UPDATE: UK's Phillips comments on his firing
University of Kentucky athletic director has posted an open letter to UK fans to inform them that he will replace football coach Joker Phillips at the end of the season.
Phillips, whose third UK team fell to 1-9 after losing to Vanderbilt 40-0 on Saturday, posted a record of 12-23 after taking the reins from Rich Brooks in 2009, but suffered through an injury-filled season that will culminate in the Wildcats failing to make a bowl game for a second straight year.
Originally, UK said Phillips is expected to finish out the season, but since a UK spokesperson has said that is to be determined. UK also says it will honor the remainder of his contract, which includes a buyout of $2.55 million for UK to terminate the agreement.
Either way, the search for Phillips' successor will begin immediately.
Saturday's loss was played before an announced crowd of less than 45,000, but the actual attendance was far less than that. Barnhart referenced that reality in a statement released through the school's web site at UKathletics.com:
Among Barnhart's comments:
In the end there are realities we must face and overcome. Right or wrong, we must respond to those realities to protect the 22 programs and 500-plus student-athletes for whom we provide. Obviously our football program is not where we want it to be and we are all disappointed; coaches, players, administration and our fans.
After much conversation, evaluation and prayer, I have determined that it is in the best interest of our athletics program to make a change in our football coaching staff at the conclusion of the season. I do so with a heavy heart for a man who has served his alma mater for almost 22 years as a player and a coach. Joker Phillips has carried the banner for the Blue and White with honor and pride. I have enjoyed working alongside him and am thankful for his friendship for the last decade. 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. I want to thank him for all of those things on behalf of Kentucky.
The search for a new head coach will begin immediately and will be managed internally. I understand the challenge and significance of finding a new leader for our football program. It will be done with great concern for our student-athletes, students of the University of Kentucky, the Big Blue Nation and the citizens of the Commonwealth. Kentucky Football needs to be and will be a championship contender in the SEC.
UPDATE: Through the UK media relations office, Joker Phillips released this statement after his dismissal:
We, as coaches, are measured on results. We didn't get the results we had worked and hoped for, therefore change is needed. In my current 10-year stay at Kentucky, we've had some memorable moments as an assistant, coordinator and head coach. We've had the opportunity to coach some fine young men and I am grateful to have had the privilege of watching them grow as players, as students and as people.
I am very appreciative of Mitch Barnhart and Rich Brooks for providing the opportunity to have been the head coach here. Mitch is the best athletic director I've ever been associated with. He's fair and honest and he's "all in" in terms of student-athletes' well-being. Rich is the best mentor a young coach could ever have. I learned a lot from him in terms of plowing ahead. They are dear friends. Dr. Lee Todd and Dr. Eli Capilouto have both been very supportive. I appreciate the Big Blue Nation and encourage the fans to stay behind their team going forward.
I love our players and am proud to be associated with them. I expect them to continue the behavior we have asked of them academically, socially and with football. I'm thankful for the staff's hard work, dedication, and what they have done in coaching and mentoring the players. I'd like to thank my wife and family for all their support and for being behind me 100 percent.
Continuing WDRB coverage
Continue to visit WDRB.com and watch WDRB's news at 10 for more on the firing of Joker Phillips, including columns from Rick Bozich and Eric Crawford, who both will discuss the move and what's ahead for UK football, including possible coaching candidates, on the WDRB News at 10 tonight.
Also, read Rick Bozich's column this morning, asking whether UK fans have faith in Mitch Barnhart to make the next football coaching hire, by clicking here.