The joke's over at Kentucky. After being out-coached and having his team out-played in all but one game this season, Big Blue ousted Joker Phillips as head coach following a 40-0 embarrassment at the hands of Vanderbilt.
One of the least desirable coaching spots in the SEC is now up for grabs, however, just because it is a stepping stone coaching destination does not mean that it's a coaching graveyard. Phillips predecessor, Rich Brooks, had Big Blue heading in the right direction with four consecutive bowl appearances in his last years with the team.
Phillips performed well in his first year by bringing the Wildcats to a bowl game but the wheels started to misalign in his second year and fell off completely in his third and final year. He will be allowed to coach in Kentucky's final two games of the season (Samford and Tennessee) but the coaching search should be in full swing by the time their season comes to an inglorious end.
So, who should replace Phillips and try to right the ship in Lexington? Below are five candidates that should be on Kentucky's radar. And before you ask, no, Bobby Petrino is not on the list. I feel that he will land at Auburn after they fire Gene Chizik which I'll address in another article. Now on to the list:
Willie Taggart (head coach – Western Kentucky)
Over 150 miles southwest of Lexington lies Bowling Green where Taggart has rebuilt the Hilltopper into a perennial contender in the Sun Belt Conference in just three short years. A former running back's coach under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, Taggart knows what it takes to mold a program into his image. He's one of the rising stars in college football and knows how to recruit Kentucky and the region, having been with the Hilltopper program for over a decade as an assistant and head coach.
Sonny Dykes (head coach – La Tech)
Dykes has ties to Kentucky having served two stints under Hal Mumme; the first was as a graduate assistant/tight ends coach and then it was as special teams/wide receivers coach. The son of Spike Dykes was mentored under Hal Mumme and then proceeded to hone his craft as a position coach under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Dykes is a hell of a recruiter and can coach his butt off – Louisiana Tech's record this year is evidence to that. He signed a contract extension in 2011 to set his base pay at $750k but Kentucky should easily be able to offer much more than that if they feel Dykes is the man they want leading the program.
Kliff Kingsbury (Texas A&M OC)
A former record setting quarterback from Texas Tech, Kingsbury has established himself as one of the most exciting play callers in college football. As a player under legendary Red Raiders head coach Spike Dykes and Mike Leach, Kingsbury lit up defenses in his day as a player and is doing it again as a coordinator. His tutelage under Leach, Dana Holgorsen, and now Kevin Sumlin shows his pedigree and his success this year with freshman Johnny “Football” Manziel shows what he is capable of doing. Questions remain of how well he can recruit but one thing is certain – the man knows offense and would bring an exhilarating brand of it to Kentucky.
Brent Pease (Florida OC)
The former Boise State wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator has ties to Kentucky having been quarterbacks coach under Guy Morriss for two seasons. While there remains bad blood between Pease and his former quarterback, Jared Lorenzen, that's no reason not to look at Pease as a candidate. His exciting offenses and endorsement by Will Muschamp should at least put him on the radar for Kentucky.
Neal Brown (Texax Tech OC)
Brown is a former player at Kentucky under Hal Mumme before transferring out to UMass. Brown coached under Tony Franklin for two years at Troy before taking the reigns as offensive coordinator. Now at Texas Tech Brown has put his talent as an offensive coordinator on display as the Red Raiders have shown marked improvement on offense in each of his seasons. Questions surround Brown about his age, ability to recruit in the SEC, and ability to coach in the SEC – something he has not done on any level.