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Fans And Money May Force UK’s Barnhart To Oust Phillips

Kentucky is a different world from most of the SEC.  Basketball trumps football, both in success and in interest (the two go hand-in-hand).  During August, most of the SEC’s hometown newspapers focus on the coming football season.  In Lexington, the local media talks hoops recruiting, hoops facilities, hoops anything.

When people camp out to buy tickets to a practice session, it’s for basketball, not football.

So it’s a bit surprising that the University of Kentucky student newspaper — The Kentucky Kernel — is focusing an entire series on how the school probably needs to invest more money in football to have success.  Yes, football, not basketball.

Through the first couple parts of a four-part series on Wildcat football, the Kernel has pointed out:


1.  All schools make most of their money from football.  That’s not a surprise to most of you, but a few will be shocked that even at a school like UK, football is the sport that pays the bills for just about every other sport in the athletic department.

2.  Attendance is dropping at Commonwealth Stadium and with fewer people attending games, revenue for football is decreasing.

3.  This is the first year football has been budgeted to decline in revenue since fiscal year 2004-05.

4.  Most of UK’s football spending goes toward facilities, not coaches.  In basketball, the big expenses are coaching salaries.

5.  At Kentucky, many believe Commonwealth Stadium desperately needs luxury boxes.  According Oscar Combs, a member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, “Luxury suites are bought by corporate America… they will use those to wine-and-dine people no matter what your won-loss record is.”


Kudos to The Kernel’s Les Johns for creating a good primer for fans who may not spend much time thinking about the business side of their favorite sport.  Here’s Part One of his series… and here’s Part Two.

We bring this all to your attention because of the situation currently facing Joker Phillips.  The ex-Wildcat player and assistant is now sitting on the hottest of hot seats as his alma mater’s head coach.  (This writer would never hire an alum as a head coach because they’re tougher to fire when things go bad, but I’ve written that before only to be boo’d down).

But Phillips is coaching in a talent-poor state at a school with a ho-hum gridiron tradition and with facilities that lag behind many of the football factories he has to recruit against.  That’s not to say Phillips is — or will ever become — the coach UK needs, but the full scope of the job needs to be taken into consideration when figuring out what to do about the current coach.  And, as Phillips wisely points out in defending himself, UK currently has 72 freshmen and sophomores in its program.  Young players don’t win games.  Not that many.  Not anywhere.  In a perfect world, Phillips would be given at least another year to see how those players develop as sophomores and juniors…

If the school can afford another step backward financially with smaller donations and fewer tickets sold.

Unfortunately for Phillips even his own players failed to rise to his defense this week.  Linebacker Avery Williamson and defensive end Collins Ukwu both told The Louisville Courier-Journal that they’ve got to play for their teammates, not for their head coach’s job.  According to the senior Ukwu: “This is our last time, regardless if he’s going to be here or gone.”

That kind of talk will be viewed by many as a sign that this Wildcat team has given up on this Wildcat coach.

For Phillips, he’s trying to win at a school where most people have not won with facilities that aren’t on par with those of his competitors.  That’s not easy.

Most fans don’t care.  Many aren’t going to games.  Revenue is going to decrease further.  His own players aren’t quick to defend him.  And losing to Western Kentucky — whether that team is veteran and his is own is green or not — is completely unacceptable to most Big Blue fans.

At this point, even if Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart wants to save Phillips’ hyde, it’s looking less and less likely that he’ll be able to do so.


SIDENOTE — When asked today about the Jared Lorenzen (ex-Kentucky quarterback)/Brent Pease (current Florida offensive coordinator) war of words, Phillip joked: “Tell Jared to shut the hell up.  Tell Pease that Jared is sorry, OK?  I’ll apologize for him.”



I still think the steeply rising price of tickets, parking, and kfund donation is what has killed ticket sales in recent years, particularly since the product on the field is pretty much the same.  My wife and I looked at season tickets this year and it was the same price for tickets to Michigan State season tickets, a top 25 team!  Needless to say, we have picked a couple of games to go to and will watch the rest on TV at home, saving around 1000 dollars.  A lot of people are still going but they will just buy them game by game and save several hundred dollars.  I'm sure a few chose to buy a really nice plasma tv for the same price.  Times are tough man and the declining ticket sales is more an aspect of that IMO.  If you are going to raise the prices as much as they have, not put any of it back into the program which they have also done (10% of revenue goes to football versus 80% for basketball), and then the team on the field is not even that much better, come on UK AD, why should people drop thousands on that?  Show me you'll put some of the money back into the program and down the road I'll consider donating that much to the K Fund. 


Don't give me that "we have 72 sophomores and freshmen on the roster crap.  Alabama does too and many of them are playing.  The difference is in recruiting.  UK's young players are mostly 2-3 star athletes, while Alabama's are 4-5 star athletes; big difference.




You stated in your article above about UK fans that "Most don't care."  This simply isn't true.  On the contrary, UK fans have FINALLY figured out that the only way to send a message to a clueless administration is to fail to show up.  Folks at UT are doing it (UT NEVER had less than 90K show up for a game until the last few years), folks at Clemson did it when they wanted Bowden out, and UK fans have finally figured out that filling up the stadium for a university that poors so little money into football is rewarding bad behavior. 

UK fans care, bigtime.  In a LHL poll last year, fans were asked what one sporting accomplisment that they coveted the most (the choices were something like:  A) Sweep UL in football and basketball, B) Beat Duke in basketball, C) Beat UT and end the awful football streak, or D) something else I can't remember.  Beating UT in football won in a landslide.  UK fans are starved for football success, just look at the way our attendance skyrocketed in the early Mumme years and in the latter stages of the Brooks era.  UK took 50,000 fans to Tampa for the 98 outback bowl.  They took 60,000 fans to Nashville for the music city bowl against clemson and then again against FSU.  Apathetic fanbases don't do that.  On the contrary, I think UK fans see this year as one with little to no hope.  HEnce, they're finally sending a message by not renewing season tickets.  It's time that the university shows a true commitment.


What you're seeing now is a result of years of neglect and mismanagement by UK.  Fans are now demanding more.  We got a taste of it under Brooks and we want to compete in the best football conference in the country.  The media loves to focus on hoops-crazy UK fans, but I guarantee you that the demand for football would be thru the roof if UK was actually a force to be reckoned with in football.  Hell, averaging 7-8 wins a year would guarantee an expansion of Commonwealth stadium and a yearly sellout of season tix. 

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



Ah, I see how you took that.  I meant that line as "most don't care" about those excuses, they just want wins... which is typical of most fanbases.  I didn't mean it as most fans don't care about football.


But I now see why you and others might have taken it that way.


I think UK fans care about football.  Not as much as basketball, for obvious reasons, but certainly they want to win in football.  They don't care about the excuses when it comes to Phillips' tenure.


Should have made that clearer.  Poor writing on my part.


Thanks for reading,



Rumor has it Petrino is looking for a job. And as history shows he knows how to recruit for a school in Kentucky.

James B
James B

 @viciousdawg He would probably do well, but they'd lose a fan.  I've suffered with UK football my entire life (32 years) and am an alumni.  Hiring that guy would end it.


I'm not really sure I understand this sentiment.  What is it about Petrino that makes him unhirable? The fact he cheated on his wife?  Yah he left his last 2 jobs under terrible circumstances, but I would love for UK to get a coach that was SO successful another college or NFL team wanted to hire him away.  I think he also realizes that this is his last chance and (unlike Gillispie) will be on his best behavior.  If UK hired him and he did so well that Texas came calling 2 years later, I would be ecstatic that we had that much success.  

James B
James B

 @db20207 Character matters to me in a coach.  Petrino's Arkansas history has nothing to do with it, actually.  That is mainly because of how he acted and conducted himself at UL and confirmed with how he did with the Falcons.  The general attitude of lying and disrespect  that he has shown means more to me than "just" cheating on his wife.  It's also the way he acted with his players (recruiting them to a position he has no intention playing them at, notifying them he is leaving with a printed letter), treated UK fans (how you treat people in public is just a glimpse of how you treat people in private), the media (the reporter with the UF hat, i think), etc.  


I can't support that.  Everyone makes mistakes, but if you hire someone who continually makes the same ones, that puts the problem on you.  It won't be on me.  I'd be sad to quit supporting them the way I have, but I would.


 @viciousdawg Although I think Petrino would do well @ Uk, I dont think there is any way Barnhart would hire him.  He has burned too many bridges in the state.


Let me echo the comments of the 2 previous posters.  Rich Brooks had been calling for a recruiting room publicly since 2008.  Who knows how long he was asking for it privately? Here's a quote from Brooks in 2011: “I was there and I was told that we were going to renovate our stadium, have a recruiting room, have club seating and do all the things that all the other schools in the SEC have. That didn't come. It got mired up because a new basketball arena and new baseball stadium were thrown into it and it was just too big of a number. We've been known as a basketball school and basketball needs to get what they get and keep getting it, but there is enough money that football brings in that needs to be invested back into the program.


“You put suites between the goal lines and raise the press box on top of the stadium because that is so antiquated and so old. Get club seating in there with an area behind the concourse so they can go inside and get food and drinks. Then maybe you get more people tailgating inside and get more people in the stadium earlier as well."


When it comes to Joker, it's clear he is in over his head.  At the time he was given "head coach in waiting" title, a number of different programs were doing the same thing.  He was being courted by other BCS schools as an offensive coordinator, and Barnhart made the right decision, it just didn't work out.


The facilities, however, are VERY frustrating.  To my knowledge, UK is the only athletic department in the SEC (other than possibly Vandy) that does not have bonding authority.  In order to have a project approved, it must be approved by the university and go through the state legislature  All previous rennovations have been paid for in cash though private donations.  UK just went through a major hospital addition, so all of the bonding capacity recently has been allocated for that.  Over the past 2 years, UK has committed $21M to track, softball, and soccer.  Only $14M has gone to football over the last 6 years.  We are in dire need of an update to our stadium and a recruiting room (could be rolled into the same project).  After seeing the new practice facilities at Arkansas and Tennessee, I'm sure UK needs an update to that as well.  On top of that, UK takes in 1/3 donations of SEC bretheren such as Florida, LSU, and Alabama.  In order for the next coach to be successful the following must occur:


1) A plan must be put in place to upgrade facilities that includes recuriting room, practice facility, and update to Commonwealth Stadium

2) A "forward thinking" coach (ala James Franklin) should be his replacement.  Marketing UK's football program is not easy, we need someone who is willing to think outside the box

3) Our fans must get behind the new coach and commit financially to help out with upgrading facilities

James B
James B

Um....  That sounded pretty passionate...  about UK football.


Bull UK football fans are passionate about UK football.  We've set thru 60+ years of losing football and Brooks have shown we can be a competive team and win games and we want more. Unfortunately Joker has not lived up to the billing of taking UK football to that magical next level.  UK football is fleeced for every sport in Mitch Barnharts love of Olympic Sports.  10 years of maintaining the pipes at Commonwealth Stadium is a crying shame.  Putting Video and Ribbon boards in that were overdue 3-5 years ago where else of an A.D. would get away with it. 

27% tickets sales are down from last year. The year before that the range was 10-15%. Its not the economy stupid as Mitch Barnhart likes blame it on.  I know I've had tickets for several years and I gave them up. I took my money and put a pool in over the summer. Person I set with had season tickets for 35+ years and said he would not be back till Joker was gone. More fans said much of the same thing. This is fans sitting in his precious Kfund sections.  UK fans have had it with the slapdash manner UK football is fobbed on.  Never in my born days, would I see Bama, OH ST, Michigan, LSU, USC, Texas, ever treat their football team or fanbase or abuse them the way the UKAA and the A.D. has with their comments. 


The collective response to Mitch Barnhart is this until you start spending the money and taking the same responsibility that you take towards basketball, these spending fans are not coming back.  That is the 27% he is missing at this time.  More are soon to follow.


Look UK is regularly in the top 25 in football attendance, so stop with the crap that UK fans don't care about football.  If UK fans didn't care about football then no one would be all that upset that Joker, a UK alum, is a terrible football coach.  There is terrific interest in UK football from UK fans, the problem is that the media love to push this crappy sterotype about UK football.  UK fans are passionate about ALL UK sports, especially UK basketball and UK football, the problem is that it is a little harder to get passionate about UK football on the level as UK basketball because the UK athletics administration uses football as a cash cow, and doesn't reinvest into football.  If the powers that be actually cared about UK football, it would be a juggernaut, but alas, football is just a budget balancer

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator





I just went back and looked through what I wrote for "the crap that UK fans don't care about football."  Instead, I see the rather obvious insinuation that they care more about basketball.  At no point did I write or suggest that they don't care about football.  I wrote that they care more about basketball.


And if you'd like to argue THAT point, I'm sure we'd all enjoy seeing your spin.


Fans become passionate about winning programs.  That's UK/UNC in basketball, Tennessee/Connecticut in women's basketball, etc.  Think the average attendance has gone up at South Carolina baseball games the past few years.


You were looking to be insulted and you read something in the post above that wasn't there.




 @John at MrSEC 



I think you characterized the UK fanbase perfectly.  believe it or not, there are some diehards out there that care about football as much or more than basketball (myself included).  However, somehow the UK media spins that we have this massive loyal fanbase.  Fact of the matter is, the UofL game every other year and LSU and Florida in 2007 are the only games you couldn't get a ticket with ease at Commonwealth.  I've been to a number of road games as well, and UK's attendance is always shoddy at best.  I know it's hard to support a losing program, but UK's football fans have a much better reputation than they deserve in my opinion.


  @John at MrSEC I agree that UK football fans are better than other secondary sports, but the problem is football is not a secondary sport.  I realize it's treated like that at UK by the administration and fans, but football is the cash cow for the athletic department.  We need our fans to stop being "good compared to how we perform" and just be "good for the SEC."  Joker really lost an oppurtunity as we were averaging 65k+ from 27007-2010 and really lost people with the bowl game.  When South Carolina was down in the beginning of the Holtz era, their (much larger) stadium was more full than ours was in 2006 when we went 4-4 in the SEC (best in last 20 years!)  There is some passion for football in Kentucky, but far too many fans are oblivious to the fact that we even have a football team and are worried about camping out for a basketball practice.


I'm not completing blaming the fans, but they get much more credit than they deserve in my opinion.  It's time to start leveraging basketball boosters to contribute to football projects, or lose access.  Our fans have to step up.  Until we get facilities on par with the rest of the SEC, any level of fan interest isn't going to matter.

James B
James B

 @db20207  @John at MrSEC Maybe...  But look what we have to work with.  I've been going to games since I was a child and have been rewarded with brief glimpses of hope amidst a LOT of heartache.


Honestly, I think UK football fans are better than the fans of secondary sports at other schools-- they just don't have anything to cheer for.  Florida fans frustrate me the most.  They compete for national championships in , but haven't got a clue what that round orange ball is called.  One of my best friends who is a "diehard gator, but could not tell me the names of the other SEC schools (Troy St. was one answer).  They seem to be friendly enough, but there's no passion there for b-ball.  There is passion for football in Kentucky, there's just nothing to cheer for.  


As far as getting tickets, my wife is a UT fan and, aside from UF games in the heyday of the rivalry, we never had trouble getting into Neyland without paying over face for tickets.


Compare the fan support during seasons of mediocrity in basketball (Billy Clyde era) vs mediocrity in football (latter part of Rich Brooks).   The football fans compared well, its just sad that mediocrity was an achievement.  If we were competing for ANY kind of championship (even SEC East), the state would be going crazy for football.


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