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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.”

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