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A cousin called from Mississippi on Saturday morning to say that my beloved alma mater and her favorite team, Southern Mississippi, should get a new football coach.
“A new coach?.” I said via an intermediary. “The guy only has coached two games. How can you dislike a coach after two games?”
Did I mention this cousin was of a mature age, a God-fearing, church-going woman who speaks in a quiet, honey-thick Southern drawl that Andy and Gomer surely would appreciate, that her mother was my Aunt Bea? Well, that’s a side point.
Here she was spitting fire and brimstone at a man who had coached two football games. Something tells me she was expecting better than 0-2 (as was I).
Then came Saturday night, when our team, one of the most successful in the past two decades of college football, was supposed to heal wounds on a visit to Bowling Green, but what it received was a much more severe licking than in the season-opener at Nebraska.
That cousin called again that Saturday night with another message: “I’m going to bed. It’s forty-two to three in the third quarter.”
Well, the score improved only slightly, but the point was well taken, which gets me to the University of Kentucky (follow that?).
By defeating Southern Mississippi, Western Kentucky, a neophyte in the highest level of football, has a proven it can beat a quality football program that has been posting winning records and going to bowl games every season dating back to when the first George Bush was president and famed alumnus Brett Favre had never changed his mind.
And that means UK fans can feel a little better that your Wildcats’ loss to Western a couple of Saturdays ago wasn’t quite as unholy as you had surmised. Maybe your team isn’t any more hopeless than usual – which is the real point here.
Sometimes I think UK fans have the perspective of an NFL replacement official: You know, they kind of know what’s going on but not exactly. They seem to view their football program as something that it seldom has been – potentially great.
After that loss to Western, even the most moderately patient UK fan was jumping on the Dump Joker Phillips Bandwagon, which already was on a downhill sprint for that poor football coach. His replacement already was being named by wags from Fulton to Fancy Gap, and this season was but three games old, his contract not half expired.
More and more denizens of the Big Blue Nation who were disappointed if not disgruntled with the performance of Joker’s first two teams are ready to prime him with rat poisoning and dunk him in a farm pond behind an old dairy barn.
OK, so UK lost to Louisville, which has the best team in its conference (rank that as you will). And after beating a mediocre-at-best Kent State, the Wildcats then lost a trick-play-at-the-end game to a really good team from Western, a team I am now convinced will go 11-1 this year and play in a pretty good bowl.
But the problem with UK may not be how well Joker Phillips’ teams have performed but how well the UK fans expectthem to perform. Do you expect to waltz with Fred Astaire and are disappointed to couple up with Clem Kadiddlehopper?
Apparently you do, and that’s a problem around which we simply can’t dance.
Here’s the ugly, hard truth, UK fans: Doesn’t matter whom you name as football coach, six or seven victories a year is all there are going to be – unless that coach cheats, and then there’s a chance for eight or more (as history has proven).
Dozens of men have tried, and some have had a modicum of success. Heck, Fran Curci produced a 10-1 team in 1977 before being sent to the NCAA penitentiary. The string of bowls of Rich Brooks, Joker’s predecessor and benefactor, was built on winning games you were supposed to win and occasionally one you weren’t. It wasn’t built on beating Florida or Alabama or LSU or Tennessee (although Joker did accomplish that).
UK fans for generations have been frustrated by mediocrity at best, by why?
In 1965 UK had a really terrific team with several future NFL players. It went 6-4 and missed an expected bid to the Cotton Bowl. Only 12 teams since have finished with a winning record (not counting the break-even seasons). That’s a dirty dozen out of 46.
There’s a reason that old Belial Bear Bryant left UK for Bama after eight seasons, and it wasn’t all because he was jealous of Adolph Rupp (appropriate as that may seem).
That UK was shellacked again at Florida last week was no big deal. Good UK teams led by Tim Couch were pasted there by scores such as 65-0.When South Carolina romps on Saturday, that won’t be news – or reason to fire the coach. It should be expected, anticipated and accepted with a hug of remorse.
UK football fans would be a lot happier if they simply expected less and were happy with better than they expected. This isn’t basketball, and it never will be. You win seven, dance in the streets. You win fewer, have a sip of bourbon and enjoy the tailgate.
At least that’s the way I’m going to approach the rest of the season, because this weekend I’m expecting to hear from my cousin again.
What I had forecast to be the week Louisville would lose its first game on a road trip to South Mississippi probably won’t turn out as I had expected.
At least I’m lowering my expectations and hoping for better.