Posted: Aug 28, 2012 9:43 AM by Alan Cutler
Updated: Aug 28, 2012 10:38 AM
I wouldn't have hired Joker the way he was hired. Notice, I didn't say I wouldn't have hired him.
Today I wouldn't fire him.
I will never understand why Mitch Barnhart, UK's Athletics Director, felt the need to name Joker the coach-in-waiting while Rich Brooks was here.
Making decisions out of fear is often nuts. There was a concern that Joker would leave to be an offensive coordinator at a big time school. Fine-let him go. If you decide when Rich Brooks retires - and at that time no one knew when that was going to be - you could always bring him back. Maybe the experience as offensive coordinator at a school like Oklahoma would have made him even more prepared to be a head coach.
Not taking a national search for the best head coach out there makes no sense. This would never happen with UK basketball. You never know who might have been out there when Rich Brooks decided to hang up his whistle. Besides, one of the keys to being a great athletics director is your ability to sell your program to a coach you really want.
Not putting big-time dollars into UK's coaching staff like Alabama, LSU, Auburn and the rest of the SEC powers also doen't make sense. If you win in football, you make millions more for your budget. UK might be a basketball school, but football pays the bills.
If after taking a national search, no big time head coach was available, you can always have Joker on your speed-dial.
Hiring a big time coach at a UK is why athletics directors make a lot of money. Urban Meyer, before he became big, would have crawled to Lexington. He couldn't get an interview.
Somehow, Mitch Barnhart was able to identify Matthew Mitchell as a big time head coach when he wasn't. That's what he gets paid for.
I have always believed, and I will always believe, UK can win big in football. But until you get the right coach, it's not happening.
How would have UK done if they kept Paul "Bear" Bryant?
I know Mike Leach is a lightning rod. But Mike is the only coach I've ever talked to that said he thought he could win the National Championship at UK.
I know there have been issues with Mike, but if I'm the boss, I make sure someone who thinks out of the box and can score points on anyone, is not only surrounded with the right people, but perhaps Mike would have changed enough to make it work, to get the job he wanted. It doesn't hurt to try. UK didn't.
So, why not fire Joker? Today, I believe he is a much better head coach than he was when he was hired. You can say a man is prepared to be a head coach, and Joker was, but until you walk in those shoes, there is so much you don't know. It's like UK Offensive Coordinator Randy Sanders said about quarterback Max Smith last year. He didn't know what he didn't know.
Joker works hard, but didn't know how to work, and when to work, and who to work with. That sounds like a little thing, but it's not.
"No offense to anyone I turned down," says Joker. "I just don't have time. I just don't have time to do it. What I have to do is make sure we're preparing to get this football program to play every game."
There were too many times where Joker said yes to help sell the program when he should have been coaching.
Something else is going on. The last two recruiting classes look good. There are bigger, stronger athletes walking around. There is no reason why UK can't have a very good recruiting year every year. There are tons of players who can play who don't go to Alabama or LSU. There is no reason they can't be sold on coming to UK.
This is by far the best staff Joker has had. He finally has his people. Every time he made a coaching change with his staff, the goal was to bring in someone who was a better recruiter. It look like he has. You fire Joker and you are starting all over.
Besides, are you convinced that Mitch can sell a very successful big time head coach to take over UK's football program?
If Joker has a couple of more recruiting seasons like the last two, he might be here a long time. Having a Kentucky boy who wants to be here could be the smartest thing UK could possibly do, if Joker can win enough this year to keep his job.
The bottom line is obvious. UK's administration does not want to fire Joker. They want him to succeed. That might sound obvious, but it's not always the case. If they believe UK takes a step forward, True Blue fans might be complaining next year at this time because Joker will still be on a hot seat. If UK takes two steps forward, the call in shows will be full of people saying I knew Joker was the man all along.