The first major domino in college football's coaching carousel fell on Sunday, as Kentucky's Joker Phillips was fired after a 12-23 mark through three seasons. Phillips led the Wildcats to a bowl game in his first year, but the team never showed major progress in his tenure. Athletic director Mitch Barnhart has a difficult coaching search to lead, especially with the pressure to get it right.
Who Should Kentucky Hire to Replace Joker Phillips?
David Fox (@DavidFox615):
Kentucky’s first calls should be to Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes and Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart. Dykes is a former Kentucky assistant with direct connections to a successful era for the Wildcats under coach Hal Mumme and offensive coordinator Mike Leach. Between Kentucky’s success with Mumme and Tim Couch -- and now Texas A&M’s success with Johnny Manziel -- we can say this sort of spread offense can succeed in the SEC. And Taggart is simply a program builder, whose Western Kentucky program had had more success than the Wildcats the last two years. If I’m Kentucky, I’m glad to take a branch off the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree as well. If those routes fail because Dykes and Taggart are candidates for better jobs, Kentucky might look at the Vanderbilt route -- hiring a young energetic assistant like Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown or Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall):
If there is any coaching opening in any conference at any level for any amount of money, my answer will be Bobby Petrino. He is the only proven winner out there who is guaranteed to win the second he steps onto campus. He can be had for dirt cheap and with so many clauses in his contract, he won't be allowed out of the house after dark. I am not hiring someone to grow the leaders of tomorrow or compete in graduation rates. I am hiring someone to score more points than the other team and no one is better at that than Petrino. Tennessee, Cal, Purdue, Auburn and especially Kentucky would be foolish not to entertain the idea. Otherwise, I call one of the quality head coaches already doing good things in the Commonwealth and see what they say.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven):
I think Kentucky made the right decision by pulling the plug on the Joker Phillips era after Saturday’s game. Even though the Wildcats were playing a lot of young players, the program wasn’t moving in the right direction and was just 4-19 in his three seasons in SEC play. Considering the SEC’s expansion to 14 teams, as well as Vanderbilt’s improvement under James Franklin, this is a crucial hire for Kentucky. The Wildcats cannot afford to fall further behind in the SEC pecking order and need to regain some of the fanbase after lagging attendance in Phillips’ last season. Kentucky needs to be targeting a young coach, especially with a background on offense. Bobby Petrino would be a home-run hire, but he’s not coming to Lexington. After Petrino, the next name on my list would be Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes. In three seasons with the Bulldogs, Dykes has a 21-13 record, and has helped to coordinate one of the top offenses in college football. He also has experience at Kentucky, working as an assistant under Hal Mumme in 1997 and 1999. If Dykes doesn’t want to come to Lexington, the Wildcats need to give a good look at Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
My first call would be to Sonny Dykes, a former Kentucky assistant (1997, ’99) who is currently the head coach at Louisiana Tech. In two-plus seasons at Tech, Dykes has an overall record of 21–13 and a 13–5 mark in the WAC. The Bulldogs have made steady improvement since Dykes took over for Derek Dooley — they went 5–7 overall (4–4 WAC) in 2010, 8–5 (6–1) in ’11 and are currently 8–1 overall with a 3–0 mark in league play. They are ranked No. 20 in the latest BCS standings and have wins over Houston, Illinois and Virginia, along with a two-point loss to Texas A&M. Dykes’ teams not only win, they play an exciting brand of football; Tech ranks third in the nation in total offense and second in scoring offense. Dykes would be an ideal fit at a school that has enjoyed pockets of success but has failed to remain consistently competitive.
Baggage aside, I think Bobby Petrino would be the type of hire that could not only re-energize the fan base, but also give a boost to recruiting efforts. Everyone who follows the SEC knows what Petrino did at Arkansas, especially in terms of the type of offense he ran and how productive and exciting it was. Likewise, everyone knows how things ended with the Hogs, and because of that and other factors, I'm just not sure Kentucky will pull the trigger or be able to pay enough to lure Petrino to Lexington in the first place. That said, I think Willie Taggart would be the next best option. He's done a remarkable job of rebuilding Western Kentucky's program, which includes this season's win over the Wildcats in Lexington. His existing ties in the state should only aid in recruiting, particularly in keeping the top prospects home. Taggart may not have the name recognition that Petrino does, and the SEC and the Sun Belt are two entirely different playing fields, but he's already shown what he can do at one Kentucky state school, so why not give him a shot at turning around the program at THE Kentucky state school?
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):
I see the No. 1 candidate being Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes. The former Kentucky assistant under Hal Mumme (a very underrated coaching tree) has proven he can cut it as a head coach with the Bulldogs, and Dykes’ high-octane offense is currently second in the nation with an average of 52.4 points per game. And for any Wildcats fan worried those are just WAC numbers, La. Tech scored 57 points against Texas A&M, 52 on Illinois and 44 versus Virginia. In 2011, the Bulldogs won by 20 at Ole Miss and lost in overtime at Mississippi State. Dykes will have several options this offseason, as multiple SEC schools should show some interest. Western Kentucky head coach Willie Taggart and Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown are also solid candidates, but UK should pursue Dykes as its next head coach.
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