There’s been much speculation throughout the Bluegrass State that Kentucky’s next football coach — and currently sitting at 1-7 overall it’s hard to imagine UK not having a new football coach next season — might be a certain motorcycle-riding, ex-Louisville coach. But those decked in blue hoping that ex-Arkansas (and ex-Louisville) coach Bobby Petrino will land in Lexington better not get their hopes up.
Speaking to a UK source recently, I was told that Petrino isn’t likely to get too much consideration from Wildcat AD Mitch Barnhart. It’s more likely — according to the source — that UK will consider ex-Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer and current Duke coach (and ex-Ole Miss coach) David Cutcliffe for the job.
Fulmer — who will enter the College Football Hall of Fame in December — said last week “I don’t think you can ever say never,” when asked about coaching again. The winner of two SEC titles and the first-ever BCS trophy, Fulmer hasn’t coached since 2008, when a second losing season in four years led to his ouster at Tennessee.
Fulmer reportedly discussed the interim job at Arkansas with Razorback AD Jeff Long last offseason, but he wanted a longer deal than Long was willing to offer. The guess at MrSEC.com is that Fulmer would be much more interested in a job like Arkansas than a job like the one at Kentucky. UK is a basketball-first school and has been since the days of Paul “Bear” Bryant’s exit. It would also require a greater rebuilding job than Arkansas. Would the 62-year-old Fulmer want to get back into coaching only to have rebuild a program that has traditionally been an SEC also-ran?
Cutcliffe, on the other hand, might be a more realistic option. The Cats have a pair of freshman quarterbacks in Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles who Cutcliffe might have an interest in coaching. For those who’ve forgotten, Cutcliffe coached Heath Shuler and Peyton Manning at Tennessee (as Fulmer’s offensive coordinator) as well as Eli Manning at Ole Miss. He’s currently got Duke — another basketball-first school — bowl eligible and leading the Coastal Division of the ACC. The Blue Devils’ last bowl trip came way back in 1994.
He also led Ole Miss to a 44-29 record in six-plus seasons as coach, being fired after recording his only losing mark. (Mississippi has had its share of ups, downs and further downs since pulling the plug on Cutcliffe after the 2004 season.)
Cutcliffe was hired in Durham four years ago for an average of $1.5 million per season. The 58-year-old — if he’s still got an SEC itch to scratch and if UK is willing to go higher than $2 million per year — might be another Rich Brooks-type who could stabilize Kentucky’s program while also providing a fun offense to watch. And since he worked closely with Randy Sanders at Tennessee, it’s possible UK’s current offensive coordinator could stay in place as well.
Whether or not the coach would leave one hoops school for another in a more difficult conference is yet another question that would need to be answered.
Now, is Cutcliffe the sexy hire UK many fans are wanting? No. But the “name” coaches who would consider Kentucky are probably in desperate situations — Petrino, ex-North Carolina coach Butch Davis, etc. It’s not expected that Barnhart would go after either one, but there’s one new variable that could change that.
Kentucky has a new president in Eli Capilouto. Former prez Lee Todd gave Barnhart autonomy to run the UK athletic department as he saw fit. And no one knows if Capilouto — who took over the UK post last July — will be a hands-on or hands-off style manager when it comes to Wildcat sports.
If he’s hands-off, expect Barnhart to target someone with a Cutcliffian resume if/when Joker Phillips is relieved of his duties. If Kentucky makes a play for Petrino instead, then you’ll know that the school’s new president is taking a bigger role in decision-making regarding Cat athletics.