Joker’s Going: How Will His Successor Be Picked?

| November 8, 2012

When the Southeastern Conference was formed in the early 1930s, Kentucky was a charter member.

With few exceptions, the Wildcats have been less than powerful down through the years and have lost more games than they have won. In the SEC the UK record is much worse.

Shortly after World War II, two businessmen in the transport business, one from Louisville and one from Lexington, raised enough money to entice the head coach at the University of Maryland to Lexington.

Yes. Paul Bryant. The Bear himself.

No one in Kentucky had ever seen the likes. Bryant took the Wildcats to Millersburg Military Institute to find out who wanted to play some football. MMI was about 15 miles from Lexington, in Bourbon County.

It was said that the population of Millersburg would go up about 50 in the morning and much less in the afternoon.

The highway was full of discarded players hitching rides back home.

You have heard of one of them, Don Zimmer, who later became a Major League Baseball star and manager. Later on, the Bear took his team to a secluded horse farm where he found out who REALLY wanted  to play football. (Much later, Bryant did the same thing that spawned the book, the Junction City Boys. That told the story of Bryant’s brutal methods when he started his tenure as coach of Texas A&M.)

Bryant went on to coaching greatness when “Mammy called” him back to Alabama, his alma mater.

UK, meanwhile, has had but a few highlights down through the years under Blanton Collier, Fran Curci and Jerry Claiborne, but nothing that was lasting.

Now another coach has been sacked. The present director of athletics will decide on Joker Phillips’ successor.

What needs to be done?

See the third paragraph above.

It takes money, money, money – and lots of it.

The Lexington Herald-Leader recently published a long story on Hazard coal billionaire Joe Craft, who has been extraordinarily kind to UK basketball and football. To rescue football out of its morass, Craft and friends could raise the money for the Wildcats to be competitive in the SEC.

The question is this: Will the tooth doctor who is now UK’s president allow the job to be done? I don’t have faith in the present director of athletics to hire the man to get the job done.

Some arm-twisting will have to be done.

Cats Could’ve Been Strong

It would have been oh so simple for Kentucky football to be where Louisville’s program is under Charlie Strong – undefeated and ninth in the nation

Seth Hancock, master of the famed Claiborne Farm (which was home of the great Secretariat) bleeds Wildcat blue. He had become a close friend – and booster – of a member of the University of Florida football coaching staff. As a staunch supporter of Wildcat athletics, Seth tried to convince top UK administrators what Strong could do for the Big Blue football program. When Rich Brooks retired, Seth strongly recommended Strong as his replacement.

Now Louisville football is unbeaten and No. 9 in the BCS standings.

Where’s Kentucky? Don’t ask. Seriously, if you don’t know, you don’t want to.

There were so few fans in Commonwealth Stadium for the Vanderbilt shellacking that it was embarrassing. And the UK administrator of athletics allowed one of his underlings to outright lie about the attendance.

I can’t tell you how many UK fans told me that I was crazy to support Joker Phillips as Brooks’ replacement. I did it because he had been a good recruiter, especially in the rich Louisville area, but Strong took command of the UofL program and made sure that the city dried up for recruits except for the Cardinals. Mixed with top Sunshine State recruits, the Cardinals are zooming under the guidance of Strong, his assistants and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The latter is so exciting that he may be the crowd favorite of all time. He runs, he throws. He and receiver DeVante Parker, a Ballard product, are the most exciting duo in UofL history. Okay, if not now, they will be.

Meanwhile how low can UK go? They have now lost to Vanderbilt, one of the “academic schools,” as UofL basketball guard Milt Wagner once described a Cardinal opponent.

Petrino Could Switch Sides 

If the University of Kentucky is serious about its football program ever getting to the place it could surpass the University of Louisville, it will have to swallow its Big Blue pride and hire Bobby Petrino as its head football coach.

I have known very few choir boys in the coaching fraternity. But if UK wants to win, it has no choice except to try to hire Petrino, the married Arkansas coach who had a motorcycle wreck with his girlfriend-secretary on the back of the bike.

UK hired John Calipari, who didn’t come with a squeaky-clean reputation from the University of Memphis. Cal has done a pretty good job, wouldn’t you say?

UK administrators weren’t all in agreement that they should take a chance with Cal, but he has done quite well, wouldn’t you agree?

Petrino can coach. He can recruit. He will put fannies in seats. What else is needed?

Okay, he has about as much personality as a rotten cabbage, but he can win. And that’s the name of the game, isn’t it?

The Best of the Best 

The best University of Kentucky president for athletics was Dr. Otis Singletary. He knew the score. No one ever put anything over on him.

Some faculty members thought he was too much of a jock, but that didn’t stick because he was national president of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the brainy organization for college administrators.

Category: Earl Cox on Sports

About the Author (Author Profile)

Earl Cox, Sports Columnist
502.897.8910

Earl doesn¹t just write about sports legends, he counts many of them as his
friends. A member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, he has been writing
about sports for 60 years. Incidentally, that¹s about how long it’s been
since he¹s cleaned his desk but he knows where everything is.

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