By Ricky Blair
November 28, 2015 – Another disappointing loss to Louisville has ended the Kentucky football season. With a promising 4-2 start, it looked like the Wildcats might finally get over the hump and have a good year, but the wheels fell off the wagon and the Wildcats lost five of their last six games. So now all eyes turn to what needs to be done to correct the problem and help UK get over the hump. What is it that would help Kentucky move from continually bad football?
Today I would like to suggest to the UK administration that a Coach of Common Sense needs to be hired for the Kentucky football program. And it needs to be done immediately. Year after year Kentucky has made unbelievable errors when it comes to basic football. It hasn’t only been during the Stoops era, but many times before. Yet Stoops is currently guiding the ship and needs all the help he can get. I don’t doubt that Stoops and his current staff know more football than rest of us, but that may be the problem. They can’t see the forest for the trees. I would say there were probably about half of the 60,000 fans at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday that knew when freshman backup quarterback Lamar Jackson entered the game for Louisville in the first quarter; he was going to run with the football. Jackson entered the game with a team leading 545 yards rushing and he already had broken the Louisville single season record for rushing as a quarterback. Unfortunately, no one told the UK coaching staff. This is were a Coach of Common Sense would come into play. When Jackson entered the game, I turned to the writer next to me in the press box and I said to him. “As much trouble as Kentucky has with the read option type quarterback, I would just tell the UK defenders to tackle the quarterback on every play. If you are going to lose, let it be by the running back. Just tackle the quarterback.” Which is what a Coach of Common Sense would have suggested to the UK staff. Instead the Wildcat defenders continually went after the running backs and left the quarterback to run free. And run free he did for a total of 186 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson also passed for another 130 yards and a touchdown. But it was his running that gave U of L their only chance of winning. The UK defenders said after the game they were confused by the U of L formations and they didn’t really prepare for a running quarterback. “WHAT?” I know he was the second string quarterback, but how can you not be prepared for a quarterback running with the ball when he is the team’s leading rusher? This blows my mind. A Coach of Common Sense would have known better. A Coach of Common Sense would have suggested preparing for the player that was leading the team in rushing, especially when this type player had been a problem for your team over the last few games.
The type of person the UK athletics department should be looking for to fill this position, is a regular fan that follows the game. He or she doesn’t need to be an expert at X and O’s, but just needs to have a resume’ of 20 or more years of watching the Kentucky football program stumble over their own feet time and time again. Someone who understands the anguish of being a UK football fan and wants a different outcome. It’s that simple. They should have limited contact to the coaching staff, be seated in the stands or press box away from the other coaches, but be given a headset to make suggestions during the game.
This isn’t the first time a Coach of Common Sense would have come in handy. Here are just a few other times when UK could have used this coach.
September 2, 2000 – UK in a rain delayed game at Louisville had the ball inside the U of L 5 yard line and only needed a field goal to win as time was running down in the fourth quarter. Coach Hal Mumme at the time ran freshman and first time starter Jared Lorenzen out of the shotgun formation on several plays before settling for a field goal attempt that would have ended the game. One thing the UK coaches forgot was to run to the middle of the field to line up the kicker straight in front of the goal post. Instead the kicker, also playing his first game, was at a horrible angle and the Cardinals blocked the attempted field goal. U of L won 40-34 in overtime. A Coach of Common Sense would have suggested running the ball to the middle of the field to set up an easy kick.
September 27, 2003 – One of the few times Kentucky had a chance to beat Florida and put a stop to the long losing streak, which now stands at 29 years. Everyone remembers how Jared Lorenzen spun around and threw an ill-timed interception that the Florida defender ran back for the game-winning touchdown. What most people forget is that UK held a 21-3 lead nearing the end of the third quarter and Florida was about to punt from deep in their own territory to the best return man in college football at the time (Derek Abney), but UK had twelve men on the field and the penalty gave the Gators renewed life. Florida drove straight down the field for a touchdown and the momentum swing was more than the Wildcats could over come. UK lost 24-21. A Coach of Common Sense could help teach UK the basics, like that only 11 players from each team can be on the field at the same time. Kentucky over the years has had problems with simple time management and the number of players on the field. Just this past season the Wildcats only had eight or nine players on the field during a punt and in one game they took a time-out to avoid a delay of game penalty on a punt, while in the same game, not taking a time-out and accepting a delay of game penalty that moved them out of field goal range. This screams for a Coach of Common Sense.
November 24, 2007 – Kentucky with the senior leadership of Andre Woodson, Jacob Tamme, Rafael Little, Kennan Burton, Stevie Johnson and Wesley Woodyard had one of their best teams in years. It was an unusual season in that they had upset the number 1 team in the land and eventual national champion LSU Tigers, but had also lost to far inferior teams like South Carolina and Mississippi State. In the last game of the season and with a chance to end Tennessee’s 23 year winning streak. The Wildcats were given their opportunity, they had played great in coming from behind to send the game with Volunteers’ into overtime. As a matter of fact this game ended up going into four overtimes. But it was in the second overtime that the Wildcats could have used a Coach of Common Sense. The Wildcats had intercepted a Tennessee pass and only needed to kick a field goal to win the game and end the long losing streak, plus send the seniors off with a win. The Kentucky offense had moved at will against the Tennessee defense in the second half of the game and had scored easily in the first overtime. So, you would expect the Wildcats to be aggressive on offense and move kicker Lonas Seiber closer to the goal post for a short field goal, but the Wildcat coaching staff unexplainably decided to be conservative and not move the ball forward, causing Seiber to attempt a long field goal for the win. Tennessee blocked the kick, Kentucky went on to lose 52-50 in the fourth overtime. Another opportunity missed, Coach of Common Sense needed badly.
October 10, 2009 – UK had never beaten South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, but the Wildcats had just used Randall Cobb running out of the Wildcat formation to score a touchdown and pull within 28-26 and only needed a two-point conversion to send the game into overtime. The Gamecocks could not stop Cobb running out of this formation and he had ran off chunks of yards on the aforementioned touchdown drive. So everyone assumed the Wildcats would use the same formation and allow Cobb to score the two-point conversion. Everyone that is except the UK coaching staff who decided to allow little used quarterback Will Fiddler to attempt a pass to Cobb for the conversion. Pass attempt failed miserably and Wildcats went home with another defeat. Coach of Common Sense would have insisted on giving the ball to Cobb, since South Carolina had no answer for him running out of that Wildcat formation.
November 28, 2009 – Different game, but eerily same type result. UK gets a gift from Tennessee player who fumbles late in a close contest. UK trailing by three gets renewed life and runs Randall Cobb out of the Wildcat formation over and over until the Wildcats are down to about the UT 10-yard line, it looks like it is going to be a story book ending. Cobb who grew up about 20 miles from Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium and who had always wanted to be a Volunteer. Now he was going to be able to break the hearts of his fellow Tennesseans, plus put a stop to the Big Orange’s 25-year winning streak over the Cat’s. But somehow inexplicably the Kentucky coaching staff decided not to give the ball to Cobb anymore and ended up settling for a game tying field goal. The game went into overtime and UT won 30-24. A Coach of Common Sense could have explained that the Wildcats had nothing to lose in going for a touchdown and that Cobb would have found a way to get the ball over the goal line to upset the team that had spurned him, if only given a chance.
These are only a microcosm of the times UK has been ill prepared to make simple common sense decisions.
Kentucky’s special teams were so bad this past season that a lot of people have suggested they hire a full-time special teams coach. While this might not be a bad idea, I would put my money on a Coach of Common Sense. The Coach of Common Sense might even suggest practicing special teams during the season, since it was obvious that Kentucky spent very little time in this area over the past year.
By Ricky Blair