No hard feelings
Coach Guy Morriss, we hardly knew ya'. It's the middle of December and UK football is still in the news, but in what can only be described as very surprising, UK football Head Coach Guy Morriss is leaving UK to accept the head coaching job at Baylor University. And, in a rare occasion in Division I college sports, this seems to be a good decision by everyone involved, well at least everyone involved on the UK end. Unlike the acrimony and drama that followed Dennis Franchione's move from Alabama to Texas A&M, nobody here can really be accused of being at fault.
Morriss is a good, solid football coach. His traditional approach was just what UK needed after the dog and pony show that was the Hal Mumme "era" in Lexington. Morriss accepted the job under bad conditions, probation looming like the sword of Damocles, and was signed to one of the worst coaching contracts in the history of the Southeastern Conference. After a 2-9 opening season, UK rebounded nicely to a 7-5 record. During the season, UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart announced that Morriss' contract would be extended and the wheels were set in motion to award him a contract more in line with those of other SEC coaches. Apparently, Morriss' rebuilding job did not go unnoticed. Baylor, who is traditionally the worst team in the Big 12, has decided to throw money around like a bunch of drunk monkeys in an attempt to field a competitive team. Although UK is far from a football powerhouse, they are still a step above Baylor, but Morriss had about 1.3 million reasons to call Waco home. And that is what it really comes down to, money. Morriss' deal at Baylor is reported to be between 1.1 and 1.3 million, which is almost triple his $400,000 UK salary, and probably double whatever raise he was going to get. His assistants, woefully underpaid at UK, are also in line for big raises. If Baylor wants to pay this much money to a football coach with a career 9-14 record, then more power to them.
While the UK fans may have loved the job Morriss did this year and respected his no-nonsense attitude, paying him anywhere close to one million dollars was not viewed as a good idea. If UK was going to throw that kind of money around, there were possibly better and definitely more accomplished head coaches available. In the world of college coaching, you are one bad season away from being fired. UK learned their lesson with giving big, undeserved raises, (Thank you CM Newton!) and they made the right decision in letting Morriss walk. So, no hard feelings, Guy, and good luck in Baylor. You will need it.
Now, if you are keeping score at home, this leaves UK without a football coach. The program is not anywhere near the bad shape it was in when Morriss started here two years ago, but there are two more seasons of scholarship reductions, so it is not exactly the most attractive job on the market. Barnhart made his name at Oregon State with a big splash hire in football, Dennis Erickson, so he is probably foaming at the mouth at this chance to put his stamp on UK football. With this in mind, and assuming UK is willing to spend up to about $800,000, the highest amount they ever paid a coach, here is a list, in no particular order, of candidates and some comments.
Dennis Erickson-The obvious first candidate and the head coach at Oregon State, Barnhart's previous school. He has had NCAA trouble in the past. But, should UK pony up the money it will take to get him to leave OSU?
Charlie Strong-Defensive Coordinator at the University of South Carolina. This guy would be a great hire on so many levels. He has SEC experience at South Carolina and Florida, hiring him away from South Carolina would make them worse, and he is an African-American. UK hiring the first African-American head coach (in football) in the SEC would be a major statement and I believe would help recruiting tremendously.
John L. Smith-Head Coach University of Louisville. Sure, he is a jackass and runs a borderline dirty program, but he wins. And he would surely jump at the chance to coach in a real conference where he could get some BCS money. Also, he would be able to stop playing games during the week and play on Saturday like a real football school.
Lovie Smith-Defensive Coordinator St. Louis Rams. Has UK connections since he was here under Curry. Once again, an accomplished and experienced coach who happens to be an African-American.
Chuck Smith-Head Coach Boyle County. OK, this is not going to happen for many, many reasons, but hey, when was the last time UK won four-straight December games?
George O'Leary-Former Georgia Tech Head Coach. Have you seen this guy's résumé? It is amazing!
There are of course many, many more candidates out there and this small list is just cursory in nature. When Mitch Barnhart arrived, he was known as a "football" guy. This is his call. This is why he makes the big bucks. In five years, this hire will likely determine whether or not he is considered a successful athletic director. If he makes a good hire, who knows, maybe they will build a statue in his honor. CM Newton made zero good hires in football and they named the field after him.
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