This was the crowd at Commonwealth Stadium during the fourth quarter of UK's 40-0 loss to Vanderbilt.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Joker Phillips has had three seasons to show that he can move the blocking sleds for a University of Kentucky football program that has only occasionally budged them for five decades.
Mitch Barnhart, UK's athletic director, has had 11 seasons to make the Wildcats a program to fear in football.
You tell me which guy belongs on Line One of the Hot Seat List.
"Kentucky football has always looked at itself as if it's pre-ordained to be horse(feathers)," said Howard Schnellenberger, the former UK all-American who led the football renaissance at U of L nearly three decades ago.
"They need to create a culture where they actually start believing they can be more than what they have been."
Kentucky doesn't simply have a coaching problem. Kentucky has an athletic culture problem – and the guy who hasn't done much to change the culture has been on the job for 11 seasons. That's Barnhart.
During the Barnhart Era, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt have lapped the Wildcats.
The final score at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday was Vandy 40, UK 0, a historic low for a rival the Wildcats are supposed to greet with the bottom of their cleats. That means the Commodores have outscored the Wildcats by more than 30 points (and a total of 78-8) in back-to-back games for the first time in school history.
The Commodores' assistant coaching staff was so dismissive of the Wildcats that one of them sitting in the press box screamed a profanity that begins with an "F" when the Vandy defense allowed Kentucky to complete a pass late in the fourth quarter.
Not that anybody was around to hear the Vanderbilt potty mouths. The crowd was listed officially at 44,902, a number that was likely selected by drawing a number from a hat and multiplying by 8. The actual gathering inside the stadium never appeared to be more than 25,000. There won't be that many diehards there when the Wildcats return to play their final home game against Samford Nov. 17.
Will Phillips be the coach?
That's where the debate will settle this weekend. The open date gives Barnhart an ideal window to announce that he's decided to make a change for next season while letting Phillips, his good friend, finish the final two games. Even Phillips admitted that his program isn't giving Barnhart much ammunition to bring him back for even one of the final two seasons remaining on his five-year contract.
But dismissing Phillips would only be the beginning of the story. Here is Part II: Trusting Barnhart to make a hire that would actually alter the arc of Kentucky football.
Honk if you believe Barnhart can apply the paddles to Kentucky football the way Tom Jurich has delivered at Louisville three times in four tries or the way that Fred Glass appears to have scored with Kevin Wilson at Indiana?
Barnhart's strengths at Kentucky have been fund-raising and upgrading the Wildcats' Olympic sports. He's done well there.
In football and men's basketball, the two programs that are the face of any school, Barnhart has been as clutch as Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth.
His signature basketball hire was Billy Gillispie – and he has the hefty buyout check to prove it. He had no interest in hiring John Calipari until he was told two disastrous seasons later that he should rethink the narrow way he was thinking.
In football, nobody has twisted Barnhart's arm – yet – even though this is his record:
Lost Guy Morriss to Baylor after a surprising 7-5 season.
Got lucky with Rich Brooks after at least three other candidates turned him down. Brooks needed four seasons to start rolling.
Signed off on a plan for Phillips to serve as the head coach in waiting. It certainly sounded like the right thing to do, but it resulted in Phillips suffering through a honeymoon-free start to his career. Fans began turning on Phillips after less than a season. It's a new world.
Football budgets are an athletic director thing, not a coaching thing. Check Kentucky's recruiting budget for 2011 – it was $336,035, several hundred thousand dollars less than what at least six other SEC schools are spending. Brooks exited after the 2009 season grumbling about the lack of sizzle in Kentucky's facilities and ambition.
I'll ask you a second time: Who thinks Mitch Barnhart is the guy who can identify, recruit and then hire the next Chris Petersen, Brian Kelly, Bill Snyder or Charlie Strong?
"In their minds, they believe they should be subservient to most of the Southeastern Conference," Schnellenberger said. "So that's exactly what they've been."
Replacing Joker Phillips as the football coach at Kentucky isn't going to be enough to change that.