Phillips fired, program turning attention toward future

Joker Phillips, head coach of Kentucky, just before halftime of the game between the University of Kentucky and the University of Georgia, during homecoming week at Commonwealth Stadium, on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. Photo by Latara Appleby | Staff

By Ethan Levine | @KernelLevine
elevine@kykernel.com

As a season filled with devastating losses and intense speculations nears its conclusion, UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart announced Sunday in a letter to fans that UK football head coach Joker Phillips will not return to the university following the season.

“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,” Barnhart said in the letter.

“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.”

In his letter, Barnhart expressed that Phillips would not be replaced as head coach until after the season, but UK spokesman Tony Neely said a decision on when Phillips’ time as head coach ends has yet to be made.

Phillips released a statement of his own following the release of Barnhart’s letter.

“I love our players and am proud to be associated with them,” Phillips said.

“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.”

UK is 1-9 this season and 0-7 in SEC play as it enters the open week in its schedule.

The team will return to action Nov. 17 to take on Samford in its final home game of the season. One week later, the Cats will conclude their 2012 campaign with a visit to Tennessee.

In his letter, Barnhart said Phillips will be allowed to finish the season as head coach, but that the search for his replacement will begin immediately.

“I understand the challenge and significance of finding a new leader for our football program,” Barnhart said. “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.”

Athletics spokesman DeWayne Peevy confirmed to the Kernel via text message that no press conference is scheduled to discuss the head coach, and the remaining two years of Phillips’ contract, worth $2.55.

Barnhart cited the changing culture in college athletics as a business and the rapidly accelerating timetable athletic programs have to establish success.

He also mentioned numerous times doing what is best for the university’s student athletes and staying true to a line from the university’s own fight song.

“There is a line in our fight song which we use in our hallways and in our communication: ’til the battle is won,’ ” Barnhart said in his letter. “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.”

Toward the end of his letter, Barnhart noted the disappointment this season has been for everyone involved with the program, and how he owed it to the university and its student athletes to provide them as much opportunity as possible.

“In the end there are realities we must face and overcome,” Barnhart said in the letter. “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.”