Now that college football is entering the final few weeks of the regular season, the head coaching rumors are starting to get hot and heavy. The University of Kentucky is at the forefront.
Kentucky (1-9) is off this week but has lost eight straight games and is winless in the SEC. Coach Joker Phillips was on the hot seat entering this season as it was, but school officials had enough after last week’s 40-0 loss at home to Vanderbilt. It was the largest margin of victory for Vanderbilt — not exactly a football factory — over the Wildcats since 1916.
The next day, Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart announced that Phillips was out, although he will coach the team’s final two games. UK, which is ranked near the bottom nationally in most offensive and defensive categories, should win Nov. 17 against FCS school Samford. But the Cats would have to beat Tennessee in Knoxville on Nov. 24 to avoid the program’s first-ever winless SEC slate.
The UK job is a challenging one because the football team will always be overshadowed by the storied basketball program. Bovada has released odds on potential successors, the top favorite being former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino at 2-1.
Petrino had built the Hogs into an excellent team but was dismissed this past offseason due to a scandal. Petrino’s father told a Louisville paper this week that his son would have some interest in the Kentucky job, and Petrino knows the state. He went 41-9 at Louisville from 2003-06.
After a failed stint with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, Petrino led Arkansas to back-to-back double-digit-win seasons and the school’s first BCS bowl game. His collegiate teams have always had exciting, wide-open offenses, and that’s what Kentucky needs to draw some buzz.
The second-favorite for the UK job is current Duke coach David Cutcliffe (3-1), another respected offensive mind. Cutcliffe has done wonders at another basketball-first school as the Blue Devils are 6-4 and bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994. Cutcliffe has been pursued before and has stated his allegiance to Duke. He made his name in coaching circles as a former offensive coordinator at Tennessee, where he is credited with molding Peyton Manning into a superstar. Cutcliffe then got the head coaching job at Ole Miss and also groomed Eli Manning there before being fired.
In 2010, Cutcliffe withdrew his name from consideration for the Tennessee head coaching job, which eventually went to Derek Dooley. Dooley’s time might be up, as the Vols are a disappointing 4-6 after Saturday’s game against Missouri. Dooley wasn’t UT’s first choice and wasn’t a popular one. He is 32-39 there and has yet to beat a ranked team or lead Tennessee to a bowl. There’s a prop on whether Dooley will be the Tennessee coach next year: No is the huge -500 favorite, with yes at +300.
The other SEC coach under the most scrutiny is Auburn’s Gene Chizik. He led the Tigers to an unbeaten season and national championship just two years ago, but that is looking more and more like it was due to the singular talent of Cam Newton. Last year, Auburn went 8-5, and this year, the Tigers have been a disaster at 2-8 and winless in the SEC.
In addition to the Kentucky job, Petrino is likely to be rumored as a candidate at both Tennessee and Auburn if those jobs open up because he knows the SEC so well. Whether Petrino coaches anywhere in the SEC next season is a -350 favorite, with no at +225.