By Kristin York
It is quite the anomaly when one-third of the way through basketball season, the Big Blue Nation’s epicenter of focus is on football, but that is where we are. After the usual disappointment of a Kentucky Football season, fans inevitably want to quickly push pigskin to the side and dive head first into a more enjoyable basketball season, but this year is different. Kentucky fans had ideas. These ideas were not simple hopes, wishes, or desires, but they were serious and (for the most part) rational expectations for a “Mark Stoops led, year number three, we are all in” kind of season. When those expectations were not met, the BBN was probably as upset as I have seen them. That anger and disappointment has boiled over into now late December. Fans demanded change. Ask and ye shall receive.
Since closing the season in a dreadful 5-7 fashion, two coaches were relieved of their positions on the UK Football staff: Offensive Coordinator Shannon Dawson and Wide Receivers Coach, Tommy Mainord. Both coaches were sources of debate and contention around the Big Blue Nation, with the primary focus on Dawson. His dismissal garnered a collective sigh of relief from around the fan base who had been vocal about his underwhelming on-field production and interaction with the media. Fans were anticipating his firing and were ready for it. What they were not ready for was the comments to come.
Photo: Amy Wallot, The Courier-Journal
Photo: Amy Wallot, The Courier-Journal
Patrick Towles, who had announced earlier that he would be transferring, tweeted his thoughts on Dawson’s firing. First he tweeted via emoji that he believed Dawson was a sacrificial lamb, then he went on to praise Dawson and wish him all the luck in the future. More recently, back-up quarterback, Reese Phillips made his feelings known in an interview with The Chattanooga Times Free Press. Among the things Phillips divulged, some included Stoops’ displeasure with him transferring, the possibility of him not retaining his medical redshirt, and his issue with Drew Barker being crowned starting quarterback without a pre-season quarterback competition. Phillips also spoke highly of Dawson, even going as far to say that he would not have transferred if Dawson was still at UK. Towles’ and Phillips’ post-transfer comments painted a clear picture of some veterans who were not quite happy with the direction of the program.
A lot of fans have been very vocal about their displeasure of their comments. Many have said they were distasteful. Others have said they were in bad form. Some are downright angry about them. Among these fans, the consensus is that those comments were disrespectful. Both quarterbacks were recruited and given an opportunity to play the sport they love and were given a free education all the while. They ought to be more grateful.
While I can understand the frustration of these fans, I can not subscribe to their thought process. Towles and Phillips were recruited by Joker who was running an offense very different from what Stoops envisioned. Towles gave Kentucky Football everything he had and Reese was realizing more and more that he would never have the opportunity to play significant snaps. This simply was not the ball club they were recruited into. Although Stoops and Dawson gave Towles ample opportunities to lead last season’s squad, Stoops was proud as a peacock to get the quarterback he nabbed, Drew Barker, into game action. It simply was not how Towles or Phillips expected their collegiate careers to play out and neither one of them were going to leave Lexington thrilled. For anyone to expect otherwise is unfair.
Here is the million dollar question: Did Towles and Phillips have the right to speak their piece about the program? My answer is they should have done and continue to do whatever floats their boat. Because these kids simply stated their frustrations does not make them ungrateful. They paid their dues. The put in the countless hours of practice and waited their turn. They were given a sales pitch for one product and were sold another. They bought into one game plan and ended up playing something very different. I am not upset with Mark Stoops about it. That is just what happens when coaching changes happen. A new coach comes in with new assistant coaches, a new system, and a new plan. Not everyone fits into the new scheme and some players will inevitably wind up disappointed. It is just the way it goes. However, to say that Patrick or Reese lack class because they voiced their disappointments is sorely unfair. For what it is worth, I do not believe that either one of them said anything obscenely terrible about Stoops or the program, nor will there be any detrimental repercussions for UK Football or them personally. They were just being honest, and honesty is okay in my book.
A cloud of doom and gloom overshadowed Nutter Fieldhouse and Commonwealth Stadium until yesterday’s hiring of Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw, replacing Dawson and Mainord. With that good news, hopefully Kentucky Football can put drama in the past and begin building toward next year with some newly found inner peace and confidence.
Follow me on Twitter: @xKSYorkx