Joker Phillips' record in his first two seasons at UK ranks fourth among the last 10 UK football coaches.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – This is a statistic many Kentucky football fans will question or likely ignore, the way they have ignored the pleas to buy more tickets for the 2012 season.
But here it is:
Of the last 10 UK football coaches, only three delivered a better winning percentage in their first two seasons than Joker Phillips.
From the way people groan about Phillips, you'd think he would rank last by miles on that list. But Phillips won 44 percent (11-14) of his games in 2010 and 2011. Only Blanton Collier (.675, 13-6-1), Hal Mumme (.528, 12-11) and Fran Curci (.500, 11-11) have performed better in years one and two.
Ask the folks at NCAA headquarters for the files on how the Curci and Mumme Eras ended.
Here is where the debate begins. This is the rebuttal:
Phillips took over a program that posted four consecutive winning seasons and now has given UK back-to-back losing seasons. He lost to Florida by 38, to Louisiana State by 28 and to South Carolina by 51. Ugh. The days of games that were over in the first quarter were supposed to be over.
He also lost to Louisville. First time the Wildcats had lost to the Cardinals in five seasons. Now UK is supposed to lose to Louisville again, by two touchdowns, Sunday.
Points taken. The 30-point brushback at Vanderbilt last November was actually the moment that made it OK to howl about the direction of Kentucky football. Nothing kills a season-ticket sales campaign quicker than Vandy 38, Kentucky 8. I get that.
Joker hears the noise. Don't think he doesn't. He's made several pleas for continuing support, which is an unusual way to start a football season. He's joked about it, too.
Monday night, when he returned to a restaurant on the Outer Loop to appear with UK radio play-by-play voice Tom Leach for his radio program, Phillips arrived early and stayed late, thanking the 125 or so fans who came for autographs and pictures.
"I am relaxed," Phillips said. "One thing I've got to be is that I've got to be Joker. That's what I've tried to be throughout this whole thing."
This whole thing, of course, is more than simply trying to make Kentucky a consistent winner. For Phillips, the job continues to be trying to convince a healthy chunk of fans that he is the right coach for the job.
But let's quit tap-dancing around big-picture reality. Struggling for respectability in the Southeastern Conference has been foremost in Kentucky's football DNA for a half-century.
The frustration and conditional love some have toward the football program began with Charlie Bradshaw in 1962 not with Phillips in 2010. Bradshaw was the guy who took over from Blanton Collier and celebrated one winning season – a mere 6-4 in 1965.
He stayed seven seasons, establishing the culture that being ordinary was OK.
Bradshaw was replaced by John Ray, who was supposed to fix everything because of the reflected glory of coming from Notre Dame, back in the days when coming from Notre Dame was like coming from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
His winning percentage for his first two seasons -- .190, 4-17 – is easily the worst performance of the last 10 UK coaches.
Kentucky has tried every solution – former SEC coach of the year (Bill Curry), small college offensive guru (Mumme), alum with ties to Bear Bryant (Jerry Claiborne), former NFL player (Guy Morriss).
Nothing has worked. Not really.
You can put together a string of remarkable moments, some minor bowl game success and a list of quality players who were also quality people. But if the goal is dislodging Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and now South Carolina on its side of the SEC? Hasn't happened.
Brooks did the job as well as anybody, posting four consecutive winning seasons before re-retiring. Brooks did outstanding work in difficult conditions. But let's not talk about him as if he was Chip Kelly (Oregon) or Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State), guys who have put up truly remarkable numbers at unexpected places.
That didn't happen at Kentucky. Brooks never won more than seven regular-season games, which is only one more than Phillips won in 2010. It's two more than Joker won last year.
That wasn't an encouraging trend. Phillips needs to stop the slippage. But measured against the 50-year past performance chart of Kentucky football, two unsatisfactory seasons also are not a reason to write off a coach. Phillips seems primed for the grind.
"It's Year Three," Phillips said. "Obviously I have learned a lot in this position. But the one thing I have learned throughout the years is, ‘Hey, be yourself. Don't try to be someone else.' It's just me being me, deciding, ‘Hey, you've got to be you.'
"You have to give confidence to your guys. They are an extension of you. If they see me uptight, they will tend to be uptight. "
Kentucky football is a job that can make any coach uptight. The record from the last 50 years shows that.
Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.
Sign Up for the WDRB Sports Newsletter
Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.