By - Ira D. Combs
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
As I continue in my quest to see that Joker Phillips gets a fair and sporting chance to pull himself out of this two year funk that he has brought on the scene to UK football I had another one of those famous Combs Brothers Brainstorms while sitting around the patio with some friends cooking out last weekend . Several of those in attendance suggested I write a column on the worst hires ever in the UK athletic department .
At first I thought not a bad idea and then that ugly tireless topic that I've grown to hate came up ................ research ............. usually it requires tireless long hours , yet necessary and always extremely boring . Then it hit me I'm dangerously close to the tender age of 60 so I've witnessed with my own eyes a lot of bad teams due to decisions made by UK athletic directors and head coaches .
So here goes but at the end I'm going to ask you to think back and ask yourself , at 6 - 6 with a win against Steve Superior and a minor bowl bid or 5 - 7 with a win against Tennessee just how bad was the last two years of UK football compared to where the program has been in some years and different coaching eras of the past 60 years .
My 5 worst coaching hires , fires , etc. ( both football and basketball ) of the last 60 years in the UK athletic department and the individual responsible for the hire :
# 5 - John Ray - 1969 - 1972 / UK Head Football Coach - Hired by A.D. Harry Lancaster - Brought to UK from the fertile grounds of Notre Dame where he was a defensive coordinator but he fielded some of the most inept teams ( especially offensively ) in the schools gridiron history . Ray did convince the UK administration that if UK was to ever have a fighting chance in the SEC that it had to build a new football stadium ............ two years after Ray was fired Fran Curci capitalized on the sparkling new Commonwealth Stadium and give UK two consecutive winning seasons with a Peach Bowl championship in 1976 and a 10 - 1 season in 1977 marred by a NCAA bowl ban due to recruiting violations .
# 4 - Claude Bassett - UK Football recruiting coordinator / Hired by Head Football Coach Hal Mumme - Bassett singlehandedly brought UK football to it's knees by blatantly cheating with his recruiting tactics ( which had roots from the old Southwest Conference ) which brought UK severe NCAA sanctions and dangerously close to the death penalty according to longtime UK athletic department sources .
# 3 - Elliott Uzelac - UK Football Offensive Coordinator / Hired by Head Football Coach Bill Curry - Between Curry's stubbornness and Uzelac's inept ability to see the talent's inTim Couch UK football missed out on what could have been a special 3 year run of UK football success and had to settle for one mediocre year and one Outback Bowl appearance when Curry was finally ditched and offensive guru Hal Mumme was brought in .
# 2 - Paul "Bear" Bryant - Legendary UK / Texas A & M / Alabama Coach - UK lost or run out of town ( pick your poison ) because UK A.D. Bernie Shively and influential basketball supporters namely ( Gov. Albert "Happy" Chandler ) choose Adolph Rupp's success over "The Bear's" success . There is the long standing story of UK giving the cigarette lighter gift to Bryant and the cadillac to Rupp after both had a successful season that has been told for years but many longtime old school UK insiders that I personally know who are still with us claim that "The Bear" was run out of town because he secretly had a night of passion with the daughter of one ( Gov. Albert "Happy" Chandler ) which produced a rather embarrassing situation for the Chandler clan and "Momma" Chandler instructed "Happy" to have that old mean and hateful football coach ran out of town and the Commonwealth .
Kentucky football has never recovered and probably never will , at least , to the level Bryant took it .
# 1 - Billy "Clyde" Gillispie - UK Men's Basketball Coach / Hired by A.D. Mitch Barnhart - Maybe the worst hire in college basketball history if not college sports history . The fit between the coach and the program he was hired to run was about as night and day bad as it could be . Many longtime UK basketball followers and veteran national sports writers across the nation have told me personally that even with several years of probation attached to the storied program's history the night that Gardner Webb beat UK in Rupp Arena 84 - 68 was quite possibly the low point of UK basketball in the modern day era , it most definitely was the starting point to eject Gillispie out of the Bluegrass .
Special Note : Yes , I'm sure your wondering where Eddie Sutton's name is on this list . Actually I did consider it but at the end of the day I thought the fact that Sutton didn't have but one bad year ( his last ) just after the Emery Air Freight package of cash popped open in a unique fashion . Just one bad year kept him off this list but if it had been a top 10 list he would have been involved .
Now I leave you with this before we move on with this months column ................. was the last two years of Joker Phillips football as bad as any of the messes created above .
Another Wildcat Leaves The Nest
According to a very reliable source close to Kentucky football's back up QB Jacob Russell , the former 2010 Anderson Co. all state player & EKU transfer has left the team shortly after summer workouts began . Russell reportedly was getting some bad vibes from several sources about his status with the team on the depth chart and was concerned since he couldn't get access to a face to face conversation with Joker Phillips and / or Randy Sanders with the coaches either on the road recruiting or using their vacation time while classes were not in session .
Reportedly after finally running down Randy Sanders and getting his meeting , Russell ask Sanders to give him an honest opinion on his status with getting an honest shot at getting on the field this fall as the # 2 QB , after the meeting Russell has apparently decided to leave the UK football team and begin a new college baseball career with Gary Henderson's baseball team this fall when classes resume .
Russell transferred from EKU after the 2010 fall season where he was a full scholarship QB to UK as a walk on at the beginning of the spring 2011 semester with the understanding that he would be given a chance to earn his way on the field as a hybrid / outside linebacker , a position he excelled at in high school as well as QB . When Russell arrived at the Nutter Training Center for the winter workouts leading into the spring he was told he would be a quarterback candidate . After what he and several other veteran Wildcat onlookers thought was a very surprising yet successful spring he settled back in on his goal of eventually getting on the field as a QB .
Then Morgan Newton UK's lone senior QB candidate who has 3 unsuccessful but battletested years under his belt popped back on the scene and incoming freshman phenom Patrick Towles showed up on campus for summer workouts and Russell's hard work and dedication for the past 12 months was forgotten or lost in the shuffle on the depth chart and appeared in Russell's eyes to have down graded his status in the program along with his reps to be given an honest opportunity in the 7 on 7 pass skeleton drills along with other QB exercises used to separate the candidates before fall practice begins .
Wildcat Summer Off Season Updates In All Sports
# 1 - It will be late August more than likely before the UK media relations department releases the official 2012 - 2013 regular season UK men's basketball schedule ( both conference games and non conference games ) but with the modern day communication world being so vast and informative we have learned that the following teams will be on the Wildcat schedule , we just don't know the exact date of some of the game's yet :
Transylvania University - Rupp Arena -
Regular season / non conference
Morehead State University - Rupp Arena
Lafayette College - Rupp Arena
Duke - Georgia Dome (Atlanta , Georgia)
Baylor - Rupp Arena
Maryland - Barclay's Center (Brooklyn , New York)
Notre Dame - South Bend( Big East / SEC Challenge )
Louisville - Yum Center (Louisville , Ky.)
Samford University - Rupp Arena
18 regular season games with 1 game each with Texas A & M and Missouri
# 2 - Mitch Barnhart has awarded baseball coach Gary Henderson with a new 5 year contract after he lead UK to one of it's most successful season's .
# 3 - The newly renovated UK track and field complex is nearing completion and will have a new boss for the UK cross country as well as track and field program when the fall semester begins in August . The new coach should be named by July 20th if not earlier according to Barnhart in an interview with Lexington's WKYT Channel 27 .
# 4 - The Cats Pause Matt Day revealed in one of his columns in late June that Mitch Barnhart is on the fast track to putting together a new package of either building the UK baseball program a new long overdue stadium off Cooper Drive or a major renovation of the present Cliff Hagan Stadium .