Joker Phillips out as UK’s head coach at season’s end


For the second time this season, a head coach has been relieved of his duties.  And this one will likely be the least surprising of any that will happen over the next month or two, particularly given the apathy that’s set in among the fan base.

In an open letter penned by Kentucky’s Mitch Barnhart, the athletic director confirmed that head football coach Joker Phillips will not return for the 2013 season.  Phillips will remain on through the end of the regular season later this month, and “[t]he search for a new head coach will begin immediately and will be managed internally.”

The firing didn’t come easy for Barnhart, who has a very close relationship with Phillips that extends far beyond the football field.

“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,” Barnhart wrote in the letter. “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. 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.”

Phillips played at Kentucky from 1981-84, and served as an assistant coach at UK from 1988-96.  He returned to his alma mater in 2003 and in 2008 was named as the head coach-in-waiting.  Upon Rich Brooks’ retirement, he took over as head coach in 2010.

In two-plus seasons, Phillips has posted an overall record of 12-23 and 4-19 in SEC play.  This season, the Wildcats are 1-9 and 0-7.

As for which direction UK may turn for a successor — and as will be the case for just about every SEC opening — keep an eye on Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes.

“I understand the challenge and significance of finding a new leader for our football program,” Barnhart wrote. “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.”

American, ACC announce officiating alliance

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The ACC and the American have struck a deal for a football officiating alliance, the American announced Monday. The new program will see the two conferences cooperate on all things officiating, from training to scheduling to evaluation.

With the move, the ACC’s Dennis Hennigan will oversee the alliance, while the American’s Terry McAulay will step down as the league’s coordinator of football officiating and the American will hire a new supervisor of football officials.

“We are excited to partner with the ACC regarding the administration of our football officiating program,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. “This alliance will provide both conferences with a deep roster of the best college football officials and will provide for greater efficiency and consistency in the training and evaluation of officials as well as enhanced opportunities for the recruitment of officials. We look forward to working with Dennis Hennigan, who was regarded as one of the top on-field officials in college football and has since become a leader on the administrative side. I also want to thank Commissioner John Swofford for his cooperation in reaching this mutually beneficial arrangement.”

The new alliance means ACC officials could oversee a Tulane-Tulsa game, while AAC officials would work a Clemson-Georgia Tech game. The ACC-AAC Alliance will go into effect for the 2018 season.

ACC and American team up to improve officiating oversight

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The ACC and American Athletic Conference are coming together with the intent on improving officiating oversight between the two conferences. According to an announcement from the AAC, ACC supervisor of officials Dennis Hennigan will serve as the lead administrator and take on the responsibility of hiring and training officials used in both conferences.

“We are excited to partner with the ACC regarding the administration of our football officiating program,” AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco said in a released statement. “This alliance will provide both conferences with a deep roster of the best college football officials and will provide for greater efficiency and consistency in the training and evaluation of officials as well as enhanced opportunities for the recruitment of officials.”

The AAC reportedly removed Terry McAulay from his long-time role as the conference’s coordinator of football officiating, a role he held in the old Big East and carried over to the AAC amid conference realignment changes. The AAC confirmed McAulay will no longer be associated with the conference in that role. The statement from the AAC says the conference will hire a new Supervisor of Football Officials that will help manage the officiating in the AAC and act as a go-to contact for coaches around the league.

There is no word on whether or not this alliance will lead to a combined instant replay process with a central command hub for instant replay reviews. Instead, the alliance seems to focus on working with officials to ensure calls are being called consistently throughout each league. Having officials on the same page with calling penalties and managing a game has been a problem with few answers. This likely won’t guarantee a perfectly called game every week in each conference, but it may prove to be a step in the right direction.

Brother of five-star recruit walking on at Florida

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Surely this is all a coincidence and not at all a way to gain a recruiting advantage, but junior college linebacker Umstead Sanders will join the Florida Gators as a walk-on player this year. The Gators do have a need to boost the depth at linebacker, so the addition of a junior college player is a quick and easy fix to address that concern, but there is a little more to the story here. Sanders is also the older brother of Trey Sanders, a five-star running back in the Class of 2019 from Bradenton, Florida.

Umstead Sanders announced he will be joining the Florida program with a message on Twitter over the weekend. He will do so as a preferred walk-on, which will likely lead to him landing a scholarship later this year. Sanders is expected to enroll at Florida this summer, so he is not around for spring football practices already underway in Gainesville. While the addition of a 6′-2″ 240-lb linebacker is nice, the whole thing smells like a package deal pitch to lure Sanders’ younger brother into the program down the line.

Package deal commitments and recruiting strategies have long been a part of the game, so this would hardly be anything new if there is a wink and nod to the recruiting efforts going on at Florida. There are no recruiting rules that could prevent Florida from offering a scholarship to a junior college player with the hope of landing his brother in the next recruiting cycle. Other schools have gone so far as to hire the fathers of certain recruits to hopefully gain an advantage, and making sales pitches to high school teammates and family members with scholarships involved has been a trendy technique some schools have put to good use.

Dan Mullen certainly knows what it takes to revamp the Florida program, and taking advantage of all the recruiting angles he can is fair game.

Louisville and UCF line up future home-and-home series

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Former conference foes will be getting together for a reunion of sorts in 2021 and 2022. Louisville and UCF have agreed to a home-and-home series in those years.

Louisville will host UCF on Sept. 18, 2021. The Knights will host the Cardinals in the second game of the home-and-home scheduling agreement the following season on Sept. 17, 2022.

Louisville and UCF have met just once before, and it came as conference foes back in 2013. Blake Bortles and the Knights pulled an upset on the road against Charlie Strong and Teddy Bridgewater, 38-35, which gave the Knights the path to an American Athletic Conference championship in the first season of the conference’s existence. UCF went on to beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl and Louisville ended the year with a Russell Athletic Bowl smackdown of the Miami Hurricanes. After one year as conference foes, Louisville left the AAC to join the ACC and the two schools have not crossed paths since.

The addition of the UCF series will nearly complete Louisville’s nonconference schedule in both seasons with just one vacancy to fill each of those years. Louisville will open the 2021 season in Atlanta against Ole Miss. The Cardinals also continue their regular season rivalry with Kentucky of the SEC in each season. Louisville will also play South Florida in the 2022 season.

Despite the argument from the AAC that it is a power conference, the scheduling of UCF does not satisfy the ACC’s power conference scheduling requirement for its members unless an exception is made. Of course, Louisville playing Kentucky annually meets that requirement.

The addition of Louisville in 2021 and 2022 will ensure UCF will face at least one power conference opponent on an annual basis through 2025 as the future schedules currently show. UCF will play North Carolina and Pittsburgh this upcoming season, Stanford and Pittsburgh in 2019, North Carolina and Georgia Tech in 2020, Texas in 2023, and North Carolina in 2024 and 2025.