Sidelines with John Clay

A brief history of Kentucky football coaches

UK head football coach Hal Mumme with star quarterback Tim Couch in 1997.
UK head football coach Hal Mumme with star quarterback Tim Couch in 1997. Associated Press

With Kentucky opening its 2017 football season on Saturday at Southern Miss, thought it might be a good time to review the history of UK’s football coaches from 1946 to the present.

Paul “Bear” Bryant

Years: 1946-53

Record: 60-23-6

SEC record: 22-19-4

Bowls: 1947-Great Lakes Bowl; 1949-Orange Bowl; 1950-Sugar Bowl; 1951-Cotton Bowl

Best team: Bryant’s 1950 team went 11-1 and snapped No. 1-ranked Oklahoma’s 31-game winning streak with a 13-7 win in the Sugar Bowl. That team was led by quarterback Babe Parilli and Outland Trophy winning defensive tackle Bob Gain.

Review: Yes, Bear Bryant coached at Kentucky. The Arkansas native was just 33 years old when he left Maryland, where he was 6-2-1 in his only season as head coach, to take over the program in Lexington. Recruiting heavily in Pennsylvania and playing young men who had returned from World War II, Bryant built a powerhouse with consecutive New Year’s Day bowl appearances in 1949, 1950 and 1951. His 1952 team slipped to 5-4-2 while his 1953 team went 7-2-1.

Restrictions on how many out-of-state players Bryant could recruit, plus the popularity of UK basketball and Adolph Rupp caused the football coach to leave for Texas A&M. He wrote in his autobiography that leaving Lexington was a mistake, but it worked out well for arguably the game’s most famous coach. As the head coach at Alabama, his alma mater, Bryant won six national championships.

Blanton Collier

Years: 1954-1961

Record: 41-36-3

SEC record: 21-34-3

Bowls: None

Best team: Collier’s first UK team in 1954 went 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the SEC. After a 2-3 start, it won five straight games, including a 14-13 victory at Tennessee in the season finale.

[Thanks to Blanton Collier and Bill Arnsparger, Paris has an underrated place in football history]

Review: A successful high school football and basketball coach at Paris High School, the Millersburg native was Paul Brown’s No. 1 assistant with the Cleveland Browns when he was hired to replace Bryant in 1954. Those were big shoes to fill. Though recognized as one of the game’s premiere teachers, Collier couldn’t match Bryant’s win-loss record. After going 5-5 overall and 2-4 in the SEC in 1961, Collier’s contract was not renewed.

He returned to Cleveland, where he became head coach in 1963 and won an NFL title in 1964. He was 76-34-2 in eight seasons as the Browns coach before retiring in 1970. His UK tenure was marked by a 5-2-1 record against arch-rival Tennessee and coaching staffs that included future NFL head coaches Don Shula, Bill Arnsparger, Leeman Bennett, John North, Chuck Knox and Howard Schnellenberger. Collier is the last Kentucky football coach to leave with a winning record at the school. The Blanton Collier Sportsmanship Award is given each year to a worthy recipient.

Charlie Bradshaw

Years: 1962-68

Record: 25-41-4

SEC record: 12-30-2

Bowls: None

Best team: Bradshaw’s 1965 team finished 6-4, missing out on a bowl game when it lost 38-21 at Houston and then 19-3 at home to Tennessee in the season finale. From that team, quarterback Rick Norton, offensive tackle Sam Ball and defensive back Rodger Bird all went on to NFL careers.

Review: Bradshaw had played for Bryant at Kentucky and was a Bryant assistant at Alabama when he was hired to replace Collier in 1962. After the gentlemanly ways of Collier, UK fans hoped Bradshaw would bring a more hard-nosed approach and his first team was known as the “Thin Thirty” after the brutal practices caused over 50 players to either quit the team or transfer. Bradshaw couldn’t follow up on his 1964 success, however, as Kentucky went just 8-21-1 with just three conference victories in his final three seasons.

In the midst of a 3-7 year, Bradshaw announced he would resign at the end of the 1969 season. He returned to Alabama where he became head coach at Troy State in 1976, compiling a 41-27-2 record in seven seasons.

John Ray

Years: 1969-72

Record: 10-33

SEC record: 5-24

Bowls: None

Best team: Ray’s final team went 3-8 with SEC wins over Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, but it wasn’t enough to save his job after just four seasons.

Review: Ray was the defensive coordinator during Ara Parseighan’s legendary run at Notre Dame when he left South Bend to become Kentucky’s new football coach. The Indiana native, who had gone 29-6 in five seasons as the head coach at John Carroll University, recruited well and made a successful push for a new stadium, but failed to post many victories on the field. His second game at UK produced a 10-9 upset win over Archie Manning and visiting Ole Miss, but it was downhill after that.

With Commonwealth Stadium set to open in 1973, there were those who argued Ray deserved the opportunity to coach in the stadium he had fought so hard to build. Alas, a 40-0 loss at Floirda in his next-to-last game sealed Ray’s fate. He was fired at the end of the year.

Fran Curci

Years: 1973-1981

Record: 47-51-2

SEC record: 25-30

Bowls: 1976-Peach Bowl

Best team: Curci’s 19-77 team went 10-1 overall and 6-0 in the SEC and finished No. 6 in the AP poll. NCAA probation kept it from competing for the conference championship or going to a bowl game. One of the best teams to ever play at Kentucky, the ’77 Cats featured Art Still, Derrick Ramsey, Jerry Blanton, Dallas Owens, Mike martin, Will Grant, Kelly Kirchbaum and Mike Siganos, among others.

[Governor Bevin appoints Derrick Ramsey as Labor Secretary]

Review: A firey Floridian, Curci immediately injected excitement into a program that had not enjoyed a winning season since 1964. With star running back Sonny Collins, Kentucky went 5-6 in 1973 and 6-5 in 1974, missing a bowl game by losing 24-7 at Tennessee in the season finale. After a 2-8-1 misstep in 1976, UK won 8-3 games in 1977 and reached the Peach Bowl, the school’s first post-season appearance in 25 years.

[The unusual way UK’s 1976 football team became SEC champions in 1978]

Recruiting violations put the program on probation, however, and Curci could not build off the success of 1977. Losing records and various off-the-field problems led to the coach’s demise. Curci was fired after the 1981 season. He went on to coach in the Arena League and do college football analyst work for national radio networks.

Jerry Claiborne

Years: 1982-89

Record: 41-46-3

SEC record: 13-37

Bowls: 1983-Hall of Fame Bowl; 1984-Hall of Fame Bowl

Best team: Claiborne’s 1984 team went 9-3 overall and 3-3 in the SEC. It defeated Wisconsin 20-19 in the Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham. The season’s highlight was a 17-12 in at Tennessee, the school’s last win over the Volunteers until Matt Roark and the Cats beat UT 10-7 in 2011.

Review: Hired to clean up the program after Curci, Claiborne returned to his alma mater after going 61-39-2 in 10 seasons at Virginia Tech and 77-37-3 in 10 seasons at Maryland. Claiborne’s first UK team failed to win a game, finishing 0-10-1 in 1982, but his 1983 team engineered one of the year’s best turnarounds, going 6-5-1 with a loss to West Virginia in the Hall of Fame Bowl. After UK’s Hall of Fame win in 1984, Claiborne failed to get the Cats back to a bowl game. His final five teams went 26-28-1. Days after a 31-10 home loss to Tennessee finished the 1989 season at 6-5, Claiborne announced his retirement. The Hopkinsville native was credited with running a clean program that was competitive on the field and excelled in the classroom.

Bill Curry

Years: 1990-96

Record: 26-52

SEC record: 14-40

Bowls: 1993-Peach

Best team: Curry’s 1993 team went 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the SEC before losing 14-13 to Clemson in the Peach Bowl.

Review: Shocking the college football world, Curry left traditional power Alabama, where he had battled with the administration, after aa 26-10 record over seasons to become the coach at perennial punching bag Kentucky. After a slow start, the former Georgia Tech and NFL center appeared to be building momentum when the ’93 team each the post-season. If all fell apart in 1994 when the Cats nose-dived to 1-10 overall and 0-8 in the league.

Curry lasted two more years, going 8-14, but after a 41-14 loss at LSU dropped UK to 1-6 in 1996, athletics director C.M. Newton fired his friend and head coach, effective at the end of the season. Curry went on to a broadcasting career and started Georgia State’s football program in his native Atlanta. He retired in 2012 after going 10-23 in three seasons.

Hal Mumme

Years: 1997-2000

Record: 20-26

SEC record: 10-22

Bowls: 1998-Outback Bowl; 1999-Music City Bowl

Best team: Led by quarterback Tim Coach and wide receiver Craig Yeast, Kentucky went 7-4 overall and 4-4 in the SEC before losing 26-14 to Joe Paterno in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, the program’s first New Year’s Day Bowl game since the days of Bear Bryant. After the season, Couch gave up his senior year to enter the NFL draft he was the first overall selection by the Cleveland Browns in 1999.

Review: The father of the “Air Raid” passing system, Mumme was plucked by UK AD C.M. Newton out of Division II where he coached Valdosta State. Mumme immediately installed Couch as his starting quarterback and the legendary high school passer from Leslie County was a perfect fit for the Mumme system. UK scored a ton of points, set numerous offensive records and went 8-8 in the SEC over 1998 and 1999.

It all came apart in 2000, however, when the program came under NCAA investigation for alleged violations under recruiting coordinator Claude Bassett. Two months after completing the 2000 season 2-9, Mumme was forced to resign. He has had four coaching stops since, going 12-11 in two seasons at Southeastern Louisiana; 11-39 in four years at New Mexico State; 28-16 in four years at McMuryy and 6-25 in three seasons at Belhaven.

Guy Morriss

Years: 2001-02

Record: 9-14

SEC record: 4-12

Bowls: None

Best team: Kentucky went 7-5 in Morris’ second and final season, starting with an upset 22-17 win at Louisville. Led by quarterback Jared Lorenzen (24 touchdowns; five interceptions) and running back Artose Pinner (1,414 yard rushing), UK won 29-17 at Arkansas and 45-24 at Mississippi State. NCAA probation kept the Cats from going to a bowl. Unfortunately, that team ia also remembered for losing the “Bluegrass Miracle” when LSU completed a Hail Mary 74-yard touchdown pass to beat Kentucky 33-30 at Commonwealth Stadium.

Review: A former NFL All-Pro, Morriss served as offensive line coach during Mumme’s four years at UK before being being given a one-year contract as head coach upon Mumme’s resignation. Though Morriss’ first team went 2-9, three of the losses came by a combined 10 points. After his successful 2002 season, Morriss left for his home state of Texas and Baylor, where he was given a five-year, $5 million contract. He was fired after going 18-40 in those five seasons.

Morriss coached four seasons at Texas A&M-Commerce, where he went 10-31 in four seasons before announcing his retirement and returning to Lexington. His family recently announced that Morriss has been diagnosed with Alzeheimer’s.

Rich Brooks

Years: 2003-09

Record: 39-47

SEC record: 16-39

Bowls: 2006-Music City Bowl: 2007-Music City Bowl: 2008-Liberty Bowl; 2009-Music City Bowl

Best team: Brooks’ 2007 team upset No.1-ranked and eventual champion LSU 43-37 in overtime on the way to an 8-5 record, which included a 35-28 win over Florida State in the Music City Bowl. Quarterback Andre Woodson threw for 3,709 yards with 40 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. Rafael Little rushed for 1,013 yards. And wide receiver Stevie Johnson caught 60 passes for 1,041 yards and 13 scores.

Review: The head coach at Oregon for 18 seasons (1977-94) and an NFL head coach for two (St. Louis Rams, 1995-96) and defensive coordinator for four (Atlanta Falcons, 1997-2000), Brooks had been out of football for two years and out of college football for almost a decade when he took a UK program on probation. Despite scholarship limitations and a rough start, Brooks eventually built the foundation of a solid program that set a school record by going to four straight bowl games.

Brooks retired at the end of the 2009 season. He splits his time between Oregon and California where he plays golf, grows tomatoes, fishes, roots for the Ducks and Wildcats athletics teams and tweets regularly.

Joker Phillips

Years: 2010-12

Record: 13-24

SEC record: 4-20

Bowls: 2010-BBVA Compass Bowl

Best team: Phillips first team as head coach went 6-6 before losing to Pittsburgh 27-10 in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham. Steve Spurrier suffered his first loss to a Kentucky team when his Gamecocks lost to the 2010 Cats 31-28. Randall Cobb caught 84 passes for 1,017 yards that season. Quarterback Mike Hartline threw for 23 touchdowns with nine interceptions, but did not play in the bowl game because of a suspension.

Review: A former UK wide receiver and long-time assistant with stints under Claiborne, Curry and Brooks, Phillips was the official coach-in-waiting when the Franklin native took over for Brooks in 2010. After extending the school’s bowl streak to five straight seasons, the momentum stalled in 2011 and collapsed in 2012. Fans stopped coming to Commonwealth Stadium and when only 18,000 showed up for a 40-0 loss to Vanderbilt, Phillips was fired the next day.

After serving as an assistant coach at Florida and with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, Phillips served as an offensive consultant for Urban Meyer at Ohio State last season and is first-year head coach Luke Fickell’s wide receivers coach at Cincinnati this year.

Mark Stoops

Years: 2013-current

Record: 19-30

SEC record: 8-24

Bowls: 2016-TaxSlayer Bowl

Best team: Kentucky went 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the SEC before losing 33-18 to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl, UK’s first bowl appearance since 2010. The season’s highlight was a 41-38 win at arch-rival and 11th-ranked Louisville, led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. Boom Williams rushed for 1,170 yards and true freshman Benny Snell for 1,091 for a team that was helped by the emergence of junior college transfer Stephen Johnson, who replaced injured quarterback Drew Barker in the season’s third game.

Review: The brother of now former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops, Mark came to UK after a successful stint as defensive coordinator at Florida State. A native of Youngstown, Stoops has recruited his home state of Ohio hard, resulting in classes regularly rated well with analysts. Also during Stoops’ tenure, UK has refurbished Commonwealth Stadium -- now renamed Kroger Field -- and built a $50 million football training facility.

Kentucky football coaches by win percentage







Bear Bryant






Blanton Collier






Fran Curci






Jerry Claiborne






Rich Brooks






Hal Mumme






Guy Morriss






Mark Stoops






Charlie Bradshaw






Joker Phillips






Bill Curry






John Ray