Joker Phillips will not return for a fourth season as Kentucky's head football coach. The announcement came Sunday afternoon in an open letter from athletics director Mitch Barnhart to fans posted on the school's athletics website.
Joker Phillips has a 12-23 record at Kentucky
Phillips will coach the final two games of the 2012, including his final home game at Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 17 against Samford. Kentucky has an open date this coming week.
“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 wrote.
“The search for a new head coach will begin immediately and will be managed internally. I understand the challenge and significance of finding a new leader for our football program. 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. Kentucky Football needs to be and will be a championship contender in the SEC.
The decision came a day after Kentucky's 40-0 loss to perennial Southeastern Conference doormat Vanderbilt, the Wildcats' worst loss to the Commodores in 96 years. The shutout completed a two-year span where Vanderbilt outscored the Cats 78-8. Phillips acknowledged he had not given Barnhart enough reasons to retain him as head coach in 2013.
"We, as coaches, are measured on results,” Phillips said in a 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.”
Phillips has a 12-23 record at Kentucky but has gone just 9-23 since a 3-0 start to his coaching tenure and owns a 4-19 record in the SEC. The Cats made it to the BBVA Compass Bowl in 2010 to extend the program's postseason streak to five straight appearances but have not returned the past two seasons. He will not get a chance to right the ship.
“I understand Mitch's position and the things that go into it also,” Phillips said Saturday. “We've got kids who are hurting more than anyone associated with this program I'm talking fans also. Those kids are hurting and hurting badly. The one thing I don't want our kids to try and do are to shoulder the things that are coming at me. I don't want them to do that. ”
Barnhart had declined interview requests in the part month, citing his standing position that he evaluates coaches and each program at the end of every season. It appears the time frame was moved up after a Commonwealth Stadium crowed media members estimated at only 20-25,000 showed up for the Vanderbilt game.
“In the end there are realities we must face and overcome,” Barnhart wrote. “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.”
Phillips had spoken several times recently about his close friendship with Barnhart, who in turn made similar comments at a speaking engagement in Louisville last week. Ultimately, business won out over friendship as Barnhart made the decision to part ways with the former UK player who had two assistant coaching stints with the program before rising to head coach when Rich Brooks retired after the 2009 season.
“Joker Phillips has carried the banner for the Blue and White with honor and pride,” Barnhart said. “I have enjoyed working alongside him and am thankful for his friendship for the last decade. His concern for the entire program, his work and teaching of young people, his humanitarian work, and the friendship we all enjoy with him will long surpass the scoreboard. I want to thank him for all of those things on behalf of Kentucky.”