John Clay: Second seasons a mixed bag for UK coaches

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 31, 2011 

Joker Phillips won six games in his debut season, more than any first-year UK coach since Blanton Collier in 1954.

CHARLES BERTRAM

Joker Phillips admits it himself. There's nothing that prepares you for being a head coach. You have to be a head coach. Just the same, there is probably not much that prepares you for being the head coach at Kentucky, a school without a grand football tradition toiling in the nation's toughest conference.

So if a team makes its biggest progression between the first and second games, let's look at how some UK football coaches have fared from their first season through their second.

Charlie Bradshaw: Brought to Lexington to bring back the good old days of Bear Bryant, when the coaches were tyrants and the wins flowed freely, Bradshaw got the first part right. His 1962 "Thin Thirty" team ended up 3-5-2, though it did finish the year with a 12-10 win at Tennessee, bringing optimism for the next season. Alas, it was a bit misplaced. The Cats ended up 3-6-1 in 1963.

John Ray: The deep-voiced, optimistic Notre Dame defensive coordinator took over for Bradshaw in 1969. In Ray's second game, the Cats upset Archie Manning and Ole Miss 10-9. Unfortunately, that would end up being the biggest win of Ray's four-year stint.

Kentucky wound up 2-8 in Ray's first year, then went 2-9 in his second. Two years later, Ray was out of work.

Fran Curci: The charismatic Floridian took over in 1973 and beat Virginia Tech 31-26 in his opener, then led Bryant and Alabama 14-0 at halftime the second week. The Tide rebounded for a 28-14 victory, and the Cats had an up-and-down 5-6 season.

Curci did post a winning campaign his second year, thanks to a three-game November win streak with triumphs over Tulane, Vanderbilt and Florida. The 6-5 record was UK's first winning year since 1965.

Jerry Claiborne: After an 0-10-1 first season, Claiborne engineered one of the better turnarounds in college football history. The Cats started 4-0 with wins over Central Michigan, Kansas State, Indiana and Tulane. After losing 49-21 to visiting Auburn, Kentucky beat LSU 21-13 in Baton Rouge. Things fizzled a bit down the stretch, but UK ended the regular season 6-4-1 to earn the school's first bowl bid since 1976.

Bill Curry: Hired with considerable fanfare from Alabama, Curry flopped as the Kentucky coach. His first team started 1-4, though it did gain a bit of momentum with wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt, then played Tennessee to a respectable 42-28 loss in the season finale to finish 4-7.

But Kentucky slumped to 3-8 the next year. Curry ended up 26-52 at Kentucky before being fired.

Hal Mumme: Air Raid brought excitement to Commonwealth Stadium in 1997, thanks to Mumme's knowledge of the passing game and Tim Couch's ability. Beating Alabama 40-34 in overtime was the highlight of a 5-6 season.

Mumme's second season was his best. UK went 7-5 and played in its first Jan. 1 bowl since the 1950s, losing 26-14 to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

Guy Morriss: The offensive line coach was named head coach when Mumme was relieved of his duties. Morriss's first season in 2001 produced the same record as Mumme's last year, 2-9. The next year, things came together. UK wound up 7-5, with one loss being the Bluegrass Miracle win by LSU. Probation kept the Cats from bowling.

Morriss' second season was his last. Baylor offered the native Texan a fat contract that Kentucky refused to match, and Morriss was off to Waco.

Rich Brooks: Out of college football for a decade, and out of coaching altogether for three years, the former Oregon coach took over the Cats in 2003. Tough losses — 24-21 to Florida; 27-21 at South Carolina; 71-63 in seven overtimes to Arkansas — brought a 4-8 record the first year. The Cats slumped to 2-9 in Brooks' second year.

Brooks would struggle through a 2005 year that ended up 3-8, but by 2006 things turned around. The crafty old coach would take Kentucky to a school-record four straight bowl games before retiring following the 2009 season.

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

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