific and could be on the verge of knocking Louisville out of a BCS bowl — and I know how sad that would make most UK fans — and I believe there has been contact at least with Dykes’ agent. Smart is a proven defensive mind from his time at LSU and Alabama.
However, remember the rumor about former Steelers coach Bill Cowher being high on the UK want list. Well, another source shared this information with me today:
“Kentucky wants a NFL coach and that seems to be the first choice right now. Mitch (Barnhart) has been spending a lot of time calling NFL teams and seeking permission to speak with various coaches. The smaller named guys such as Caragher, Brown, Kingsbury are definitely out. UK wants a big name splash from the NFL. Petrino is still in the mix and not tabled as of today, but now seems like an unlikely choice,” the source with close ties to UK said.
One former UK football player I talked to is frustrated more progress is not being made and wonders why “contact with prospective coach had not already been made” if Joker Phillips was going to be fired with two games left.
“The search has the organizational dynamics of a kindergarten Halloween party,” the player said. “If Petrino is not hired, and goes elsewhere in the SEC, I’m not sure UK can ever recover. UK football will not recover from a no to Petrino decision. Will financially and competitively ruin a Division 1 football program.”
That brings to mind a recent story by Chris Smith at Forbes.com about the value to Kentucky of hiring Petrino. He called hiring Petrino a n0-brainer for UK and wrote:
“Even leaving on-field performance aside, hiring Petrino would be a great financial move for Kentucky. Petrino’s marred reputation will help Kentucky get a top-tier coach at a bargain price, likely well below the $3.6 million he made each season at Arkansas. Kentucky is currently giving Phillips $1.7 million per season, and it’s doubtful that the school would have to pay much more for Petrino’s services. Moreover, Petrino was one of college football’s top CEOs while at Arkansas. From 2010 to 2012, the Razorbacks’ value rose a staggering 59% to $89 million. That increase was mainly the result of strong on-field play on the back of the coach’s cost-efficient spending. In fact, Petrino’s Razorbacks spent the third-least per win of any SEC team in the 2010 season en route to the Sugar Bowl.”
Here’s more: “Thanks in large part to such basketball success, Kentucky’s athletic department contributed $1.7 million to academics in 2010. Those contributions will only surge higher with a successful football team. Hiring Bobby Petrino, it would seem, is one of the best ways to build one both on the field and in the balance sheet.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Depending on who you want to hear, it’s easy to find many, many directions that the UK football coaching search could go.
Here are various scenarios I heard or had pitched to me today:
— Never ever will athletics director Mitch Barnhart hire Bobby Petrino. Too much risk, too much baggage no matter what the reward.
— UK AD Mitch Barnhart will not have the final say on hiring the new coach, which means it will be a lot easier for Petrino to be offered the job.
— There was little or no movement in the coaching search Monday possibly because Barnhart was hoping Tennessee would have an opening and snatch Petrino to take the pressure of him.
— A Kentucky insider is saying Barnhart is going for a home run hire — former Steelers coach Bill Cowher and cites John Calipari’s ties to current Steelers coach Mike Tomlin as one reason it could happen.
The list could go on and on. But here is the best information I got today from someone I trust and who has direct knowledge of many things going on.
One, Barnhart has a priority list of coaches that includes a “home run hire” as well as Petrino because others at UK want Petrino considered. Two, there is a second level that could include a coach like Sonny Dykes as well as a coach like David Cutcliffe of Duke. Three, there’s a list that would involve current coordinators at the both the collegiate and NFL level.
“I don’t think there are nearly as many names being discussed for the job as many want to believe. I don’t think the list of possible candidates is nearly as long as some think,” the source told me.
And as I was driving through Knoxville, I listened to a Tennessee sports talk show when the idea of perhaps bring Phil Fulmer — and yes, his name has been mentioned at Kentucky because of ties to Barnhart — back came up. The talk show hosts as well as fans thought it was a terrible idea. And remember he led Tennessee to a national title and the fans don’t want him back. That shows how fickle a coaching search can be.