LEXINGTON, KY. (AP) - Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips knew after Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Vanderbilt that keeping his job would be tough. The end came a day later.
Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart announced Phillips‘ firing Sunday in an open letter on the Wildcats’ web site. The letter stated Phillips would be let go, effective at the end of the season, but athletic department spokesman DeWayne Peevy later said the coach’s status for the final two games was still to being determined.
“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.”
The Wildcats lost their eighth straight game on Saturday, a 40-0 home loss to Vanderbilt. It was their worst loss to the Commodores in 96 years. Kentucky (1-9, 0-7 Southeastern Conference) is on the verge of going winless in the conference for the first time in school history.
Kentucky plays Samford on Nov. 17 before closing the season against SEC rival 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. “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.”
Barnhart said the school will immediately begin a search for a new coach.
Phillips had two years left on a contract that pays him $1.7 million per season. Peevy said the school would honor the contract.
Phillips‘ firing comes as no surprise.
The 49-year-old coach is 12-23 overall in three seasons at Kentucky. He led the Wildcats to a bowl game in his first season but they have gotten worse each season since.
Other than a victory over Kent State, Kentucky has rarely been competitive this season. The Wildcats lost for the first time at home to instate rival Western Kentucky, and were blown out at Florida, Arkansas and Missouri _ the Tigers’ first-ever SEC win.
Wildcats fans have bombarded sports radio talk shows with calls for Phillips‘ firing. The intensity picked up after the Western Kentucky loss and has remained steady since.
Attendance at Commonwealth Stadium has also dropped sharply from last season. The Wildcats entered the game against the Commodores averaging 51,255 _ down from 60,007 in 2011.
Saturday’s attendance was a season-low 44,902.
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. In his letter, he said the circumstances of this season led him to make a decision now.