The Joker Phillips era at Kentucky limps to the finish November 17th with an out of conference home game against Samford and then the season finale the following week at Tennessee. Phillips was let go Sunday.
Phillips said when UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart told him he was fired, he gave Phillips the option of coaching the final two games, Phillips' initial thought was to step away immediately and let an assistant coach the final two games. But he had a change of heart thanks to his players.
“I did not want to be a distraction. We have Senior Night here. I already had a Senior Day around here, and I didn’t want to be a distraction to these seniors,” he said. But he says a few players talked with him and convinced him to ride it out with them to the end.
Phillips knew his record going into last week’s Vanderbilt game (1-8, 0-7 in the SEC) was hardly a resume builder. He said he knew he was finished at UK when his team suffered an historic 40-0 drubbing at the hands of the Commodores in Commonwealth Stadium.
“That was enough for me,” he said earlier this week. He understood.
An announced crowd Saturday of 44,902 was, in reality (revealed after media outlets filed an Open Records Request) 18,885. Combine that with a disastrous 12-23 record over three seasons and you see why Phillips could hardly defend keeping his position or why Barnhart pulled the trigger the following day.
Phillips has handled his firing with the grace you’d expect if you’ve ever encountered him or even just observed his demeanor in interviews over the past three years. The night he was fired, he issued a statement calling Barnhart “the best athletic director I’ve ever been associated with.” Phillips didn’t dodge the media, meeting with them after practice earlier this week and taking part in the weekly SEC conference call.
It was reminiscent of the way former UofL coach Steve Kragthorpe handled his dismissal after a short and disappointing tenure with Louisville.
More parallels have been drawn connecting Phillips to Kragthorpe, like the fact both coaches were given solid teams that failed to perform. It’s a little different in that Kragthrope was handed the keys to a Cadillac (a UofL team coming off an Orange Bowl win under Bobby Petrino with quarterback Brian Brohm returning for his senior season). Kragthorpe drove that car off a cliff. Phillips was more or less handed the keys to a reliable Honda (under Rich Brooks, UK appeared in four consecutive non-BCS bowl games) and didn’t really crash it. It was more like Phillips didn’t change the oil and it finally just stopped running. Recruiting issues, especially with the quarterback position, may not have buried his career at Kentucky but it started digging the grave.
Certainly, injury problems for Kentucky and an incredibly difficult schedule turned a tough task into an impossible situation.
The next UK football coach inherits that. No Cadillacs or Hondas. Maybe he will get The Little Engine That Could… but those train tracks look like they run uphill for miles.
Photo courtesy: UK Athletics