Fans might not like how Joker Phillips has worked out for Kentucky football this season, but one national guru said some simple sentences by the outgoing Cats coach this week might mean he has set the program up well for the future.
"I never asked Mitch for anything that he didn't (give)," Phillips told the media on Tuesday, just two days after Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart fired the third-year coach. "Anything that would benefit the player, he never once said no."
Those words are magical in a coaching search situation, explained Pete Roussel, founder of coachingsearch.com, a Web site devoted to the comings and goings of coaches around the country.
"When Joker said that Mitch Barnhart never told me no, that is huge for Kentucky because Joker has just told every coach in the country, listen, 'My athletic director, it wasn't his fault. He wasn't in the way,'" said Roussel, who previously was an assistant coach at schools like Mississippi, Stanford and Memphis.
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"That's critical, absolutely critical. The key to having a long and successful coaching career is taking the right jobs at the right time and right now Kentucky's got an athletic director you want to work together with. That's a big, big deal."
When coaches are looking to make a move to a new position, leadership at the top is critical, so critical in fact, that Roussel said coaches are only concerned about two things:
"What's the athletic director like, is he an enabler, a guy who's doing everything he can to help the head coach and his staff?" Roussel said.
The second part, he said, is whether or not the school committed to "having the best facilities, providing the best resources to enable us to compete at the highest level?"
No clear plans have been laid out yet for when UK plans to improve Commonwealth Stadium (if it can at all) or if there will be any new bells and whistles added to the overall Kentucky facilities package.
In his open letter to UK fans on Sunday, Barnhart made it sound like he'd like to see an investment come soon.
"We have invested in football specifically and have high hopes there will be the opportunity to do major work in our stadium with some financing opportunities in the very near future," he said in the letter, before adding the caveat sentence. "As always, we will work to fit into the plans of the university as a whole."
But there doesn't have to be a brand new stadium, a shiny indoor facility, new football housing, etc., to attract a good coach to Kentucky, Roussel said.
"You've got to try and do things from a facilities standpoint, better than anybody in the country," Roussel said. "It doesn't mean you have to be the best. You've got to be different. You've got to make it to where you're not just trying to do what Auburn or Arkansas or Alabama does, you have to make what Kentucky has unique."
That's the ticket
It seemed when Kentucky announced the 44,902 crowd for the Vanderbilt game last Saturday, maybe officials were actually counting the number of eyebrows raised by that number figure.
We did a little more digging and found out via an open records request response from UK that the number of scanned tickets entering Commonwealth Stadium that day was 18,885. (UK did note that number was just scanned tickets through Ticketmaster and didn't include players, media, stadium workers, etc.)
But UK isn't alone in its figure fiddling.
Pretty much every attendance number at every college sporting event nationwide is devised differently.
"There is no uniform way anyone does it (nationally)," UK spokesman Dewayne Peevy said. "It's up to each institution. Everybody could do it differently in any sport."
There is no national standard or formula, confirmed an NCAA spokeswoman.
Some schools use actual attendance (bottoms in the seats); some use tickets sold; some use tickets out (which includes comp tickets, too); some use a hybrid system involving all of the above.
The only sport's attendance numbers the NCAA has guidelines for is football (schools must average at least 15,000 for all home football games to remain in FBS), but even those rules say a school can use "actual or paid attendance" to get to the 15,000.
A quick check of several top conferences confirmed that there are no governing rules for how head counts are determined.
Neither the Southeastern Conference, the Big East, the Big 10, the Big 12 nor the Pac-12 have any policies on how fans are counted and reported.
As for the Kentucky attendance figures this season, which included just one game (Western Kentucky) with more than 40,000 fans scanned (from the 53,980 reported)?
"Most numbers you see is tickets out, not actual, unless (the actual) is greater," Peevy explained. "Paid is a pretty good way to judge. ... When you start talking actual, nobody's sure. It's what's actually been scanned. There's no way to count people. It's not an old-school turnstile count."
Phillips' future in flux
The Kentucky head coach — for two more games anyway — has no immediate plans for the future, he said this week.
"It's healthier to let the jets cool off, and that's what we'll do," Phillips said when asked on the weekly SEC coaches' teleconference. "We'll take some time, relax, try not to jump into anything too quick."
Part of that desire to take it slow is out of concern for his family.
"Coaches usually can handle it," he said. "But the stress and the grind that it has on your family, I think it's sometimes overlooked. I'm not about to overlook it. I'm going to make sure the family's taken care of and feeling good about everything before I jump into anything."
The head coach has the option of waiting for the right fit. UK has said it plans to honor the final two years of his five-year contract, which pays him through December of 2014.
When asked earlier this week about the final buyout figure (thought to be about $2.5 million), Peevy said that number has not been determined. It could take upwards of two weeks to know based on the rules laid out in Phillips' contract.
We might never know who is on Barnhart's short list or long list of potential coaches. But there's been plenty of national and local speculation about potential candidates to keep us busy.
A few of those coaches have been asked about their interest in the Kentucky position by various sources nationwide. Here's a roundup of those from this week:
■ Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who studied under former UK coordinator Mike Leach at Texas Tech, said he hadn't heard his name mentioned with openings.
"I haven't seen too much of that," Kingsbury said, according to a blog post in the Dallas Morning News. "I'm just trying to get a first down against Alabama."
■ Another former Kentucky assistant, Sonny Dykes, who is now the head coach at Louisiana Tech, has been mentioned with openings (real or potential) at several SEC schools. On Monday, he was asked about them and said:
"It is that time of year," Dykes said. "Every successful coach is going to have their name thrown around, and that is a credit to our players and a credit to Louisiana Tech.
"I promise you none of us are concerned with it. We are worried about trying to win football games. It would be disrespectful to our players really to have any comment on it because there is really nothing there."
■ Duke Coach David Cutcliffe, who reportedly was a UK target the last time there was an opening, was asked on a league teleconference what he planned to tell his players about his name being mentioned for other jobs:
"I haven't to this point felt the need to bring it up to them. We're totally focused on what we're doing at Duke, and have no interest in talking about anything else otherwise. I think our players trust me in that regard and know that's a sincere statement.
"We love where we are and what we're doing. We have an incredible relationship with what we hope our potential players are in the future. So we feel very strongly about that."
■ Brent Pease, the first-year offensive coordinator at Florida with Kentucky ties (offensive coordinator 2001-02), didn't exactly take his name off the list, but did tell several outlets last week there hasn't been any contact: "I've made a commitment to be here, especially with my family, and I'll move on if that situation arises," he said. "Ask me that question later when something happens, I guess. ... I'm not going to approach it in-season at all. If the opportunity comes up afterward, I'd do whatever is appropriate at that time."
Pease did have positive things to say about Kentucky football.
"They got great people, they got a great program and the facilities are good," Pease said. "I think they're committed to winning, and they have won. ... I've got a lot of respect for that place because I worked there, and I really love Lexington. I've still got a lot of friends that are in the administration there that worked closely with me and helped me out."
■ When asked about his interest in the UK job, former Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer told the Courier-Journal: "That's really not for me to say at this point," he said. "I haven't had any conversations with anyone."