John Clay

Following the Bear

Kentucky's No. 1 football coach is obvious. Then it gets interesting.

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 28, 2009 

  • Paul "Bear" Bryant

    Overall SEC SEC

    W-L-T W-L-T Finish

    1946 7-3 2-3 8th

    1947-g 8-3 2-3 t9th

    1948 5-3-2 1-3-1 9th

    1949-or 9-3 4-1 2nd

    1950-s 11-1 5-1 1st

    1951-c 8-4 3-3 5th

    1952 5-4-2 1-3-2 9th

    1953 7-2-1 4-1-1 t2nd

    Blanton Collier

    1954 7-3-0 5-2 t3rd

    1955 6-3-1 3-3-1 t7th

    1956 6-4 4-4 t6th

    1957 3-7 1-7 12th

    1958 5-4-1 3-4-1 t6th

    1959 4-6 1-6 9th

    1960 5-4-1 2-4-1 9th

    1961 5-5 2-4 7th

    Charlie Bradshaw

    1962 3-5-2 2-3-1 t7th

    1963 3-6-1 0-5-1 11th

    1964 5-5 4-2 t2nd

    1965 6-4 3-3 t6th

    1966 3-6-1 2-4 6th

    1967 2-8 1-6 7th

    1968 3-7 0-7 7th

    John Ray

    1969 2-8 1-6 9th

    1970 2-9 0-7 8th

    1971 3-8 1-6 t6th

    1972 3-8 2-5 t7th

    Fran Curci

    1973 5-6 3-4 t5th

    1974 6-5 3-3 t3rd

    1975 2-8-1 0-6 t5th

    1976-p 9-3 5-1 t1st

    1977 10-1 6-0 2nd

    1978 4-6-1 2-4 t5th

    1979 5-6 3-3 t4th

    1980 3-8 1-5 6th

    1981 3-8 2-4 t4th

    Jerry Claiborne

    1982 0-10-1 0-6 t8th

    1983-h 6-5-1 2-4 4th

    1984-h 9-3 3-3 t4th

    1985 5-6 1-5 7th

    1986 5-5-1 2-4 t4th

    1987 5-6 1-5 t7th

    1988 5-6 2-5 t8th

    1989 6-5 2-5 t7th

    Bill Curry

    1990 4-7 3-4 5th

    1991 3-8 0-7 10th

    1992 4-7 2-6 *t5th

    1993-p 6-6 4-4 *3rd

    1994 1-10 0-8 *6th

    1995 4-7 2-6 *5th

    1996 4-7 3-5 *t4th

    Hal Mumme

    1997 5-6 2-6 *5th

    1998-ou 7-5 4-4 *4th

    1999-m 6-6 4-4 *4th

    2000 2-9 0-8 *6th

    Guy Morriss

    2001 2-9 1-7 *5th

    2002 7-5 3-5 *t4th

    Rich Brooks

    2003 4-8 1-7 *t5th

    2004 2-9 1-7 *t5th

    2005 3-8 2-6 *6th

    2006-m 8-5 4-4 *t3rd

    2007-m 8-5 3-5 *t4th

    2008-l 7-6 2-6 *6th

    Notes: * Eastern Division finish; ou-Outback Bowl; m-Music City Bowl; g-Great Lakes Bowl; or-Orange Bowl; s-Sugar Bowl; c-Cotton Bowl ; p-Peach Bowl; h-Hall of Fame Bowl; l-Liberty Bowl

When writing about thereunion last weekend of Paul Bryant's former players at Kentucky, it hit me that, starting with the Bear, UK has had 10 football coaches since 1946.

Seemed liked the perfect opportunity for a Top 10 list. But if the Bear is the certain No. 1, who's No. 2? And, for a program that has struggled so over the years, who deserves the bottom of the list?

One man's opinion:

1. Paul Bryant (1946-53; 60-23-5)

Pros: Now considered the greatest college football coach of all time, a then-young Bryant guided the Cats to consecutive New Year's bowl games in the 1949, '50 and '51 seasons. His 1950 team beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, ending OU's 31-game winning streak.

Cons: Left program in part because he felt football played second fiddle to basketball. In his autobiography, Bryant said leaving for Texas A&M was a mistake.

2. Rich Brooks (2003-present; 32-41)

Pros: On a run of three consecutive bowl victories for first time in school history. Assumed a program on probation and provided rare stability. His successor is already in place.

Cons: Has not cracked the Southeastern Conference's glass ceiling. And there are many more bowl games these days than in yesteryear.

3. Jerry Claiborne (1982-89; 41-46-3)

Pros: Claiborne, who played for Bryant at UK, brought discipline and class back to the school's grid program. Went to two bowl games. His 1984 team finished 9-3 after winning Hall of Fame Bowl.

Cons: Results flattened out after bowl victory. Kentucky went 5-6, 5-5-1, 5-6, 5-6 and 6-5 over Caliborne's final five seasons.

4. Blanton Collier (1954-61; 41-36-3)

Pros: The Millersburg native is the only coach besides Bryant to have a winning record at UK, at least since C.A. Wynne (1934-37). Went 5-2-1 in his eight seasons against archrival Tennessee. Collier's 1959 staff included future coaching stars Don Shula, Howard Schnellenberger, Bill Arnsparger, Ermal Allen, John North and Ed Rutledge.

Cons: Never went to a bowl game, and his last three teams went 14-15-1. His contract was not renewed after the 1961 season. Collier returned to the NFL as an assistant, became head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1963 and captured the NFL championship in 1964.

5. Fran Curci (1973-81; 47-51-2)

Pros: Arrived from Miami and immediately injected the program with excitement. His 1976 team earned the school's first bowl berth in 25 years and capped it off with a 21-0 win over North Carolina in the Peach Bowl. His 1977 team was one of the school's all-time best, going 10-1 and finishing No. 6 in final Associated Press poll.

Cons: That 1977 team missed a bowl game because of probation. Off-the-field incidents piled up in final years, and Curci was forced out after back-to-back 3-8 seasons in 1980 and 1981.

6. Hal Mumme (1997-2000; 20-26)

Pros: Brought much-needed offensive excitement with his Air Raid offense from Division II Valdosta State. His 1998 team went 7-5 and made the school's first New Year's Day bowl appearance — 26-14 loss to Penn State in the Outback Bowl — since 1951. Developed quarterback Tim Couch, the No. 1 pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. And Mumme's 1999 team reached the Music City Bowl.

Cons: Ended short tenure in scandal as team was placed on probation, mainly for violations committed by recruiting coordinator Claude Bassett.

7. Guy Morriss (2001-02; 9-14)

Pros: His 2002 team finished 7-5 and would have made a bowl game had it not been for probation. Brought steadying hand after tumultuous Mumme years.

Cons: Very short stay. Morriss departed after second season for multi-million dollar offer at Baylor.

8. Bill Curry (1990-96; 26-52)

Pros: Former Alabama coach projected scholarly image that fit with what predecessor Claiborne had established. Curry's 1993 team went to Peach Bowl, where it lost 14-13 to Clemson.

Cons: Seven-year stint was marked by various changes in philosophies and coordinators. The 1994 team was among school's all-time worst, going 1-10 and allowing 405 points.

9. Charlie Bradshaw (1962-68; 25-41-4)

Pros: Bryant disciple brought tough-guy image to program, and his 1965 team, which went 6-4, featured Rick Norton, Sam Ball, Rick Kestner and Rodger Bird, among other UK greats.

Cons: Infamous for brutal practices that led to the "Thin Thirty" team in 1962. His '65 team appeared headed to the Cotton Bowl before a 38-21 loss at Houston. Was fired after going 8-21-1 his final three years.

10. John Ray (1969-72; 10-33)

Pros: The former Notre Dame defensive coordinator brought optimism to Lexington. Beat Archie Manning and Mississippi 10-9 in his second game at UK. Was the impetus behind getting Commonwealth Stadium built, but never coached a game there.

Cons: Ray won just 10 games in four seasons. His teams went 2-8, 2-9, 3-8 and 3-8. Won four conference games in four years. A 40-0 loss at Florida in his next-to-last game caused athletics board to vote against renewing his contract.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com.

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