Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted December 12, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Kicking the can, uh, football down the road.

Charlie Strong is staying. … Willie Taggart is going. … Joker Phillips is gone.

And, Mark Stoops has a staff in place a fortnight before Christmas.

Each has its own Wow Factor depending on your field position.

Here are a few of mine.

√ Strong re-affirmed his commitment to Louisville last week, but not before flirting with Tennessee and until Tom Jurich sweetened his contract.

√ Willie Taggart turned Hilltoppers football around, “saved football at Western Kentucky U,” some say. Certainly he changed attitudes and the culture as the Toppers go bowling three years after owning D-I’s longest losing streak.

WKU director of athletics Todd Stewart, “I want our fans to know we made every effort to retain Coach Taggart as our head coach

“I initially met with him during our bye week in early October and told him we had raised sufficient private funds to offer him a package that could make him the highest paid coach in the Sun Belt Conference.”

Taggart opted to go home to South Florida.

The cynic in me believes Taggart went home not for the weather, recruiting against the other Florida(s), and only maybe for a job with national title possibility, but for the money, $5.75 million over five years. (good luck after year three).

Upside for WKU? South Florida must play a home-and-home series with Western in the future. And, Taggart owes Western $500,000.

√ At Kentucky, a honeymoon.

Sounds emanating from Lexington this week include…

• Clucking around Big Blue Nation about a youth-emphasized football coaching staff in place with multiple ties to the Commonwealth.

• Bells and Whistles. Coach Mark Stoops said last week: “This is the SEC. It’s a physical conference. I want to be tough and be physical. We have to build this foundation with great defense. There’s no way around it. If you don’t play great defense, you’re not going to win consistently.”

This week, Stoops could add, “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!”

Neal Brown is offensive coordinator. A disciple of Air Raid offense, the Danville native and UK walk-on made Texas Tech’s offense second-best-in-the-nation passing, 361 yards per game in 2012.

Lexington won’t name any streets for Brown just yet, but optimism is soaring.

This week, Stoops, Brown and others are out beating the bushes for WRs and TEs. That’s code for pass catchers.

Cha-ching! Sound of ticket sales for University of Kentucky football 2013.

Dismiss all sunny pronouncements from UK athletics department spokespeople but rely on common sense that says home games with Louisville, Florida, Alabama, Missouri and Tennessee will be hot and scalp-price worthy.

Why ignore UK athletics releases? Credibility. This is the agency that reported 130,000 empty seats at seven home games last season as attendance. (Cheers to the Lexington Herald-Leader for uncovering the lie).

√ Buzz. Mark Stoops is veritable pup in his profession at 45 years old. Interestingly, he is clearly senior member of a Kiddie Corps coaching staff.

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot is 36, offensive coordinator Neal Brown is 32; line coach John Schlarman is 32; and running backs coach Chad Scott is 29.


Ex-Kentucky shootist Doron Lamb is averaging four points in 13 minutes a game for the Milwaukee Bucks; Marquis Teague averages 0.9 points per game as Chicago Bulls benchwarmer.

Anthony Davis has missed a month (11 games), but may return to the New Orleans lineup next week.

John Wall has not practiced or played a minute for the Washington Wizards this season.

And, ex-Wildcat Terrence Jones was sent to the NBA’s Developmental League last week.

Never mind. All are 20-something millionaires.

And so it goes.