Judging by the current poll numbers, and the subsequent tweets and e-mails, Mitch Barnhart’s comments on Friday in support of head football coach Joker Phillips were not greeted with a wealth of positive vibes. Doesn’t matter. Popular opinion aside, Barnhart did the right thing.
Yes, the Cats have lost four straight games, their last three by a combined count of 137-20. And yes, UK’s string of consecutive bowl appearances appears to be in major jeopardy. And yes, Phillips was an assistant coach for seven seasons before being promoted to the head chair. He’s not the new guy in town.
But you don’t fire a head football coach after two seasons, and certainly not midway through his second season. The emphasis here is on head coach. Being the head coach is different from being an assistant, even from being a coordinator. Phillips has tweaked things to make the program his own, specifically in the area of staff changes. He needs time to prove those can work.
Saying he would give Phillips that time has earned Barnhart plenty of flak. Tthat may have more to do with the athletics director’s popularity than the head coach, however. Barnhart has been a punching bag, and I myself have taken my fair share of swings. His defensive nature can be his own worst enemy. But on this one, the AD got it right.
Barnhart needed to issue a strong statement of support to keep Phillips from twisting in the wind. He needed to do it now, before a three-game home stand that could be, shall we say, lightly attended. He needed to show public support for his embattled coach. And Barnhart did just that. The most popular thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do.