The Next Big Game!

  • UK FB Blue-White Game:
    in 2 days, 3 hours, 13 minutes

Larry on Twitter

Phil Fulmer

Blog Home


Let’s get a daily dose of coaching rumors for Kentucky football.
— If Jeremy Fowler of is right, Kentucky has interviewed Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops for its head coaching opening based on a source he has. That’s the first time Stoops has been mentioned as a possible coach at UK.

Florida State’s defense led the country with 236.3 yards allowed per game before falling to Florida Saturday. He is a finalist for the national defensive coordinator of the year. He has no head coaching experience,

Stoops has never been a head coach, but he has held many jobs throughout college football. He has coached defensive backs at South Florida, Miami and Wyoming and been defensive coordinator at Houston. He was defensive coordinator at Arizona from 2004-09 before moving to Florida State.

Last season his Seminoles only allowed 15.1 per game (4th nationally), in 2010 they allowed 19.6 (20th), and in 2009 they surrendered 30.0 (94th).

He certainly has a strong coaching bloodline. One brother, Bob, is the head coach at Oklahoma. Another brother, Mike, is the former head coach at Arizona. A third brother, Ron Jr., is an assistant coach at Youngstown State.

— Conference realignment could be UK’s best friend in pursuing Cincinnati coach Butch Jones. He may or may  not have said no to UK — Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart said Saturday that no one has been offered the job — but with the Big East continuing to lose teams it appears Jones may now have interest in UK if enough money is involved.

— Several media members at Tennessee Saturday indicated that they did still believe Phil Fulmer was on UK’s radar. The former Tennessee coach has been out of coaching four years, but knows Barnhart well. I was also told that Fulmer and UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders are still friends even though Fulmer fired Sanders at UT. Remember a few years ago Barnhart relied on Rich Brooks for guidance in a coaching search and ended up hiring him. Fulmer could well be a backup plan for Barnhart.

— Louisiana Tech Sonny Dykes seems to have dropped off the UK chart for some, but remember there has been contact with his agent. Don’t write him off yet?

— Bobby Petrino? The rumors continue, but several UK folks told me again Saturday that this is a move Barnhart will not make.


Folks at Vanderbilt must be feeling really good today because in the last two weeks the Commodores have drilled Kentucky and Tennessee and forced both schools to fire their coaches the day after the loss.

However, there’s one big difference in what Tennessee did Sunday when it released Derek Dooley compared to how Kentucky fired Joker Phillips.

Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart didn’t post a letter to fans on a website. Instead, he held a press conference to talk about his decision and what direction the coaching search would go. Dooley issued a statement.

Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart announced Phillips’ firing on the UK website and has yet to talk publicly about it as speculation continues to swirl about who the next coach might be. Phillips has met with media members five times since his firing and has been open, cordial and informative.

Dooley and Phillips have had about the same lack of success in their three years. Dooley was 15-21 at Tennessee and was 0-15 against top 25 teams. He lost 14 of his last 15 SEC games, including one at UK last year. The Vols must beat Kentucky on Saturday to avoid going winless in SEC play for the first time in school history. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will serve as Tennessee’s interim coach while Phillips will coach his final game after UK beat Samford last week and players carried Phillips off the field.

Tennessee will be looking for its fourth coach in six years. Phillip Fulmer was fired in 2008, Lane Kiffin coached one year and then Dooley came from Louisiana Tech where he had a losing record and is gone after three years.

Hart said he probably wouldn’t use a search firm in choosing his next coach. Is Barnhart? We don’t know. He won’t tell us.

Hart said he considers previous head coaching experience “critically important.” Does Barnhart? We don’t know. He won’t tell us.

For those who say the Tennessee program is more attractive, remember the Tennessee football program is on probation until August 2015. The university’s athletic department posted a $3.98 million budget deficit for the last fiscal year and is paying buyouts to Fulmer, former athletics director Mike Hamilton, former basketball coach Bruce Pearl and former baseball coach Todd Raleigh. Now add another $5 million buyout for Dooley. That makes about $2.5 million for Phillips look like nothing.

Rumors swirled again Saturday that UK was close to a deal with Fulmer. On Sunday, speculation was that Cincinnati coach Butch Jones — who turned down a lucrative offer from Illinois last year — was offered the job.

What sales pitch is Barnhart using considering UK has had three straight losing seasons, attendance has dropped dramatically and the 2013 schedule is more difficult than the one this year? We don’t know. Barnhart won’t tell us.

What about Hart? What’s he selling at Tennessee?

“This is the ultimate challenge, which competitors embrace,” Hart said. “This is the ultimate challenge, for a football coach to come into this league. If you’re a competitor and you want to prove your worth, come into the Southeastern Conference. Come to the University of Tennessee. You’ll get that opportunity.”

Sounds like a possible sales pitch to Bobby Petrino to me.

Hopefully, Barnhart is saying the same — and more — to possible coaches even if Petrino, the former Louisville and Arkansas coach, is obviously not on his list.


With the Kentucky football coaching rumors continuing to increase, Lonny Demaree of Kentucky Sports Report ( dropped a new name in a big way into the discussion during an appearance with Larry Glover on WVLK (590 AM) Thursday night.

He says sources are telling him that Arizona coach Rich Rodriquez has “risen to the top of Mitch Barnhart’s list” because he has an exciting offense that can score, has solid recruiting ties and can excite fans.

He’s the former coach at West Virginia who left there to coach Michigan, where he failed miserably. He was 15-22 at Michigan — and the program was hit with four NCAA major violations — before he was dismissed. He’s resurfaced at Arizona, a job one current college coach told me Thursday was “a job 10 times better than Kentucky” when I asked him about Rodriquez. He also told me he thought there was about a $3 million buyout on his contract with Arizona that UK would have to probably pay along with the nearly $3 million it has to give Joker Phillips.

Another rumor that keeps growing is that former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher has interest in the job, something several sources continue to tell me is not true.

Phil Fulmer? The stories about the former Tennessee coach being high on Barnhart’s list won’t go away and there is no doubt Fulmer has made it clear he would like the job.

Bobby Petrino? It seems like this is over and now there is talk some media outlets might be trying to obtain emails between UK officials over the coaching search that could possibly include some interesting observations on Petrino.

Kirby Smart? The Alabama defensive coordinator’s name seems to be fading away, but some are now saying LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis could be in play. Again, not sure I really buy that.

Then there is Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes, a name that should not go away. His team is 9-1 going into Saturday’s game with Utah State. The knock by some is that his defense is not potent enough. It has struggled this year partially due to the injuries to key linebackers and now Tech will be without two linemen and one secondary player this week due to more injuries. But anyone who thinks he doesn’t value defense is mistaken. If he comes to the SEC, he’ll  hire a quality defensive coordinator.
And there’s no reason a productive offense and stingy defense can’t go together. To me, he should still be UK’s No. 1 target since UK officials have no interest in even talking to Petrino.
There is San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre, another name that won’t go away. His team is 8-2, and barely lost to Stanford. San Jose State and Louisiana Tech meet next week in a showdown between potential UK coaches.
Or perhaps Utah State coach Gary Andersen, a name that keeps popping up and another coach who is making a name for himself in the same conference with Dykes and MacIntyre
But what worries me is the lack of confidence the UK fan base has in the decision-making process at UK. Here’s a text message I got from a Kentucky fan with no connections to the search. He’s just someone who buys tickets and wants UK to win.
Here’s what he said: “When you are as bad as UK I wouldn’t take anything off the table like Petrino. If Mitch pulls some no name coordinator or retread off the heap, I would have rather stayed with Joker Phillips and saved $2 million. The fans are not coming back if a commitment is not made to football.”


The longer the Kentucky football coach search goes, the more the rumors spread and grow.

The hot speculation Wednesday was that former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer had been offered a short-term deal to take over the program and get things back in order so the job would be more attractive to a big-name coach.

Never did I believe that because it would be impossible for any coach to recruit in that situation and season ticket sales would plummet.

However, I was told by several folks not to rule Fulmer’s name completely out. He could be the final backup plan.

Others continue to tell me that Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes is high on the UK list, or maybe at the top. From what I’ve been told, contact has been made with his agent. Several sources with connections to the team say they have been told Dykes could be No. 1 on the list.

One very good source insists that the top target from day one for Barnhart has been Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, but apparently he’s not interested in the Kentucky job.

Apparently many UK fans are going to be disappointed because it seems the chances of hiring Bobby Petrino have all but gone away. Some are insisting Petrino has tried to make his interest known to UK officials but has not even been able to have a conversation about the job.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart remains a viable option except that several coaches have told me it would be hard for them to seeing him going to Kentucky after being at LSU and Alabama.

One name I keep hearing a lot is Mike MacIntyre of San Jose State, who is in his third year as head coach and has a contract through 2017. His connection to UK — he is being pushed by Duke coach David Cutcliffe. He was defensive coordinator at Duke under Cutcliffe and Cutcliffe knows Barnhart from their time together at Tennessee.

Confused? Most of us are, and probably will be until the coach is finally hired.

I heard sports talk show host Larry Glover explain this whole situation really well on his nightly show on WVLK Wednesday night. He said he expected UK fans to be “underwhelmed” by the coaching hire and just sensed a general lack of direction with the search. And from all I’ve seen and heard, it sure seems underwhelmed is a word a lot of fans are fearing.


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.


For IPhones/IPads, and new for Android devices, the Catalist app by Larry Vaught is the best way to keep up with UK basketball. It's free!


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.