Kentucky Football: How to Overhaul the Wildcats' Program into an SEC Contender
Football season is just now in full swing.
Alabama and LSU will be battling for supremacy in the SEC West, while Georgia, South Carolina and Florida will try to make a run at the SEC East title.
Then, well, there’s Kentucky. After an embarrassing loss to Western Kentucky two weeks ago and a 38-0 shutout loss to Florida to push its losing streak against the Gators to 26, Kentucky is off to a bad start.
All around the Bluegrass State the first question any University of Kentucky fan asks is, “Is it basketball season yet?”
Tickets for Big Blue Madness went on sale over the weekend and in just minutes, the tickets sold out. Around 24,000 people waited in line for hours on end to watch their basketball team practice. Coach John Calipari brings in another talented team with hopes of another NCAA title. Kentucky fans are drooling just over the thought of a ninth national title.
Then, the next question you will probably hear is, “How long before Joker (Phillips) is gone?” Followed by, “You think we will get (Bobby) Petrino or Mike Leach?”
And this week, No. 6 South Carolina comes to Commonwealth Stadium—another potential beatdown, especially with Steve Spurrier calling the shots for the Gamecocks.
With all the grumblings around the football program and the success of the basketball program, how does UK turn things around? How can the football program be so far behind?
Questions that everybody in the Bluegrass State keeps asking themselves and keeps them scratching their heads trying to think of an answer.
So how does UK turn this program around?
The first and most obvious thing is Joker Phillips has to go. The head coach is always the scapegoat when things aren’t going well for a program. But this time, it is the right choice.
The Wildcats' performance started to decline when Phillips took over for Rich Brooks. In Phillips' first year as head coach, Kentucky went 6-7 and lost the Compass Bowl. In his second year, the Cats' record declined to 5-7 and they missed their first bowl berth since 2005.
Rich Brooks led Kentucky to four straight bowl games and led the Cats to victory in the first three of those bowl appearances.
Phillips did lead Kentucky to its first victory against Tennessee in 26 games, the highlight win of Phillips’ head coaching career at Kentucky.
This season, the Wildcats are off to a 1-3 start and suffered a 32-31 loss to Western Kentucky University, the most humiliating loss of his head coaching career. The Hilltoppers are in just their third year at the Division I level.
Losing to Louisville was expected this season, but Kentucky was supposed to beat WKU. Coming into the season, WKU was one of three sure wins that Kentucky had—oops, the Wildcats didn’t comply—and now a 2-10 season looks likely; that is if the Cats can beat Samford late in the season.
Hope for this season is gone.
How can Kentucky start turning around the football program? With better coaching and recruiting.
First off, athletic director Mitch Barnhart needs to start looking for a coach for next season. Whether it is Petrino or Leach or whoever, start the hunt now.
Remember the basketball program was in this same situation after firing Billy Gillespie just a few years back.
Take that experience and find the right fit.
John Calipari has turned the basketball program into a star-studded college team whose fanbase includes LeBron James, Jay-Z and Drake, to go alongside Ashley Judd’s constant presence as a Wildcat diehard and alum.
So, get it right. Find someone who will embrace Coach Cal and what he has done and see that there is a lot of potential in the program.
There is no reason the football team can’t be successful. Rich Brooks had the Cats competitive, without all the attention that comes along with Coach Cal and the basketball program.
Cal is a showman, a salesman and innovator when it comes to getting people involved. The blueprint is laid out.
Just go out and find the right fit, whether it is a proven winner or an up-and-coming coach. Find someone who can put people in the bleachers and a coach who is willing to do what it takes to get some of the success of the basketball program to rub off on the football program.
Kentucky also must hit the recruiting trail.
Recruiting is everything, especially in the SEC, so the Wildcats have to do a better job of signing 4-star athletes.
The current Wildcat roster is filled with 1-, 2- and 3-star players.
That’s not going to cut it in the SEC. You can’t compete with the top-tier teams with players who are just physically overmatched.
Look, at the basketball program. Recruiting, recruiting and recruiting. That’s the key. Every season since Cal has taken over, he has arguably the best recruits in the country entering campus each fall.
Maybe, the football team won’t bring in the top talent anytime soon, but they must start improving. That’s the foundation—the players and talent level on your team.
So a new coach and better recruits sounds easy enough, but that’s a simple task.
Patience in the fanbase and administration will also factor into the equation.
It will not be a quick fix like the basketball team was with the hiring of Calipari. The football program was respectable under Brooks, but that respect is long gone. It will take time no matter who they bring in, unless Nick Saban loses his mind and decides to jump ship to the Bluegrass State, but that isn’t happening anytime soon.
In the meantime, get ready for Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks.
Hopefully, he will have something positive to say about UK’s punter at the end of Saturday’s game.
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