With Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart officially announcing the firing of third-year football coach Joker Phillips via an open letter to fans Sunday, the search is on for a replacement.
And it will not include Bobby Petrino, according to sources with knowledge of Kentucky's initial list of candidates.
Petrino's name has been mentioned frequently by Kentucky fans ever since his firing at Arkansas last spring in the wake of an extramarital affair scandal with one of his staffers. Petrino had great success at the Wildcats' arch rival, Louisville, from 2003-'06.
Instead, there are several other bright offensive minds being targeted by Kentucky.
Sources tell Yahoo! Sports that the candidate list includes Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes and Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, plus several college offensive coordinators. Among those believed to be interested in the job are Florida's Brent Pease and Texas Tech's Neal Brown, both of whom have ties to UK – Pease as a former assistant and Brown as a player.
Dykes, whose Tech team is 8-1 and second in the nation in scoring offense at 52 points per game, was a graduate assistant at Kentucky under Hal Mumme in the late 1990s. Dykes' offensive coordinator at Tech is Tony Franklin, another former UK assistant from the Mumme days.
Koetter got the Boise State program started on the road to major success, going 26-10 there from 1998-2000. Koetter then left for Arizona State, where he went 40-34 in six seasons before being fired in 2006. Since then, Koetter has been a coordinator in the NFL at Jacksonville for five years before moving to Atlanta this season.
There may also be sentiment in the state for Kentucky to take a look at Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart. His Hilltoppers team beat Kentucky in September and at 6-3 is eligible for the first bowl in school history.
A possible darkhorse candidate could be former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer. Barnhart was an assistant athletic director at Tennessee from 1986-98, when Fulmer was at the height of his run and won the national championship. Fulmer is similar to Rich Brooks, whom Barnhart hired out of retirement and had to pay off. But Fulmer has been out of football for four years and had two losing records in his final four seasons at Tennessee. Fulmer has tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get other jobs since being fired at Tennessee.
Barnhart announced the end of the Phillips era in a lengthy letter to fans Sunday morning. In the ninth paragraph of the letter, Barnhart said Phillips was out as coach at the end of the season.
Phillips' three-year run was doomed early this season, after a lopsided loss to Louisville and the upset loss to Western Kentucky. The nadir arrived Saturday, when the Wildcats were blown out 40-0 by Vanderbilt in front of a sparse and apathetic crowd, falling to 1-9.
Phillips, the hand-picked replacement to Brooks, has a record of 12-23 at Kentucky. He inherited a program in solid shape after seven years under Brooks but could not sustain it.
He issued a statement through the school Sunday afternoon:
"We, as coaches, are measured on results," Phillips said in the statement. "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."
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