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UK’s Barnhart Says Football “Not Where We Want It To Be Just Yet”

Mitch Barnhart weighed in on the state of Kentucky football yesterday while speaking to the City Salesman’s Club in Louisville.  Of note, he specifically said that the school’s football program is “not where we want it to be just yet.”

(We’ll pause to allow Wildcat fans to say, “Duh!”)

Barnhart spoke about both the program and its coach, Joker Phillips:

 

“We made some progress and climbed up the hill a little bit and were doing some good things in a really tough league but we’ve found that we’ve stubbed our toes a little bit.  We’ve got to figure that out and we’ll get that figured out…

Joker is one of my dearest friends.  I think the world of him.  We’ve been together nine years in some way, shape or form as an assistant coach, coordinator and now as a head coach… I think the world of him as a man and as a coach and as a leader of our young men and what he’s done.  We just have to figure out the football piece and ow we get that going in the right direction.”

 

Kentucky is currently 1-8 overall and 0-6 in the SEC.  The Cats’ lone win came over Kent State back in Week Two of the season.  Now in his third season, Phillips is 12-22 as UK’s coach.  Rich Brooks went 22-17 as the captain of the Big Blue program before turning the wheel over to Phillips.

 

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UK D-Coordinator Minter Denies Having A Blowup With Head Coach Phillips

According to a Kentucky fan website — KentuckySportsRadio.com — “the University of Kentucky football field and locker room have been the site of a number of heated conversations between Coach Joker Phillips and Defensive Coordinator Rick Minter over the past 10 days.”  On Monday, the site wrote the following:

 

“According to multiple source, Phillips and Minter had a verbal confrontation on the sideline during the (Louisville) game about the defensive philosophy and alignments utilized during the game.  According to the sources, Phillips became agitated in the second half and screamed audibly to Minter, ‘we have to do something different.  You have to change it up…

The sources tell KSR that the disagreement spilled into practice and pre-game meetings in the week leading up to the Kent State game.  According to one source, ‘Joker was very upset that no changes were made after he made it clear that he wanted to see a different philosophy.  He confronted him (Minter) about it and there was a disagreement.’”

 

Phillips hired Minter before last season.  UK’s current head coach had once worked on the staff at Cincinnati when Minter was the head coach of the Bearcats.

Through two games this year, the Wildcats have allowed 401 yards rushing and 474 yards passing to Louisville and Kent State combined.  Performance like that and the pressure of sitting on a hot seat could certainly lead to bouts of in-fighting on a coaching staff.  But yesterday, when asked about the KentuckySportsRadio.com report, Minter flat denied the story:

 

“I’m not going to talk about that.  It didn’t happen.  Now what’s next?”

 

What’s next is there had better be some improvement on the defensive side of the ball or Minter, Phillips and the rest of the UK coaching staff could be looking for work at year’s end.

Mitch Barnhart stood by Rich Brooks during some tough times and it eventually paid off for both men.  Kentucky’s AD also has plenty of clout thanks to his hire of John Calipari, Prince of the Bluegrass State.  But if the Commonwealth Stadium stands are empty and the Wildcat team doesn’t improve as the season goes along, Barnhart might decide it’s time to make another high-risk/high-reward type of hire as he did with Calipari.

Bobby Petrino, anyone?

Bickering or not — and that kind of thing happens to some degree anytime a team loses — Minter’s defense needs to get better quick.  After Western Kentucky on Saturday, the Cats face Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri and Vanderbilt before their open date.

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UK Dismisses Arrested LB Wilson

Joker Phillips has decided to go ahead and dismiss troubled linebacker Ridge Wilson from Kentucky’s football team.  The senior-to-be was arrested on Sunday on felony drug trafficking charges after he was found with a bag of Xanax pills and $1,947 in cash in his possession in a questionable Louisville neighborhood.

As we noted yesterday, Wilson was arrested in 2009 as a freshman for allegedly punching a woman — believed to be his girlfriend — in the face.  He was suspended for that fourth-degree assault charge, but then-coach Rich Brooks eventually allowed him to return to the team.

Wilson was set to be UK’s second-leading returning tackler this fall.  Instead, he’s squandered a great opportunity to rise above the level of “town pusher.” 

Sad.  Stupid.  Sad and stupid.

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SEC Headlines – 2/17/12

Sort of a light day of action around the SEC today…

1.  Zach Mettenberger says he’s ready to take over LSU’s offense.

2.  The ex-Georgia quarterbacks is expected to be one of the new stars of the 2012 Tigers.

3.  Florida has already clinched a bye in the SEC Tournament.

4.  Kentucky’s Ridge Wilson — arrested for drug trafficking over the weekend — was allowed by former coach Rich Brooks to return to UK’s team after allegedly striking his girlfriend in 2009.

5.  Will the NCAA’s new kickoff rule backfire?

6.  Mid-season addition Jarnell Stokes is still learning his role at Tennessee.

7.  As well as Vanderbilt shoots from the field, free throws could be the Commodores’ eventual undoing.

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30-Point Loss To Vandy A Serious Blow To UK’s Phillips; Defense The Biggest Issue

Did Rich Brooks get while the gettin’ was good, knowing that there were tough times ahead for Kentucky?  Or have most of Joker Phillips’ moves — getting rid of some of Brooks’ old assistants, for example — just been bad ones?

Either way, Phillips is captaining a ship that appears to be sinking.  Right after Brooks spent years raising it from the bottom of the Big Blue sea.

How bad have things gotten in the Bluegrass State?  John Clay of The Lexington Herald-Leader wrote this of the Wildcat football program this morning:


“With two games remaining in this 2011 season, it’s painfully obvious that the last two years under Rich Brooks, and probably even the first season under Phillips as head coach, Kentucky’s recruiting was not as advertised.

This is still a team bereft of playmakers on offense, that lacks stoppers on defense, that does not have the kind of difference-makers you need to compete, much less win in the SEC.

That being said, too many times in Phillips’ 23-game tenure as head coach, Kentucky has shown up flat and ill-prepared.  That’s the combination that produces performances indicative of poorly coached teams. 

It was striking on Saturday that Vanderbilt, playing under a first-year coach in James Franklin who had never been around the Commodores program until last spring, played with so much more energy and enthusiasm than did Kentucky, a team playing under a second-year head coach who served as an assistant at the same school the previous seven years.”


In Brooks’ final four seasons, the Cats finished 8-5, 8-5, 7-6 and 7-6.  Phillips’s first season ended at 6-7 and UK is currently 4-6 with games remaining against Georgia and Tennessee.

While the offense has gone into hibernation this fall without solid replacements for Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke and Mike Hartline, it’s the defense that’s been the cause of Kentucky’s greatest woes… under both Brooks and Phillips.

In 2006, the Cats gave up an average of 34.5 points per game to SEC foes.  That number dropped to 29.8 ppg in 2008.  It dropped again in 2009 to 27.8.  And from there it’s risen under Phillips — from 33.4 last season to a ridiculous 36.0 points per SEC contest this fall.

When your best work in a five-year span is holding SEC opponents to 27.8 points per game, you’re not going to win many contests.  The fact that the defense has gotten worse under Phillips’ leadership — by more than a touchdown per game in SEC play — stands as the biggest difference between Brooks’ Cats and Phillips’.

If he can’t turn that around next season — when defensive coordinator Rick Minter will be in his second season — Phillips likely won’t be back in Lexington for Year Four.

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UK Going To Black Uniforms Vs MSU

Kentucky players have been asking for them since Rich Brooks’ days as head coach.  And on Saturday, they’ll get ‘em — black uniforms.

Now personally, I don’t see what’s “special” about “special” jerseys anymore.  Not with every school trotting out “special” jerseys, usually black ones.

But in Joker Phillips’ case, why not give the Wildcats what they want?

UK defeated Jacksonville State 38-14 on Saturday.  The performance gave the Cats something — finally — to feel good about.  This weekend they’ll host a struggling Mississippi State team.  Win on Saturday and suddenly Kentucky’s season might be salvageable.  Here’s the remainder of UK’s schedule:


Mississippi State
Ole Miss
at Vanderbilt
at Georgia
Tennessee


At 3-4, a bowl trip isn’t out of the question.  Especially if the Wildcats gain some confidence and get on a bit of a roll.  As bad as UK has looked this season, a bowl bid would be a remarkable accomplishment.

For that reason, Joker Phillips appears to be going “all in” on Saturday.  The black unis could create a buzz amongst his players and that could lead to a season-turning victory.

But if the Cats lose in their slick, new duds, what motivational ploys will Phillips have left at his disposal moving forward?

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Joker’s Seat Is Warming Up

Joker Phillips is 2-1 this season at Kentucky and is coming off a bowl appearance in his first year as the head coach, yet he finds himself on the hot seat.  Maybe not with the administration but the support among the fan base is drying up fast.

That may surprise some considering UK’s lack of success in football historically.  However, Phillips is unique because he is the only coach in generations to inherit a Wildcat program that wasn’t saddled with a string of losing seasons or probation.  He inherited a healthy program with expectations and so far his program is not living up to the new standard.

Kentucky went to a bowl game last season but an uninspired effort left the Cats with a blowout loss to Pitt and its first losing season in five years. UK is 2-1 currently but with games against Florida, LSU and South Carolina looming it’s hard to imagine they won’t be 2-4 at the midway point.  Even their wins over Western Kentucky and Central Michiganwere far closer than they should have been.

The tipping point for the fans might have been the lackluster performance against Louisville.  The rebuilding Cardinals came into Commonwealth Stadium last Saturday and snapped a four-game losing streak to Kentucky after pushing them around for 60 minutes.

Fans are always going to be angry when you lose to your rivals but when they get discouraged watch out.  Right now, Kentucky fans sound more discouraged than angry.  They were hoping that Joker would build on Rich Brooks’ modest success but now they’re just hoping that the program doesn’t bottom out.

If the regression continues the remaining support of the fans will dissipate.  When you lose the faith of the fans, it’s only a matter of time before you lose your job.

Joker can certainly turn it around because there is precedent for a coach losing the fan base and then winning them back over.  His mentor Rich Brooks did it at Kentucky five years ago.

Larry Glover hosts Larry Glover Live weeknights from 6-8pm on 590, WVLK in Lexington and on statewide television on the Wazoo Sports Network.  The show is available for download on his website www.larrygloverlive.com.

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Phillips At The Podium

Here’s a rundown of Kentucky coach Joker Phillips’ comments:

* It’s early in the morning, but Phillips is far from an entertaining speaker.  Kinda dry.  Friendly, but dry.  Last year and so far this year.  We’ll see if he peps up.

* “Our theme this year is ‘Rise.’ … We have shown at Kentucky can compete in this league.  Our challenge to our player — our veteran players and our new players — is to try to fill the void of some of the departed players that we just lost.  We lost a lot of production from this last class.”

* “Rise” means “not just going to bowl games but competing for championships in this league.”  He says he’s asked his team: “Are you ready to do the right things with the right attitude with the right maturity with the right focus everyday?”

* “Our players look different.  They’re a lot bigger, a lot stronger, a lot faster, a lot leaner.” 

* “The teams that are successful in this league are the teams that have discipline, teams that are the most physical, and teams that are tough.  Those are the things that we’ve got to strive to get back to.”

* Phillips said that new co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter has been a “mentor” to him for “a long time.”  He said he wants the defense to “be more attacking, be more aggressive.”  “We want to create minus-yards plays, we want to create turnovers.”

* Asked if he still goes to Rich Brooks for advice and if Brooks is still close to the UK program, Phillips said: “I am close to Rich Brooks.  Richt Brooks is another mentor of mine.  I do talk to Rich.  Don’t talk to him as much as when I first took over, but we do communicate and I got a voice mail from him yesterday. … He is not around as much. … He usually comes to Kentucky during the Keeneland meets.  We usually get to see him in the fall for some games and we usually get to see him in the spring for some practices.”

* Phillips said his coach-in-waiting situation was different than many because he “was a part of building” Kentucky.  The staff knew him because he’d been around a while.

* “We’re very, very close” to getting over the hump in the SEC.  Phillips alluded to the need for the Wildcats to finally knock off Florida and Tennessee.

* Phillips comes across as a really nice guy.  He’s more comfortable this year than last, but he’s still not a great speaker.  (He doesn’t have to be if he can coach.)  Still, he’s the kind of young guy you want to see succeed.

* Phillips said new assistant coach Steve Pardue — a former high school coach in Georgia — will be a “huge” help in recruiting the state of Georgia.  UK’s coach said he wants to do a better job in South Georgia.

* Phillips said recruiting services are “very important” to a school like Kentucky which is located in a state that doesn’t produce as much talent. 

* Asked about Mike Slive’s proposals, Phillips tackled only the idea of compensating players.

* Phillips said he tells his players when they tweet that they might as well write, “Dear General Manager,” because what they write will be looked at by NFL scouts and officials.  Good way to handle it.

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Phillips Thinks Perception Of UK Is Changing (But He’s Still Got Work To Do)

Joker Phillips tells ESPN.com that he believes Kentucky football is on an uptick.

“The perception is changing,”
he said.  “We’ve beaten some of the traditional powers in this league.  The thing we have to try to do is do it on a consistent basis.”

That sounds well and good, but is the perception really changing?  Kentucky has been to five straight bowl games, yes, but the Cats also took a slight step backward last season finishing just 6-7.  It was UK’s first losing season since 2005.  Also, the Wildcats have not finished at .500 in SEC play since 2006 finishing just 2-6 in the league last year.

Considering UK’s easy nonconference schedule each year, reaching the 6-win mark necessary for a bowl bid is not all that impressive.

Rich Brooks did an excellent job of making Kentucky more competitive on the gridiron.  His teams finished 8-5 in ’06 and ’07, then dropped back to 7-6 in ’08 and ’09.  Phillips now must stop the backslide and prove that the Cats can indeed move forward, a la South Carolina in 2010.  This year’s roster does not appear ready to make that kind of leap.

Phillips still needs to do two things before Atlanta can become his program’s true goal.  First, UK needs to continue its four-year run over cross-state rival Louisville.  Phillips must continue to prove that his is the top football program in the Bluegrass State if he wants folks outside the state to view UK as a truly up-and-coming program.

Second, to be taken seriously in the SEC, UK must at some point end its 26-year streak of futility against Tennessee.  It’s hard to say, “We’re a big time program,” when a 26-game losing streak to a rival dangles over your head.  Amazingly, even during UT’s recent rough stretch the Vols have continued to master Kentucky.  Sure it would be nice for UK to snap its almost-as-long 24-game losing streak to Florida, but first things first.  The Vols have been in the Wildcats’ wheelhouse the past few years and UK has not advantage of that fact.

Kentucky’s program is more stable these days.  No one can deny that.  But to really change the national perception, Phillips still has some work to do.

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Kentucky Makes Football Hires Officials

When Rick Minter and Steve Pardue turned up at Kentucky’s bowl practice on Saturday, it became pretty clear that Joker Phillips had already filled the two open spots on his coaching staff.  But UK had to announce the openings and leave them unfilled for a period of seven days.

Time’s up.

Today UK officially announced that the former Cincinnati head coach (and ex-Joker Phillips boss) Minter will be the Cats’ new co-defensive coordinator alongside Steve Brown.

Pardue — who funneled a number of player from his LaGrange, Georgia high school to UK — will take over as running backs coach.

Only three coaches remain from the staff Phillips inherited from Rich Brooks last offseason (Brown, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and linebackers coach/recruiting coordinator Chuck Smith).

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