Mark Story: Is Bill Cowher the Bill Parcells of the current UK coaching search?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 15, 2012 

Steelers Cowhers Decision Football

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher smiles as he announces that he is stepping down as head coach after 15 years, Friday, Jan. 5, 2007 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

GENE J. PUSKAR — AP

Quick hitters from the (rumor) mill:

21. Bill Cowher. Of all the wild rumors over who will replace Joker Phillips as Kentucky football coach, my favorite is the sturdy-jawed former Pittsburgh Steelers head man.

20. Why? Yes, I know ex-Kentucky standout Dermontti Dawson had a Hall of Fame career playing center for Cowher in Pittsburgh, so there is a connection. But why would Cowher, a guy who could likely have any NFL head coaching position he wants, consider what history says is a graveyard of a college job?

19. Mitch Barnhart. It's fine if the UK athletics director is swinging for the fences in the search to replace Phillips. I'm sure Barnhart would like to hire a coach with enough "buzz factor" to get the Bobby Petrino chorus off his back.

18. Making it tougher. But the problem with running a Cowher or Bill Parcells (2003 UK search) up the flag pole is that it then sets up a realistic UK coaching hire as a letdown for fans. That makes it harder for the new coach to get off to a quick public relations start.

17. Mitch Barnhart II. The UK AD did not do himself any favors in the court of public opinion by not speaking publicly at the time the decision to fire Joker Phillips was announced.

16. Mitch Barnhart III. As angry as many Kentucky football fans seem toward the AD, it's easy to forget that UK has been bowl eligible in six of the 11 years in which Barnhart has been here.

15. Tornado football. The tornadoes that left a wide swath of destruction in areas of Kentucky last March decimated the football facilities at both Magoffin County and Morgan County high schools. Still, both managed to play home games in 2012.

14. Magoffin County. The Hornets finished 4-7 after a loss to Pike Central in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.

13. Morgan County. The Cougars ended 8-3 after falling to Lawrence County in round one of the 3A playoffs.

12. Brad Keselowski. Winner of the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway in June, Keselowski needs a finish of 15th or better in the NASCAR season finale at Homestead to clinch the Sprint Cup championship regardless of what second-place Jimmie Johnson does.

11. "Bad Brad." If Keselowski wins the Cup title, it will give Dodge the driver's championship in the season in which the manufacturer is leaving NASCAR. It will also provide car owner Roger Penske his first points championship in the Cup Series.

10. Mark Simendinger. The Kentucky Speedway general manager thinks a Keselowski title would be a boon for track promoters. "He's got an edge to him, he's really into the whole social media thing," Simendinger says. "With Brad, there's just a lot there to work with."

9. James Buescher. Regardless of what anyone else does, the driver who swept both truck races at Kentucky Speedway this season can clinch the 2012 Camping World Truck Series points title with a finish of at least seventh at Homestead.

8. ARCA returns to Sparta. Instead of a Cup race, two Nationwide races and two trucks races as in 2012, Kentucky Speedway will have the ARCA series replacing trucks for its second weekend (Sept. 20-21) in 2013.

7. Kelly Wells battles back. Before the University of Pikeville faced Louisville in an exhibition Nov. 1, the 41-year-old UPike head coach started passing blood. After his team lost 93-57, Wells checked into Jewish Hospital in Louisville for what became an eight-day stay. "It was not the greatest time in the world," he says.

6. History of kidney issues. Wells had first been diagnosed with kidney issues during his playing days at Morehead State in the early 1990s. In 2004, the year after Wells coached Chris Lofton and Mason County to the Kentucky boys' basketball high school state title, he received a kidney transplant from his wife, Shawne.

5. Rejection. What put Kelly Wells in the hospital this time is that his body was rejecting "a small part" of the transplanted kidney. One of his old kidneys (he still has both) has a small growth that doctors fear might be cancerous, he says.

4. Surgery after season. The Pikeville head man, who led the Bears to the 2011 NAIA Division I national title, is taking steroids to try to fight off the rejection. Once the current season ends, doctors will remove the kidney that contains the growth, Wells says.

3. Back to work. Wells returned to his job Monday. Wednesday, he made it through a full day for the first time. Thursday, he was on the team bus headed west for games with Campbellsville (Thursday) and Lindsey Wilson (Saturday).

2. Strong as Bears. While Wells battled his health issues, his team started 7-0.

1. A coach's pride. "I'm very proud of my team," Wells says. "We've had great leadership from my coaching staff and the players have responded to adversity."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @markcstory.Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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