Joker Phillips’ rise is more Obama parallel than Willingham, Prince firings

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By Bob Watkins

Fired, football coaches at Washington and Kansas State. Add Phil Fulmer at Tennessee and Tommy Bowden at Clemson to list of first to fall from the coaches carousel. An Associated Press story surfaced quickly. Ignoring Fulmer and Bowden, it centered on Ty Willingham and Ron Prince firings and linked them to Barack Obama’s election. Then gave pulpit to the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports.

A think tank report to remind the NCAA that skin color of 113 of 119 Subdivision college football head coaches is white while 55 percent of all student-athletes are minorities. Six men of color are head coaches, lowest number in 15 years, the report said.

What’s the problem? Show us qualifications.

The only linkage I see with college football coaches and Obama’s election is it symbolizes the grand fulfillment of opportunity for those best qualified to lead in the richest, best educated and most progressive country on the planet.

In fact, Obama’s success should make fashionable a political movement to abolish affirmative action.

We would like to see an American think tank do a study on the proportion of freely elected heads-of-state in countries around the world based on skin color.

Won’t happen because the premise is dubious and cynical as is the Institute of Diversity and Ethics committee’s finding which smacks of manipulation of statistics to support a hateful argument.

In a new and more hopeful America, the IDE report could have better served us with a break-out report on head coach qualifications with no emphasis on skin color.

Model to parallel Obama’s ascendence - Joker Phillips.

After his playing days at Kentucky Phillips became a graduate assistant in 1988. Four job-training stops and 15 years later he is heir apparent to Rich Brooks at his alma mater.

Phillips did the work, honed his leadership skills then competed in the job market. That he will be Kentucky’s next head coach is evidence that the Institute’s Study should provide answers to THESE questions:

√ How many men applied for head job openings (set span of time)?

√ How many were interviewed?

√ Did applicant feel he got a fair opportunity or was victim of Good Old Boy networking?

Epilogue. Minority head coaches set to finish the ‘08 season: Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom, Randy Shannon at Miami, Buffalo’s Turner Gill and Houston’s Kevin Sumlin. Florida International’s Mario Cristobal is Hispanic and Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo is Samoan.

ITEM 2. Ten games along, bowl eligible Kentucky (6-4) was more a pig wearing lipstick than legitimate bowl beauty. Fans and media fell in love at six wins, but the Wildcats must be a seven-win team to persuade its usual 50,000 faithful to buy tickets and travel.

And Kentucky still has opportunity to finish in a flourish. Finish 9-4.

ITEM 3. Phillip Fulmer is out at season’s end at Tennessee.

Despite the howlers, Fulmer’s firing is reasonable. Count the wins against Florida, Georgia and Alabama last two seasons. Tally the number of scholarship player names on police blotters the last two years.

Before we cry Fulmer a river consider he leaves Knoxville with $3 million compensation. Next!


Fans roared approval and Billy Clyde Gillispie’s face gave way to a grin as Josh Harrellson headed up court after swishing another shot from no-no land for 6-10, 260-pounders. Quickly, the grin turned back to glare.

“Hey, Harrellson,” the coach shouted, “Anybody can play h-o-r-s-e. Lets see you play some defense.”


Kentucky continued to show it might be special. Certainly Gillispie’s resume’ tells us his second season teams are decidedly better.

Among Big Blue reasons for optimism ...

• Depth, speed, length and talent are in place.

• Toughness and passion. A willingness to donate a layer of skin 100 percent of the time will be acceptable. Michael Porter, Ramon Harris and Landon Slone are poster boys. From the dog house, A.J. Stewart is too. And no pouting.

• Leaders. Will be better than Billy Clyde I. Patrick Patterson is and others will surface. Anyone balks at following, a teammate waits at the scorer’s table.

• Transition. With a roster hip-deep in quicks, savvy ball handlers who look upcourt for make-a-play opportunity instead of forcing one or quaking with turnover-dread, the enemy had better get back on EVERY possession.

• UK is going to dictate game pace for the first time since Rick Pitino.

• Half court. Speed of ball movement absent indecision of last winter.

• Unselfishness with a premium put on passing to the post.

• Shooting. Jodie Meeks can be solid compliment to Patterson, Harrellson and Perry Stevenson. And, vice versa.

Result? Fans will smile alot and the coach might wink a little too.


“Is there a county in the state as successful as Whitley?” writes Corbin News-Journal sports editor Jim McAlister. “High school football - Corbin Redhounds football 10-0, Whitley Co. and Williamsburg High are 8-1, University of Cumberlands football Patriots are 9-1 and Top 10 ranked.

“By this time next week we may have four championship teams. When has that EVER happened in Whitley County?”


In a TIME Magazine Q&A, Billionaire and wind power entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens took a question from Tom Sexton of Whitesburg. “Is the first billion really the hardest?”

Pickens: “Well, I was 70 before I made it, so I plowed for a long time before I made a million.”

And so it goes.

Have an idea, a question or point-of-view to share, write bob Watkins at SprtsinKy@aol.com