Coach of 9-0 Saints wanted UK job

How undefeated Saints coach lost a big one to Brooks

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 22, 2009 

Sean Payton is architect of one of the most prolific — and entertaining — offenses in pro football history. He is leader of one of the two undefeated teams in the NFL.

There is no head coach at any level of football with more "buzz" attached to his name right now than the New Orleans Saints' head man.

Which is of local interest because I've heard scuttlebutt for years that Payton tried to get in the mix to become University of Kentucky head coach before Rich Brooks was hired.

Guy Morriss vacated the UK job after the 2002 season to become head coach at Baylor. At that time, Payton was the offensive coordinator with the New York Giants.

However, then-Giants head man Jim Fassel had stripped his young assistant of play-calling responsibilities mid-season. Payton was looking to get out of Gotham.

Tom Brown, a longtime football coach in Kentucky (and father of former Boyle County star and UK wide receiver Neil Brown), says Payton reached out to a friend (Rick Fox) then on the Centre College staff to see if he knew anybody involved with the Kentucky search.

Fox sent the young coach to Tom Brown.

"Sean said, 'I want the Kentucky job. Who can I call?'" recalled Brown, now the athletics director at Bethlehem High School in Bardstown.

Brown says he put Payton in touch with the person he knew best at UK, Alvis Johnson. At that time, Johnson was serving as an assistant athletics director at Kentucky after a long, successful career as a high school football coach in the commonwealth (citing budget constraints, Kentucky terminated Johnson and two others in 2006).

"I know Sean Payton was interested in the (UK) job," Johnson said last week. "I talked to him and he had a great interest in the job. And if my memory serves me correctly, his wife was from somewhere close to Lexington."

(Beth Payton is from Morocco, Ind.).

Johnson says he forwarded word of Payton's interest up the chain of command at UK.

In 2002, Payton was a relative unknown who had just suffered the indignity of losing the play-calling duties in New York. There wasn't exactly a public clamor locally to hire him.

UK ultimately chose Brooks and, after a rocky start, he's done commendable work.

Payton was hired by Bill Parcells as an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys. That platform launched him to his present prominence in New Orleans.

WKU coaching rumors

Speaking of coaching searches, rumblings out of Bowling Green link four names with the open Western Kentucky University football coaching job.

Willie Taggart, the former WKU quarterback and assistant who is now the running backs coach at Stanford, is thought to be the front-runner for the job that opened with the surprise firing of David Elson.

Others who may be in the mix are: Paul Petrino, the ex-Louisville assistant, who is presently the offensive coordinator on the staff of his brother, Bobby, at Arkansas; Darryl Drake, another former Western player and assistant, who is currently the wide receivers coach for the Chicago Bears; and Jim McElwain, the offensive coordinator at Alabama.

Following Isiah

One never knows what informative jewel one will find in the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. Listed on the Florida International coaching staff of head man Isiah Thomas is: Frank Holloway (Lindsey Wilson '04).

It's not every day that a fairly recent graduate of a small, NAIA school in Kentucky ends up coaching basketball with an all-time NBA great.

How did it happen?

Lindsey Wilson basketball coach Paul Peck said Holloway spent time as a student manager and student coach for the Blue Raiders. Peck said that his assistant, Chris Starks, and Holloway still talk almost every day.

Starks says Holloway went to high school in Florida and came to Lindsey hoping to pursue a career as a baseball player. When that didn't work out, he transferred his aspirations to coaching basketball.

Holloway's mother is German, Starks said, so the young coach holds duel citizenship and has coached club teams in Germany.

Starks says Holloway's connection to Thomas came through Anthony Anderson, who the former NBA great hired as his top assistant at FIU.

Anderson and Holloway had gotten to know each other, Starks said, from working at a camp for European prospects trying to earn basketball scholarships to American colleges.

"Isiah told (Anderson) to hire guys he trusted," Starks said. "He knew Frank."

Thomas and FIU will be in Richmond on Saturday to face Eastern Kentucky. On Jan. 16, FIU will be back in Kentucky to play Sun Belt Conference rival Western Kentucky.

Unforgettables reunion

Those with an appreciation for University of Kentucky basketball history should mark Dec. 5 on the calendar.

On that day, former UK teammates Sean Woods and John Pelphrey will coach against each other when Woods' Mississippi Valley State team visits Pelphrey and Arkansas.

Maybe Richie Farmer and Deron Feldhaus could throw the ball up for the opening tip?

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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