When Joker Phillips basically conceded after Saturday's loss to Vanderbilt that he wasn't long for the head coaching job at Kentucky, it was just a matter of when Wildcats athletic director Mitch Barnhart would cut the cord.
He didn't wait long. Barnhart announced on Sunday that Phillips would not return next season.
CatsIllustrated.com said Phillips would coach out the rest of the season, which will make for an awkward final few weeks with his team.
The move itself is no surprise. Crowds at Kentucky, which is 1-9, have been sparse as fans have shown their displeasure with the direction of the program by simply not showing up. The search begins now, and Barnhart will have a tough time attracting a top coach to a basketball school.
Barnhart penned an open letter to Kentucky fans to announce the coaching change:
Open Letter to the Big Blue Nation
First, I would like to thank the fans that have supported this football team at Commonwealth Stadium and on the road this year. It has been a difficult season thus far, losses none of us wished to experience and injuries that have taken their toll on an already young squad.
We are a proud member of the Southeastern Conference. With that membership comes some of the greatest challenges in all of college sports. You are challenged every day with great programs in all sports; the fans, coaches and athletes are what make this league special. To compete in this conference you must have a solid foundation on which you operate. For the last decade, our foundation has been built and operated on the principles of our department. We have tried to put in place programs, coaches and attitudes that reflect integrity, education, discipline, stewardship and competitiveness in which all Kentuckians, the entire university and Wildcat fans can find pride.
We have made progress in many areas, but the journey is never an easy one, nor a straight one to the destination we all desire. There is a line in our fight song which we use in our hallways and in our communication: "'til the battle is won." It is easy to write it down; it is harder to live it, especially when you are not seeing the results you very much would like to enjoy. College athletics is now being referred to as the business of college sports. One would be hard-pressed to argue. At its core we make decisions every day based upon the impact it will have on our 500-plus student-athletes, their education and experiences. In the last decade or so it seems the clock on those decisions, most notably the timetable to get any program going has continued to speed up, especially in college football and basketball. The cycle moves at a rapid pace with high expectations.
We have all enjoyed watching hundreds of UK athletes perform at championship levels in recent years. We have celebrated and called them our own with pride. We have watched them leave UK and go onto incredible journeys after their time in Lexington. Football, basketball and our membership in the SEC have provided us the opportunity to do that.
We have had those celebration scenes and great athletes wear the blue and white in recent years at Commonwealth Stadium, and we desire like everyone to have them on a regular basis. We strive to provide an environment of exciting, fun, and winning football — a place where we will celebrate the physical, intense game we all enjoy at the highest level in the best conference in college football.
We have invested significantly in our sports programs, mostly on the backs of football and men's basketball. We have invested in football specifically and have high hopes there will be the opportunity to do major work in our stadium with some financing opportunities in the very near future. As always, we will work to fit into the plans of the university as a whole. Many times I have been told, "We know you will do what is right." When I ask myself for whom, I always return to the same place in my mind: for our student -athletes and coaches first, our fans and supporters next, and for those of us who work for them lastly.
I am proud of the Big Blue Nation for its continued support of our football team, especially for those who have maintained their season tickets and continued to support our entire athletics program. You have provided a great environment in Commonwealth Stadium through the years, and on behalf of our student-athletes, I want to thank you for continuing to fight with us. It is ALWAYS our goal at UK to provide the positive energy and support to pursue the hopes, efforts and dreams of those in the competitions. I hope to see you continue your unwavering support on Senior Day vs. Samford.
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.
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