Vaught's Views: If Phillips, Barnhart aren't talking about UK coach's job, they should be
Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart hasn't had any discussions with coach Joker Phillips about Phillips' job status following losses in six of the Wildcats' first seven games, according to Phillips. Barnhart is refusing to answer questions from the media and has made no statements. (Victoria Graff / October 16, 2012)
Instead, when asked the last time he talked to Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart and what it was about, Phillips said the two talked a “couple of times a week” and it was “small talk” between them.
“It's nothing. He's been very encouraging and nothing what you want to get at,” Phillips said. “One thing, Mitch and I, we're friends, and that's more important to me than anything on the business side. We are friends.
“And I can tell you this: There's not a lot of people out there that can say they are friends. There's not a lot. One of the things I do cherish and appreciate is our friendship.”
Did they talk about his job status after a 1-6 start that included an embarrassing 49-7 loss in an abbreviated game at Arkansas on Saturday that dropped Phillips’ record at UK to 12-20?
“I'm busy trying to get these guys improved and get them prepared to play Georgia,” Phillips said.
Sounds good, but is it believable? With attendance dwindling, losses mounting and media speculation increasing, Barnhart should be discussing Phillips’ future. The athletics director has stopped making any public statements about the football program or taking questions from the media.
Speculation is running rampant about who the next Kentucky coach should be. Names being thrown around include Bobby Petrino, David Cutcliffe, Sonny Dykes, Phillip Fulmer, Gary Patterson, Bobby Wilder, Charlie Strong and Willie Taggert. I’ve even had numerous calls/inquires about Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown, a former UK receiver who was the offensive coordinator at Troy and now has the Red Raiders scoring at a big-time clip.
Kentucky players hear the noise, but they are correctly being careful to say all the right things about the program and their coaches.
Maybe Phillips will get some relief Saturday if freshman quarterback Patrick Towles can play. You remember Towles. He was Kentucky’s Mr. Football last year who was relegated to No. 4 on the UK depth chart and running the scout team before injuries gave him a chance to play against Mississippi State. He led UK on an 80-yard scoring drive and threw a touchdown pass on his first series only to hurt his ankle four plays later.
Phillips said Towles was able to “get up on his toes” and that normally was a sign a high ankle sprain was healing.
“So we'll take a look at it, probably about Wednesday, see what he can do. He moved around a little bit, not great today. But we'll take a look at it tomorrow and Wednesday also,” Phillips said.
He later acknowledged he had not actually seen Towles but was going by what trainer Jim Madaleno told him and could not speculate on whether he might be able to play this week against Georgia or the following week at Missouri.
“I don't know either way. Just said he can get up on his toes. We'll take a look at it tomorrow and see if he's improved any from today,” Phillips said.
The coach is convinced his players have not gone in the tank and found evidence to support his belief on two long touchdown passes Arkansas had.
“Sometimes in a game like that, it looks like ... it might look like the common folk, that they are not giving effort, but if you watched the two long touchdown passes, (freshman cornerback) Cody Quinn is straining, busting his tail from the back side. I think our guys are giving us great effort. We have to do a better job of executing,” Phillips said.
Not sure fans are buying that, either.
My e-mail has been full of suggestions/criticisms in the last two weeks but the loss Saturday has the e-mail overflowing from disgruntled UK fans like this one:
“The Arkansas beat down has to be an all-time low for my Cats. I guess it was more or less a D-1 Football ‘Mercy Rule’ - call it the Hand Of God. The coaches need to hold themselves accountable for this mess. They identify the talent and coach the talent. I think these coaches are delivering a lot of excuses. In my mind if you point to excuses, then you need to be let go.
“I think UK is the worst prepared football team for games that I have seen in 2012, and in many years. If the team was at least prepared and fought with spirit, you at least have a reason to keep the coaches. I think every coach at every position should be let go ... a clean house is needed from top to bottom.”
That’s the mentality of many UK fans now based on watching UK rank among the worst defensive teams in the Southeastern Conference and turn into an inept offensive team in conference play.
So if Barnhart and Phillips aren’t talking about the coach’s future, they should be, because everyone else from fans and media to players and their parents to recruits is.