How important was it for Kentucky football to sign in-state players?
Exactly two weeks after Joker Phillips was fired as Kentucky head coach in 2012, a media report out of Ohio said the UK job had been offered to then-Cincinnati head man Butch Jones.
At the time, Wildcats backers were debating the idea of Kentucky hiring the polarizing Bobby Petrino — then unemployed after a career self-destruction at Arkansas.
Other UK fans, with fond memories of the pass-happy excitement of the Hal Mumme Air Raid era, wanted former Wildcats assistant Sonny Dykes brought back to Lexington.
Before UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart announced that Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops would replace Phillips, there were seven other names prominently linked with the Wildcats head coaching job in the rumor mill.
As Stoops and the No. 14 Cats (9-3) prepare to face No. 12 Penn State (9-3) in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando, it seems an opportune time to look back at the coaches UK could have hired and contrast how they have fared since with the coach Kentucky chose:
Why he was linked to Kentucky in 2012: Had built traditional also-ran Utah State into an 11-2 team.
What he’s done since: Took the Wisconsin job for 2013 and led the Badgers to back-to-back seasons of 9-4 and 10-3. He then shocked the college football world by leaving Wisky for Oregon State.
Andersen flailed mightily at OSU, going 2-10 (2015), 4-8 (2016) and 1-5 (2017) before resigning.
Where he is now: Just hired for a second stint as Utah State head man.
Why he was linked to Kentucky in 2012: Had developed an offensive juggernaut as Louisiana Tech head man, his offense averaging 51.5 points in 2012 while going 9-3.
What he’s done since: Took the California job in 2013 and built the Bears from 1-11 to 5-7 to 8-5 with an Armed Forces Bowl victory over Air Force in year three.
However, after Cal slipped back to 5-7 in 2016, the school fired Dykes.
Where he is now: Just went 5-7 in his first season as SMU head coach.
Why he was linked to Kentucky in 2012: Back-to-back seasons of 10-3 (2011) and 9-3 (2012) at Cincinnati.
What he’s done since: Took the Tennessee job for 2013 and built the Volunteers from 5-7 his first year to back-to-back seasons of 9-4 (2015 and ‘16).
Yet when Tennessee lost six of its first 10 games in 2017, Jones was pink-slipped.
Where he is now: After spending 2018 as an analyst for Nick Saban at Alabama, Jones, according to media reports, may join the coaching staff of new Maryland head man Mike Locksley as an offensive assistant.
Why he was linked to Kentucky in 2012: Had built historically football-challenged San Jose State into an 11-2 team.
What he’s done since: Took the Colorado job and, after three losing years, led the Buffaloes to a 10-4 season in 2016 that included a loss to Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The Buffaloes slipped back to 5-7 in 2017 but started this past season 5-0. However, Colorado proceeded to lose six games in a row and MacIntyre was canned.
Where he is now: Recently hired as defensive coordinator at Mississippi.
Why he was linked to Kentucky in 2012: He’d enjoyed prior success (41-9) in the commonwealth as Louisville head man (2003-06) and was available following a scandalous fall from grace at Arkansas.
What he’s done since: Went 8-4 as Western Kentucky head man in 2013, then returned to U of L for a second stint.
Bobby 2.0 yielded a 34-18 record in the first four years (2014-17). Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson won the 2016 Heisman Trophy.
However, the inability to hire and retain quality assistants and the departure of Jackson to the NFL caught up to Petrino in 2018. After a 2-8 start, Louisville fired Petrino.
Where he is now: Out of coaching.
Why he was linked to Kentucky in 2012: Had led Western Kentucky to its first bowl berth as an FBS program and beaten UK in Lexington.
What he’s done since: Went to South Florida and, in four years, built the Bulls from 2-10 (2013) to 10-2 (2016).
Parlayed that into the Oregon head coaching job, but stayed only one year (7-5 in 2017) before returning to his home state as Florida State head man.
Presided over a fairly disastrous FSU debut in 2018, as the Seminoles endured their first losing season (5-7) since 1976.
Where he is now: Seemingly already on something of a hot seat at Florida State.
Why he was linked to Kentucky in 2012: Prior SEC head coaching stints at Mississippi and Auburn and the perception he was desperate to leave Texas Tech after three years as head coach there.
What he’s done since: Replaced Butch Jones at Cincinnati for 2013, and produced back-to-back seasons of 9-4 to start. But the Bearcats’ records diminished to 7-6 and then 4-8 and Tuberville resigned after the 2016 season.
Where he is now: Out of coaching.
That’s four coaches fired, two resigned under pressure and one with what appears, from a distance, to be a tenuous hold on his current job.
Contrast all that with the guy who did come to UK in 2013.
Kentucky has been a grind for Stoops. He began his UK coaching career with three losing seasons — 2-10, 5-7 and 5-7.
When the coach started his fourth year 0-2, many believed it was the beginning of the end.
However, Kentucky has gone 23-13 since. This year, the Cats produced their first winning SEC record (5-3) and first nine-win regular season since 1977.
Coaching evaluations are a snapshot in time but, right now, it appears that Kentucky made the right choice in Stoops and Stoops the right choice in UK.
Given the star-crossed history of the Kentucky football coaching job, what were the odds of that?
No. 14 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Penn State
When: 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 1
Where: Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.