Joker Phillips: Kentucky Right to Fire Coach Despite Contributions to Wildcats

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIINovember 5, 2012

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 19:  Head coach Joker Phillips of the Kentucky Wildcats looks on from the sidelines during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As a former player who worked his way all the way to the top at his alma mater, firing head coach Joker Phillips was an extremely difficult decision for the Kentucky Wildcats.

But with a 1-9 record in 2012 and two prior losing seasons, it was time for the coach to get the axe, despite his prior contributions to the program.

The official Twitter of Kentucky Athletics broke the news of Phillips' fate Sunday afternoon: 

In this letter to the #BBN, Mitch Barnhart announces Joker Phillips will not return as head football coach next season…

— Kentucky Athletics(@UKAthleticsNews) November 4, 2012

It has clearly been an uncomfortable, difficult situation for all parties involved in this lame duck situation, as was well-documented by the Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker: 

Joker Phillips has still not decided whether to coach the final two games and AD Mitch Barnhart has no plans to speak to media this week.

— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) November 5, 2012

Barnhart did have some very glowing words for Phillips in the statement he released, though:

...For a man who has served his alma mater for almost 22 years as a player and a coach...[Phillips] has carried the banner for the Blue and White with honor and pride...His concern for the entire program, his work and teaching of young people, his humanitarian work, and the friendship we all enjoy with him will long surpass the scoreboard.

No one can blame Phillips for his conflicting feelings on whether to remain as coach for the last two games.

The pain caused by the firing, combined with his deep university ties and the tribulations the Wildcats have endured in 2012, have to make it all the more difficult.

Several years after a short-lived professional career with the Washington Redskins and a stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL, Phillips found his coaching start at Kentucky as a graduate assistant in 1988.

Starting at the bottom of the totem pole is obviously a humbling experience, but Phillips had an in, since he had played receiver for the Wildcats from 1981-84.

After moving through the ranks and also pursuing other opportunities away from Lexington beginning in 1997, Phillips ultimately returned to be the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator on Ron Brooks' staff.

From there, Phillips climbed the ladder again, and his assistant coaching career was highlighted by the development of former Wildcat star QB Andre Woodson. Philips was calling the offensive plays when Woodson put together a brilliant two-year stretch in throwing a combined 71 touchdowns to just 18 interceptions (h/t

That led to victories in the Music City Bowl following the 2006 and 2007 seasons and another promotion for Phillips before he ultimately succeeded Brooks in 2010.

Phillips, himself, recruited the players that made up those teams.

Unfortunately, the program hasn't made any bowl game appearances and have been completely overmatched in the SEC during Phillips' time at the helm. It's difficult to blame him completely for that, particularly at a school where basketball is far more renowned than football.

Both the Wildcats program and Phillips wanted to make this thing work.

It even looked like the last year's season finale win over rival Tennessee—Kentucky's first win in its past 26 games against the Vols—would have driven the team into making progress this season.

It simply didn't happen.

A 40-0 loss to Vanderbilt turned out to be the last straw, as it dropped Kentucky to 0-7 in conference play.

The future of the program is completely up in the air, but as much as Phillips has given Kentucky football in his longtime affiliation with the program, it was best for both sides to move on.

(Note: Phillips' coaching history information courtesy of


    2019 Linebacker Tra Wilkins Commits to UK

    Kentucky Wildcats Football logo
    Kentucky Wildcats Football

    2019 Linebacker Tra Wilkins Commits to UK

    Jack Pilgrim
    via Kentucky Sports Radio

    Which 'Man of Mystery' Will Claim Kentucky's Starting QB Job?

    Kentucky Wildcats Football logo
    Kentucky Wildcats Football

    Which 'Man of Mystery' Will Claim Kentucky's Starting QB Job?

    via kentucky

    Leach's Hoax Tweet Showed Why Bigger Schools Won't Hire Him

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Leach's Hoax Tweet Showed Why Bigger Schools Won't Hire Him

    Dan Wolken
    via USA TODAY

    Welcome to Lane Kiffin's Charlie Weis Jr. Experiment

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Welcome to Lane Kiffin's Charlie Weis Jr. Experiment

    Andrea Adelson