Kentucky fires Phillips, set to start coaching search immediately
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips has been saying lately in response to questions about his future that if he was going to be fired someone would have said something to him by now.
The official word came on Sunday.
"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."
Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart announced Phillips' dismissal in an open letter on the athletic department's website.
The Wildcats lost their eighth consecutive game on Saturday, a 40-0 home loss to Vanderbilt. It was their worst loss to the Commodores in 96 years.
The 49-year-old Phillips is 12-23 overall in three seasons at Kentucky. He will finish this season.
Barnhart says the school will begin a nationwide search for a new coach immediately.
The Wildcats (1-9, 0-7 Southeastern Conference) went to a bowl game two years ago but have gotten worse each season since. Kentucky is off this week, and then closes the season with games against Samford and Tennessee.
"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. Joker Phillips has carried the banner for the Blue and White with honor and pride. I have enjoyed working alongside him and am thankful for his friendship for the last decade."
Phillips has faced heat all season from Wildcats fans who have bombarded sports radio talk shows with calls for his firing. Barnhart has been asked repeatedly about his coach as well but responded by saying he would evaluate the program after the season as he does with all programs.
The coach handled the scrutiny by referring to his relationship with Barnhart or cracking a joke. As recently as Monday, he said, "I was coming over here [to his weekly media session], and I got in the car, and my seat was hot.
"And I looked up, and I had hit the seat warmer."
Injuries have forced Kentucky to play 26 freshmen against one of the nation's toughest schedules, but in the SEC patience tends to be short — even at Kentucky where basketball is king.
Under former coach Rich Brooks, Kentucky had established a level of respectability by going to four straight bowl games, a first for the program, from 2006-2009.
Phillips was Brooks' hand-picked successor and he made it five straight bowl trips for the Wildcats in 2010, his first season as head coach. But it's gotten worse ever since in Lexington.
"I am very appreciative of Mitch Barnhart and Rich Brooks for providing the opportunity to have been the head coach here," Phillips said.
"I appreciate the Big Blue Nation and encourage the fans to stay behind their team going forward."