A Few Thoughts About UK Football

Even before yesterday’s once-in-a-quarter-century win over Tennessee, seen by what the UT radio team I was listening to described as a near-half capacity crowd at Commonwealth Stadium, Mitch Barnhadt claimed his mind was made up to bring Joker Phillips back for a third season as head coach at Kentucky. And I believe that do be the correct decision, despite all the stuff I’m about to write. While it’s impossible to describe Joker’s first two seasons as head coach as anything other than disappointing, firing him after two seasons sets a troublesome precedent and would likely do more harm than good to the program’s long-term chances of success.

Here’s why: Kentucky just isn’t a very attractive job. Yes, it’s D-I. Yes, it’s in the SEC. But, no, it does not give an emerging (or for that matter, established) head coaching talent a reasonable chance at success. To put it mildly, anyone who takes on the head football job at UK faces an increasingly steep uphill battle. Kentucky Athletics board member Ballard Cassady, through his op-ed piece in the Lexington Herald-Leader and his interview on Kentucky Sports Television, has done a masterful job of explaining why the University of Kentucky is at such a structural disadvantage in football when compared to the rest of the SEC. In summation it boils down to this: Because of the way the athletics department is structured at UK, obtaining public funding for the purpose of facility construction is virtually impossible. In addition, the vast majority of the private funding is directed to basketball. With literally no public funding and very little private funding, there’s just not much money left over for Kentucky to upgrade its football facilities. And facilities are integral to a coach’s ability to recruit (and subsequently succeed). In that regard Joker Phillips and the UK coaching staff are bringing knives to gunfights when it comes to recruiting top-flight talent to the program.

When you combine the facilities problem with the fact that Kentucky as a state produces minimal high school football talent (which it essentially splits with U of L), you begin to understand why there are many out there (myself included) who believe Kentucky reached its ceiling under Rich Brooks. Seven or eight wins per season on a consistent basis is likely as good as it’s going to get. If the stars and the moon and the remaining remnants of the universe were to somehow align – for instance, if you could place Kentucky’s 2007 team in the 2011 SEC – I think nine or ten wins and an East Division title is achievable. But that would require a once-in-a-generation recruiting class to come along at a time when Florida, Tennessee and Georgia are all by their standards down, South Carolina is strong but beatable, and two of our three games from the West are Mississippi State (UK’s permanent) and Ole Miss. Could Andre Woodson and Co. have rattled off nine or ten wins this season? It’s possible. They’d need to go 4-0 in their non-conference, take one of three from the murderer’s row of Florida-LSU-South Carolina, then beat Mississippi State and Ole Miss at home before needing to win two of three to close the year at Vandy, at Georgia, and Tennessee at home. Even with the best Kentucky team of my lifetime against a favorable SEC schedule, nine wins sounds tough and ten sounds unlikely.

But let’s bring it back to Joker. On top of it being the right thing to do (as laughable as even I think that sounds in the realm of college athletics), I think a third year for him is what’s best for the program. For one, I still think Joker could be the guy. While it hasn’t translated to on-field success, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that in three years he’s recruited as well as any head coach in school history. Guys who recruit well at Kentucky don’t exactly grow on trees. For two, firing a guy after two years sets a precedent that makes a bad job even worse from the perspective of outside candidates.

Ballard does an excellent job of explaining in his interview why hiring a big name coach is likely not in the cards for Kentucky. For prospective coaches, it’s less about the money and more about the opportunity for success. Throw in a two-and-done precedent with the other road blocks to victory the UK job creates and I believe you scare off not only the established but also the up-and-coming. I doubt Kentucky has the wherewithal to lure a big-name assistant like Gus Malzahn away from Auburn, but I do think it could potentially nab someone like Arkansas State head coach Hugh Freeze (who Ole Miss is reportedly interested in). But if someone like Freeze, a strong candidate with options, takes a look at UK, an imperfect job that is still an obvious step up, and sees a school that gives its coaches a two-year window for success, I don’t know how that doesn’t decrease his interest.

And while I’m rooting for Joker to succeed next season, an objective look at our schedule makes it hard to have a great deal of optimism. This was the season for Joker to make his mark. The entire offensive line was back, and the schedule was as favorable as it’s going to get in the SEC. If Joker’s measure of success (and requirement for a fourth season) is six wins and a bowl next year, I have a hard time seeing it happen.

We don’t yet know exactly what UK’s schedule will look like next year because of the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC, but assuming SEC teams play an eight-game conference schedule and Missouri joins the East, UK’s schedule will look something like this.

They’ll open the season at Louisville (likely a loss), then follow that with a pair of home games against Kent State and Western Kentucky (two likely wins). But then it gets a little tricky and a lot tougher. Order unknown, Kentucky’s SEC schedule will include home games against Georgia (loss), South Carolina (loss) and Vandy (swing game). Road matchups at Florida (loss), Tennessee (swing game) and Mississippi State (swing game) will be sprinkled in, while UK will round out its SEC slate with new East division foe Missouri (likely loss) and one more SEC West team, most likely LSU or Arkansas. Which of the two latter two games will be a home contest is TBD. Kentucky also has one more non-conference game against Samford (WIN!) the weekend prior to the season finale.

That puts the number of probable wins (i.e., the games Kentucky will be favored in) at three. The season opener at Louisville is crucial. Drop that one and the battle goes from uphill to near-impossible. The other swing games are Mississippi State in Starkville, Vandy at home, and Tennessee in Knoxville, only one of which (Vandy) does Kentucky have much of a shot to be favored. If Kentucky can somehow beat U of L and go 4-0 in the non-conference then they’d need to come up with two more wins to become bowl eligible. Vandy at home is probably Kentucky’s most winnable of its remaining swing games. That puts us at five, meaning we’d need to win either at Mississippi State or at Tennessee to have a chance at a bowl. There’s always an outside chance we get Ole Miss as our second SEC West game, but since we’ve played them now two straight seasons you have to think it’s going to be someone other than the Rebels (read: Loss).

How confident do you feel with that schedule? My gun-to-the-head prediction for Kentucky’s win total next season: Four. I think we drop Louisville, get the other three outside of the SEC, then get one either against Vandy in Commonwealth or to end the year at Tennessee. I don’t see UK winning at Starkville or even at home to Missouri. The Tigers are currently bowl eligible at 7-5 with a win over Texas earlier in the year.

So what’s next for UK football? Although Joker’s back, at least two assistants are rumored to be gone. You have to believe offensive coordinator Randy Sanders is one of them, and that’s a shame. Sanders came to UK from Tennessee in 2006 as the quarterbacks coach and had an immediate impact on Andre Woodson and the UK offense. But UK’s offense was atrocious this year, and someone has to fall on the sword. Most of the buzz centers on receivers coach Tee Martin being promoted to fill Sanders’ spot, despite the fact that Kentucky’s receivers this year were horrible.

If there’s one reason to be optimistic it’s that Joker’s been in a nearly identical situation before. He, with Sanders’ help, turned a struggling UK offense into one of the best in country in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. He said as much in a press conference in early October.

“I got this job because I took a struggling offense and fixed it – and won a lot of games after getting it fixed. I’m at that point now. I’ve got to get this struggling offense fixed. We’ve got to get this thing fixed – and fixed in a hurry.”

I’m rooting for Joker. I just don’t know if I’m betting on him.

Kanter v NCAA

Well there it is. The NCAA showing its bias and total case of Enes envy ruled him permanently ineligible. So what is next for UK’s “professional” athlete? We know he will stay a part of the program for the remainder of the year in some sort of a student-coach status. We know he will finish his spring semester of classes and will get ready for the NBA Draft.

There has also been loud chatter of a possible lawsuit against the NCAA, which Coach Cal has publicly endorsed. Most agree though, myself included, that strong grounds for a lawsuit might not exist. So with that said I want to see another kind of Kanter v NCAA.

UnderKanter v NCAA.

These people denied him of his first love, basketball. Now let him bring the wrath with his second love, wrestling. Now im not one (typically) to incite riots and blow things out of proportion but im sure there is a well established wrestling/trailer park community between Lexington and Indianapolis (NCAA Headquarters) that has all of the amenities to make this happen. And afterall the NCAA asked for this. They had a very wordy and cryptic public release stating their decision to ban him but all it really ended up saying was:

Dear Enes,

We want you to fight us. Royal Rumble style.

Sincerly,

NCAA

Return of the Reverselexpat

That song did not inspire me to resume blogging but it would’ve been hilarious if it did. Anyway, I hate always starting these things off talking about myself and how long it’s been since my last post and how lazy I am but it seems odd to post again after such a  long hiatus without saying anything, so there, it’s been acknowledged. Now on to the rambling…

Two rounds into the tournament and UK is just now FINALLY looking like a legitimate threat to win the National Championship. Despite only losing twice all year and having so much talent, this team has always looked quite beatable to me. We just don’t put teams away like we should and eventually that can get you. The whole ‘will to win’ angle is nice but I get a lot more confident/enthusiastic about our chances when we’re destroying people and that’s exactly what we’ve done the past two games. Everything seems to be clicking. Wall is being Wall, Cousins has managed to keep his emotions in check while still be being a huge force inside, Bledsoe has really stepped up his shooting, and Miller has finally convinced me he’s for real. That whole bit I did awhile ago about how slow his shot was looks a bit outlandish now. I seriously think he worked on it because I swear it really did seem so much slower earlier in the year. I’ve come around though, he should be starting over Dodson. He’s clearly a better all-around player, but I still think Dodson’s the best shooter on the team. In addition to the Cats really hitting their stride, we should all give a huge thanks to the heroics of Ali Farokhmanesh for knocking off the dreaded Jayhawks. That wide open three point dagger at the end was awesome. Interesting side note, Farokhmanesh is Arabic for Boogie. (Citation desperately needed.)

Ali 'the Jayhawk Killa' Boogie

One of my favorite features RV:WT does here at Lexpatriates is his ‘Stuff I’ve Read and Liked’ posts. So keeping with that theme/blatantly ripping it off, here is some stuff I’ve read and liked….

While The Simpsons is far from being the funniest show on TV anymore, anyone who has ever enjoyed it would appreciate this profile of one of the show’s best writers when it was still relatively close to its peak: “Taking Humor Serioulsy – George Meyer, the funniest man behind the funniest show on TV.” The New Yorker, March 13, 2000. http://www.snpp.com/other/interviews/meyer00.html.

Despite the fact that The Onion has been a popular and critically acclaimed website for almost 15 years, people still can’t seem to grasp that it is fiction. That said, THIS IS NOT REAL, JUST FUNNY:  “Man On Internet Almost Falls Into World Of DIY Mustard Enthusiasts.” The Onion, March 11, 2010. http://www.theonion.com/articles/man-on-internet-almost-falls-into-world-of-diy-mus,17013/.

I feel like I’m coming off as know-it-all even name-dropping him, but this is a pretty interesting article about David Foster Wallace (pictured below), the acclaimed author who killed himself over a year ago. I’ve read some of his work and while I’ll admit huge portions of it went over my head, I enjoyed it and honestly felt somewhat enlightened for having read it: “The Unfinished.” The New Yorker, March 9, 2009. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/09/090309fa_fact_max.

He's smarter than you.

While keeping with the David Foster Wallace theme, here’s an article he wrote about the great Roger Federer. Like everything else he’s written, it is a bit long but it’s a good read and will enhance your appreciation of Federer, if not tennis in general: “Federer as Religious Experience.” The New York Times, August 20, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/sports/playmagazine/20federer.html?pagewanted=all.

I feel like I should again weigh in on the Tiger Woods fiasco but I just don’t know what more there is to say on the subject. He really is a pretty despicable guy and his pathetic attempts at wining back the public (his ‘press conference’ and ‘interviews’) have been a joke. I’m no public relations expert, but the best route to winning back the people seems to be complete honesty from the beginning. David Letterman handled his controversy masterfully when he addressed it on his show before the story even broke. Tiger has not. I really don’t see how his wife can stay with him after all this, especially after those graphic/hilarious text messages to the porn star. Doesn’t that have to be the final straw? I really want to see her leave him, specifically for John Daly. I’m pretty sure that would be the most awesome thing ever. In Tiger’s defense, I almost believe his whole sex addiction story. I’ve always found the concept of sex addition to be a rather weak/silly excuse, but if it is a real thing, I’m pretty sure Tiger’s got it. Some of his decisions have been so mind-blowingly bad, it’s hard to believe they were caused by your standard run-of-the mill hornyness. He seems to have some sort of super human uber-hornyness that is exhausting to even contemplate. If it is a true addiction he’s battling, I can’t imagine the withdrawal he’s going through right now…

It's doesn't burn when I pee anymore!...

I miss the burn!!

Simmons and Klosterman Talk Kentucky’s Title Chances

https://i2.wp.com/cache.deadspin.com/sports/simmonsklosterman.jpg

Unless you want to hear 20+ minutes about why Tiger Woods and John Mayer are a different breed of idiot, you can just jump ahead to the 24:40 mark to dive right into the Kentucky talk.

The B.S. Report: 3/5 Part 1

What About Dodson?

There’s a lot of talk on this site about Darius Miller’s role on the team but little mention of Darnell Dodson. To me, he’s got to start over Miller and DeAndre Liggins. I’m no expert, but Dodson really does seem to have the potential to be a great scorer. He’s already got a deadly 3-point shot. He gets it off in no time at all and it ALWAYS looks like it’s going in. Miller on the other hand has one of the slower releases I’ve seen… Miller’s shot is so slow he doesn’t just plant his feet, he waits for them to germinate! (Feel free to use that one.)

'...aiming....Aiming....STILL AIMING!!'

In addition to Dodson’s 3-pointers, in recent games he’s also started to drive to the basket more and create his own shots. He’s also got good height for a shooting guard, which has to be his most natural spot. If he could bulk up a bit he’d really start looking like a fine NBA player as opposed to Perry Stevenson’s little brother.


'I'm not skinny, I'm just little-boned!'

On a somewhat unrelated note, I’m really starting to come around to Big Cuz. (I’m never coming around to ‘Boogie’. Sure, it’s probably a reference to the musical term, but it also has a more nasally connotation. I honestly think I’d prefer if he just went by ‘Phlegm’.) Anyway, the point is I’ve really started to like this kid. It might have something to do with the fact that he’s become f-ing awesome, but DeMarcus Cousins’ expressiveness has become kind of endearing. He just really can’t help himself. As long as they can keep it in check, players that wear their emotions on their sleeves have always been rather likable…. Rasheed Wallace, Allen Iverson, and Antoine Walker come to mind. (Those players are all likable, right?) Cousins doesn’t mean any harm, he’s just more transparent than others and I think that’s a good thing. Just please stick to expressing yourself with your face and not your elbows.

Cousins' poker face

Simmons on LeBron James

LeBron James

I actually wanted to post a link to this article when it first went up on ESPN–about a week and a half ago–but I didn’t feel like it was particularly relevant.  Kentucky was rolling, LeBron was rolling, but there hadn’t been any overlap between the two in quite some time.  But things changed Saturday.  LeBron’s giving shout outs to Calipari and Wall again, making impromptu appearances courtside at Rupp Arena, throwing his name on shoes designed for Kentucky’s basketball team, as well as being that all-important last letter when it comes time to spell the state’s name with human bodies during timeouts.  And Kentucky couldn’t find a better player to associate itself with.

As Bill Simmons writes in his recent piece for ESPN, LeBron James has a force of personality unseen since Jordan, and his size, speed, and talent-combination transcends our current definition of potential.

Simply put, LeBron is an absolute freak of nature.  When I talk about him, I always find myself thinking back to the opening scene of the original X-Men movie (very corny, I admit), when Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is cryptically explaining the origins of mutants like Wolverine and Cyclopse:

“Mutation. It is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few hundred millenia, evolution leaps forward…”

LeBron is that leap.  How else can you explain a 6’8”, 270 lbs. point-forward with a 45-inch vertical leap and the best end-to-end speed in the league?  While some people like to compare LeBron to Michael or Magic, I’ve always argued that the best comparison, in terms of impact, is Wilt Chamberlain: LeBron and Wilt are the same sort of leap in evolution Professor X was talking about.  Both of them are/were players that were unlike anything the league had ever seen before.  Wilt was the first big man who could run and jump like a guard, LeBron is the first power forward who can run, jump, shoot, play defense, handle the ball, and pass like a freakishly athletic point guard.

Simmons echoes these sentiments (minus the X-Men stuff), writing that LeBron is the only player we’ve ever seen that’s ceiling-less in terms of potential.  We’ve never seen a guy like him before.  How do we know what he’s capable of?  And it’s because of this that the stakes will be at an all-time high this summer, when James find out his true net worth as he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

An excerpt:

“Know this: The Kobe-LeBron argument is dead. It’s over. LeBron James is the best basketball player alive. Whoever gets him this summer will treat their fans to 50-55 appointment home games for the next five seasons (including playoffs). If you were ever fortunate enough to have season tickets for a memorable athlete in his prime — Gretzky, Montana, Jordan, Magic, Bird, Pedro, Koufax, whomever — then you know exactly what this means. It’s not just about the winning. It’s about heading to the stadium or the park feeling like you won the lottery. It’s about the buzz in the crowd, the way everyone seems like they spent just a little more time getting ready. It’s about the ceiling being removed for the night. It’s about the chance that, 50 years later, your grandkid or your great-grandkid will ask you, “What was it like to see HIM play every night?” … and you’ll have an answer for him. It’s about the familiarity of excellence — constant exposure to someone who’s better at his job than you will ever be at anything — and how that superiority ebbs and flows from night to night.”

Simmons: We Are All Witnesses

Sports Media Bitch Fest

So I finally had something I was going to blog about yesterday and Religious Views: Wayne Turner beat me to the punch. I too was rather shocked how high Eric Bledsoe was projected to go in the draft and was going to express this with about 200 words and a picture. However, after his thorough summation of the story I don’t have much more to add beyond saying that if Bledsoe is a top 12 pick, I know nothing about basketball and should probably just focus on recommending tv shows and ripping on Tiger Woods, (more on that later).

I'm gonna be rich!!!!

Instead of just lamenting a missed opportunity, (my standard operating procedure), something else caught my eye today on the great KSR which should pretty much be considered required reading for anyone wanting to discuss Kentucky sports. Today the blogger Brian the Intern mentioned his dislike of Tony Kornheiser and I inadvertently blurted out an ‘Amen!’ Kornheiser has got to be one of the most overrated media personalities… scratch that, HUMANS, ever. I couldn’t believe my eyes when previously on KSR, its founder Matt Jones, cited Kornheiser as one of his writing idols. That would be the equivalent of Conan O’Brien calling Jay Leno his comedy idol… Just typing that made me cringe.

America, Please Stop Watching this Man!!

Like many tv/radio personalities, Kornheiser seems to love the sound of his own voice. That wouldn’t be such a great sin if Kornheiser didn’t have one of the more insufferable voices known to mankind. Gilbert Gottfried finds Kornheiser’s voice whiny. [citation needed]  In addition to the voice is the fact that he knows very little about sports and often seems proud of this. I honestly don’t think he likes sports. He likes the personalities involved in the games but that’s about where it ends. On his show Pardon the Interuption, the program often concludes with Tony and Michael Wilbon making their TV picks; a typical Tony suggestion… Dancing with the Stars. WTF!? That about sums up Tony’s contributions to sports media.

Brett Favre + Dancing with the Stars = orgasmic bliss

While he’s got nothing on Tony, Wilbon is also on the overrated side. He comes across as being much more knowledgable about sports  but he always seems to be playing favorites with the athletes. I haven’t watched the show much recently for obvious reasons, but I would be curious to see his take on ‘his boy’ Tiger Woods’ conundrum. While I’m sure it was addressed, I can’t imagine Wilbon having anything but the gentlest, most sympathetic comments about Woods. One time on the show, the topic of discussion was (paraphrasing) ‘Who’s a better athlete, Tiger Woods or Roger Federer?’ Wilbon, of course, thought it was Tiger without question. Yeah right. I don’t care how ripped Tiger looks, he’s still just a fucking golfer. He probably gets more exercise with his whores. A professional golfer…

God I'd love to get back down to my bowling weight.