Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

November 6, 2012

Cats should look west

ASHLAND — Kentucky didn’t know it then, but when Western Kentucky beat the Wildcats in a 32-31 breathtaker in September at Commonwealth Stadium, Big Blue’s next coach might have been wearing red.

Now that Kentucky is escorting Joker Phillips to the exit door, Willie Taggart might be a logical fit.

Taggart’s infectious enthusiasm won me over as I watched the Hilltoppers shock the Bluegrass. His demeanor seems to be similar to that of successful Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. He just appears to relate extremely well with players and have a burning passion about his job.

Taggart is young (36) and energetic. Despite a tough 34-29 loss to Middle Tennessee last weekend, he’s done an admiral job at WKU, leading the Hilltoppers to a 6-3 season thus far. That included a valiant effort in a 35-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama.

Kentucky couldn’t even play that closely with Vanderbilt, losing 40-0, which was the final straw for Phillips, a class act all the way though. Unfortunately, class acts don’t always rank at the top of the coaching class.

Not surprisingly, Phillips will show loyalty to his players and finish out the season. The Wildcats should beat Samford before a loss to Tennessee.

Looking forward, Taggart will be in the discussion to assume Joker’s former position on UK’s sidelines.

According to reports, other candidates include Sonny Dykes, a former UK assistant under Hal Mumme and current Louisiana Tech offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator, and Neal Brown, Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator who was born in Danville.

If UK doesn’t go Taggart, Koetter has my vote.

While Brown’s Kentucky ties are strong — the 32-year-old was an All-State receiver at Boyle County High School before playing at Kentucky for three seasons — that might just be enough to be too much pressure for this job.

Cal’s Cats need time

Just think of John Calipari as the Alan Thicke of college basketball, with Thicke obviously having a slight edge in the awesome hair department.

Every season is like a new episode of “Growing Pains,” which ironically went off the air before most of the current Wildcats were born.

There’s no budding actors, like Leonardo DiCaprio, but budding basketball stars are abundant.

They were so much better than Northwood and Transylvania that I was lulled to sleep before halftime when attempting to watch both games. While part of that might have just been the delayed broadcasts’ starting times, the bulk of it was due to the fact that exhibition games are overwhelmingly boring.

Get ready, because the excitement level is about to go up a few notches.

Friday night’s matchup with Maryland may not result in a loss, but don’t be surprised if these Cats have a few L’s next to their name before New Year’s. And don’t be shocked if Calipari experiences that ever-elusive first loss at Rupp Arena.

While Kentucky proved that a bunch of juniors and seniors aren’t prerequisites in winning a national title, it’s still helpful to possess some experience.

Last year, UK had senior Darius Miller and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.

Kyle Wiltjer is the only returner who played anything close to significant minutes a year ago.

ESPN will carry Friday’s game against the Terrapins. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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