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By LARRY VAUGHT
It looks like Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown, a former Boyle County High School three-sport standout, has options to weigh after his offense averaged 501 yards and 37.8 points per game and ranked among the nation’s top 15 offenses last season.
He’s been the No. 1 target for new UK coach Mark Stoops as an offensive coordinator. Stoops made it clear at his introductory press conference that he planned to have a wide-open offense. Remember that Mike Leach was the first offensive coordinator that Bob Stoops hired at Oklahoma. Also don’t forget that Mike Stoops hired Sonny Dykes to run his offense when he was head coach at Arizona. So it is easy to see why Mark Stoops would like a coordinator such as Brown based on the success his brothers had with Leach and Dykes.
Brown also would bring youth to the staff. He’s 32. Stoops is only 45 and just named D.J. Eliot, 36, as his defensive coordinator. That’s a radical change from the age range of the coaches Joker Phillips had on his staff last year. Not saying that younger is always better, but younger coaches can relate to players in way that those of us 50 and older cannot.
Brown would also give Stoops and UK a recruiting connection in Texas since that is where he has primarily recruited the last three years. He also has ties to the South through his time at Troy.
However, all those reasons have also made Brown a viable candidate for the head coaching job at Southern Mississippi, a team that went 0-12 last year.
I’m not sure if Brown would make more as a head coach or as the offensive coordinator at UK. But I’m told any contractual concerns his agent had with Kentucky have all been resolved.
Now it comes down to will the Southern Miss head job be offered and what will the offer be. Sources indicate Brown likely will have an answer from Southern Miss by Saturday and that Stoops will have an answer from Brown no later than Sunday morning.
Coming to UK would bring Brown and his family back home. It also likely would bring two former Wildcats, Chad Scott and John Schlarman , with him to coach running backs and offensive line. But he would also likely take both with him to Southern Miss, or try to take them.
What will happen? Still not sure, but believe I might be leaning a bit more today to thinking he will be at UK next year. You have to admire Stoops’ patience in this process with Brown and that won’t be lost on Brown. I think the opportunity to come home will also be hard to pass up.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Could Kentucky have its new football coach even though Saturday UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart said the job had not been offered to anyone?
Aaron Cordero of bleedbluekentucky.com says sources have told him UK has found a coach to succeed Joker Phillips and that the announcement could be made in the next two days.
Maybe it is 47-year-old Mike MacIntyre, the current head coach of San Jose State who is making about $500,000 annually now. His team won 52-43 over Louisiana Tech — which is led by possible UK coaching target Sonny Dykes — on Saturday night to run its record to 10-2. That’s a big jump fro 1-12 in his first year at San Jose State in 2010 or even 5-7 last year. His team is ranked 26th in this week’s AP poll.
His father, George, was an assistant coach at Miami, Tampa, Clemson and Vanderbilt before becoming head coach at Tennessee-Martin and finally the head coach at Vanderbilt from 1979-85. The San Jose State coach played safety at Vanderbilt for two seasons before transferring to Georgia Tech. He was a graduate assistant at Georgia before becoming defensive coordinator at Davidson College in 1992, Tennessee-Martin from 1993-96 and Temple from 1997-98. From 1999-2002 he coached receivers and then defensive backs at Ole Miss before spending five seasons in the NFL (four with Dallas and one with the New York Jets). He went to Duke as defensive coordinator in 2008 and got the San Jose State two years later.
He signed a contract extension through the 2017 in January of this year, but obviously there would be no huge buyout and even making what Phillips did would be a huge pay increase for him and his staff.
A radio station in San Jose was the first to report Sunday that MacIntyre had been offered the job.
One college football bowl official who knows MacIntyre says he has connections that could make him a solid fit at UK.
“He worked with Bill Parcells with the Cowboys after Parcells talked to UK about taking the job before he went to Dallas and UK got Rich Brooks,” the bowl official said. “He is a really good coach who knows the south. He’s well respected and comes off really well when he is recruiting from what I have been told. He’s a sincere, good guy.
“He’s done a good job with that program. It was horrible when he got there. They have a good defense and only got hammered when they played a spread offense that Utah State had and then they had trouble stopping Louisiana Tech. But his forte is defense. His offensive talent is really good this year, his defensive talent is not as good. But I would think he would go get two strong coordinators if he comes to Kentucky.”
The Western Athletic Conference has been full of UK rumors as Utah State’s Gary Anderson once was thought to be on UK’s list. His team won the conference and ranks eighth in the nation in scoring defense (15.4 points per game), eighth nationally in sacks (3.25 per game), 13th in the country in rushing defense (111.4 yards per game), 14th in the nation in pass efficiency defense (107.0), 16th in the nation in total defense (322.7 yards per game) and 37th in the nation in passing defense (211.2 yards per game). However, sources have said he’s happy at Utah State and let UK know that.
What about Dykes, a former UK assistant coach under Hal Mumme who led Louisiana Tech to a 9-3 mark despite ending the season with losses to Utah State in overtime and San Jose State? Is he out?
Maybe. Maybe not. Some close to the UK search still think Barnhart plans to talk to him. Maybe he’s the one Kentucky really wants. His offense averages around 50 points per game to lead the nation and to win back the UK fan base, the Cats need to play an exciting brand of football. Dykes’ forte is offense, MacIntyre’s forte is defense. Barnhart may sense which direction UK fans might prefer.
Dykes is also being mentioned more prominently with several other coaching jobs. North Carolina State, Purdue and Auburn all fired coaches Sunday. California, Arkansas and Tennessee have also done so along with Kentucky.
“From what I hear, Sonny Dykes is still hot and should be hot. He’s a terrific coach, is relatively young and has a great offense that generates excitement. I’ll be stunned if he doesn’t have a lot of options this week,” the bowl official said.
“I hope Mitch can make a great hire but the competition for the quality coaches continues to increase and UK is probably at the bottom of the list in terms of desirability. To me, Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas and even N.C. State have more football appeal. I think Mitch has to strike fast to get an A-plus hire.”
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.
By LARRY VAUGHT
With no idea what the exact timetable Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart has in mind for hiring a new football coach, it does make sense that he probably has started to narrow down his coaching search.
Sources tell me Barnhart did indeed place a call to former NFL coach Tony Dungy, who told him he had no interest in college coaching. But give Barnhart credit for making the call. If you don’t swing for the fence, you can’t hit a home run.
One thing several coaches/fans have mentioned to me is that the UK staff needs to get younger. Look at basketball coach Johnn Calipari’s staff and how often you hear recruits talk about relating to assistant coach Orlando Antigua. Tee Martin was that guy on Joker Phillips’ staff but he left for USC. I know experience is valuable in coaching, but relating to players is very important, too.
“Cal probably has never heard a rap CD in his life, but I guarantee you Orlando Antigua can name every rapper those kids listen to and gets Cal to call them,” said one source with knowledge of UK’s football coaching search.
Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes is on UK’s list. I’m convinced UK has at least reached out to his agent and has the feeling Dykes, who is 9-2 this year going into Saturday’s game with San Jose State, would have interest in the job if offered. While the Cats may also have interest in Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, who turned down $2.5 million per year from Illinois last year, it seems UK would have a more realistic chance to land Dykes if it moves now.
Here’s why Dykes could be a nice fit at Kentucky — and remember it doesn’t always take a big-name coach to succeed as James Franklin is proving at Vanderbilt.
— He knows Kentucky football. He was a graduate assistant at UK under Hal Mumme in 1997 when the Cats beat Alabama and came back in 1999 to coach receivers and special teams. The Cats beat No. 20 Arkansas and went to the Music City Bowl. He coached James Whalen, Quentin McCord, Derek Smith and Brad Pyatt, all future NFL signees.
— He has recruiting ties to Texas. He grew up in Texas and his father, Spike Dykes, was the head coach at Texas Tech. In 2000, Dykes joined from UK assistant coach Mike Leach’s staff at Texas Tech. He coached wide receivers for five years and then was promoted to offensive coordinator. In Dykes’ second season as co-offensive coordinator, Texas Tech ranked third in passing with 370 passing yards per game and sixth in total offense averaging nearly 450 total yards per game. That season Dykes directed an offense that scored 32 points per game, and two receivers ranked top three in the nation in receptions per game and a third receiver ranked in the top 20.
— He’s relatively young at age 43. He can relate to players and that also means he has a burning desire to win and continue to see his coaching career escalate. Every move he’s made — he went from Texas Tech to Arizona as offensive coordinator and then to Louisiana Tech as head coach in 2010 — has been an upward move and he’s continued to have more success at each stop.
— He does value defense. This year his defense is not that good, but it has been decimated by injuries to players he expected to have starting. Last year his team led the conference in defense. And his father valued defense at Texas Tech. Dykes loves a productive, entertaining offense, but he wants a defense that can get off the field, too.
“He has an ego, but what good coach doesn’t,” said one college coach who knows Dykes. “He trusts his coaches, though, and knows how to let coaches coach. He also genuinely cares about people in the program from the assistant coaches’ wives to the janitor. You can’t fake that. Sonny won’t cheat, either. What he will do is flat-out coach. At Kentucky, you better be able to coach. That’s what James Franklin has done at Vanderbilt. He has a plan, everybody is on board, he hired good assistant coaches and they outcoach some people with better talent.”
Those close to Dykes insist money — for him — will not be a main point in negotiations with one of several jobs he could be offered in the next few weeks. Instead, he’ll be more concerned with salaries for his staff and the overall commitment to football.
What about Tony Franklin, Dykes’ offensive coordinator? He was also the running backs coach and then offensive coordinator at Kentucky under Mumme. His offense is not the same one Dykes ran at Arizona and this offense has been on fire at Louisiana Tech. But Franklin had what some remember as a nasty departure from UK just before the NCAA woes with Mumme hit. Many felt Franklin leaked information to the media and he later wrote a book about his time at UK. He also sued UK.
However, read the book. He did not blister UK football. The suit? He just wanted a letter saying he was not involved in any wrongdoing and that he didn’t leak information. He got both as UK sent a letter to every Division I school saying that.
Dykes would want Franklin — and any school that wants Dykes should want Franklin as well because the offense has worked so well. Would that be a dealbreaker at UK? I don’t know, but it shouldn’t be.
“Sonny is going to get his chance to move up and when he does, a school is going to get a really good, young coach,” the college coach said. “Maybe it will be Kentucky. Maybe it will be somebody else in the SEC. Who knows? Then again, if Sonny doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll be more than content to stay at Louisiana Tech and continuing to build that program and win games.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
With the Kentucky football coaching rumors continuing to increase, Lonny Demaree of Kentucky Sports Report (kysportsreport.com) 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.
By LARRY VAUGHT
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.
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.
By LARRY VAUGHT
As the speculation about Kentucky’s next football coach continues, it seems that Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes’ name keeps emerging more and more — and it should.
Dykes, 43, has terrific offensive credentials. He coached tight ends, receivers and special teams in two stints under Hal Mumme at Kentucky and then was Mike Leach at Texas Tech and eventually was Leach’s offensive coordinator. His next stop was Arizona where he was offensive coordinator three years under Bob Stoops and since 2010 he’s been the head coach at Louisiana Tech as he took over when Derek Dooley left for Tennessee. And don’t forget his father is Spike Dyes, the all-time winningest coach in Texas Tech history.
He’s led Louisiana Tech to an 8-1 record this year with the only loss coming 59-57 at Texas A&M. That’s the same Texas A&M that just beat Mississippi State in Starkville. Louisiana Tech won at Illinois and Virginia this season as well as 56-49 at Houston. Last year his team started 1-4, but won seven straight games and got in the Poinsettia Bowl.
This year his team is averaging 52.4 points and 570 total yards per game. However, he’s not just about passing. Louisiana Tech averages 332 yards passing per game but also adds 239 yards per game rushing.
It’s even more impressive considering Tech has had to start a walk-on center and has three walk-on receivers in its playing rotation. But the offense has been superb because quarterback Colby Cameron has thrown for 24 touchdowns and 2,946 yards. He’s thrown 358 passes without an interception.
So what makes Dykes able to revive offenses and win games?
“The biggest thing he does good is the way he deals with people. He builds relationships with players, coaches, coaches’ wives, boosters, people in the community,” said a source who coached with Dykes who asked not to be identified. “He will sit and talk football with a truck driver off the street. His dad was the same way.
“Sonny just gets it and understands it. He knows how to relate to his players really well. He has an open door policy with players, coaches, professors, janitors. He talks to anybody. He also wants his staff to deal with football. He stays out of what his coaches do and lets them coach. He trust his coaches to coach. And that includes defense. He lets his defensive guys make their decisions. He believes in defense, too. He’s not always had a strong defense at Louisiana Tech, but I think he had some injuries this year that hurt him. If he’s the head coach at a school like Kentucky in the SEC, he won’t write off defense.”
Would Dykes be interested in Kentucky? Or would he be more interested in a likely opening at Arkansas? Or maybe Auburn or Tennessee? What about if Tommy Tuberville leaves Texas Tech and that job is open?
“I think he would be interested,” said the coach. “But if he doesn’t think everything is right, he wouldn’t come. He knows he’s having a magical season at Louisiana Tech and odds are he could not make it the next Boise State because average attendance is probably only about 20,000 per game.”
One sticking point — and it could be a big one — at Kentucky could be Dykes’ offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin. He coached at UK with Dykes under Mumme. Franklin was never implicated in any NCAA wrongdoing that cost Mumme his job, but he wrote a book about his time at Kentucky that some UK officials did not like. Since then he’s been offensive coordinator at Troy, Auburn and Middle Tennessee as well as Louisiana Tech. He tutored Neal Brown, the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech now who is being mentioned as well in the UK coaching search speculation.
Franklin would understand if Dykes was told he could not bring him to Kentucky. But would Dykes? How could you want to hire a head coach to revive your program and tell him he could not bring the offensive coordinator who has made his team successful with him?
Some might think money would talk. Dykes signed a contract extension to increase his base salary to $750,000 and keep him at Louisiana Tech through the 2017 season. Phillips makes close to three times that per year and UK likely will offer the next coach even more money.
But money is not what drives Dykes. Winning does.
“He won’t go where he can’t win,” the coach said. “He wouldn’t take a job for $2 million if he couldn’t win or have the things in place he thinks it will take to win. He has the money to do what he wants, and don’t forget that Louisiana Tech will probably offer him more money to stay. He’s going to get some shots at head jobs and unlike a lot of coaches, it will be the chance to win, not the money, that drives him.”
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.