Being a Kentucky football fan in the Joker Phillips era is sort of like playing scratch off lottery tickets: you’ll win a handful of times but you’re better off spending your money on Auto Trader and candy cigarettes. Where past teams had the gall to kill hope slowly as the season progressed, the 2012 staff mercifully extinguished any positivity by halftime of the Louisville game. At least it was considerate.
Much like Saved By The Bell: The College Years, a few bad seasons can ruin a good program. Joker Phillips is a great guy and a fine coach, this just wasn’t his time and he wasn’t the right hire. Unfortunately for his employer, Kentucky’s football program is hemorrhaging support, money and momentum as other league teams are arming themselves for a potential renegotiation with broadcasters and the possible expansion to a nine game league schedule. Between these issues and the reality that Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas are all in the market for a new coach, UK AD Mitch Barnhart has a lot to consider as he climbs aboard the coaching carousel this time around.
Pete Roussel, Matt Jones and Jon Cooper posted their thoughts on the leading candidates to replace Phillips and Sonny Dykes seems to be the conventionally wise choice. Nothing against Sonny, but I think the Wildcats need to take a shot here. Call me crazy, but I’d like to see Big Blue take a pass on playing the perennial slump busters and go get someone that could change the narrative in Lexington. If I were Mitch Barnhart, I’d offer Kliff Kingsbury and pray that he takes it, and here’s why:
1) He’s 33 years old: Kliff Kingsbury is not an old person. He wears V-Neck tee shirts and Oakley Wayfarers (questionable) and styles his hair like from Charlie Tweeder from Varsity Blues. The last time Kentucky gambled on a young, up and coming coach from A&M, it didn’t work out so well. It’s risky, I get it. But let’s own that.
To be successful, a head coach must do two things well off of the field: recruit talent and build the program’s brand. Having been drafted himself less than a decade ago, Kingsbury will have no trouble with living room presentations on how he plans to prepare kids for the NFL. How do I know this? Because A&M already has a national top 10 class for 2013. And who better to represent the new beginning for Bluegrass football than a young, energetic Ryan Gosling looking dude to boosters and potential corporate partners? I’ll tell you another thing, if UK wants to get a bill granting the university capital construction bonding authority through the General Assembly, the excitement associated with a Kingsbury type coach will go a long way in Frankfort.
2) He Develops Talent: Joker Phillips was promoted in 2010 in part because of his ability to recruit and develop talent. In 2013, Kentucky will have just fifteen Seniors on a very young squad. Obviously, Kentucky needs to bring in a guy who can cultivate and develop young players and, at least in the beginning, develop 2 and 3-star recruits.
Clearly, Kingsbury can bring in highly touted recruits, but what is more impressive is his ability to develop existing talent. In 2010, A&M had the #7 recruiting class in the SEC (adjusted) and #10 in 2011, yet TAMU is 4th in the country in points scored this season. Johnny Manziel was a Rivals 3 star recruit out of high school but is the leading rusher in the league and the SEC’s second highest grossing quarterback. Mike Evans, a Rivals 3-star receiver out of high school, is the second best wideout in the SEC West. Ryan Swope, the third best receiver in the division, was also a 3-star recruit.
3) #AirRaidEverything: Kliff Kingsbury played under the head pirate himself, Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 1998-2002, where he passed for over 12,000 yards and 95 touchdowns. Kingsbury was drafted in 2003 by the New England Patriots where he won a Super Bowl.
In 2008, Kingsbury joined the staff at Houston as quarterbacks coach under then offensive coordinator Dana Holgerson. He was named NCAA Offensive Coordinator of the Year in 2010 as the playcaller for Houston’s high flying offense. The next season, Kingsbury’s air raid was the most effective in the country. #1 passing offense in the country!
Kingsbury studied under Leach, Bilichek, Holgerson and Sumlin, all of whom taken together make his an impressive pedigree. In his first year at Texas A&M, Kingsbury proved that he can adjust his game plan, as the Aggies enjoy a balanced attack (18th best passing attack; 11th best rushing). I am racking my brain for a better fit for Kentucky’s unique circumstances.
In conclusion, I have zero influence over this decision and even less access. But if I had one thing to say to Mitch Barnhart, it’d be this:
If you’re looking for a safe, by the book guy with a list of references, this isn’t your guy. If you want to toss the book and write your own narrative, Kliff Kingsbury just may be the guy to do it. The question shouldn’t be, “Is he head coach material,” because he clearly is. The question now should be, “What can we do to bring him to Kentucky?”
I think it’s time for a new story in Lexington.