Saturday, August 31, 2013

On Bobby Petrino, Mark Stoops, and Power in Kentucky

Last year, the UK Athletic Department had a golden opportunity to upgrade its football program by hiring Bobby Petrino.  Petrino, who is one of the best coaches in the country, was in a desperate position after losing his job at Arkansas due to scandal.  He was eager to take the Kentucky job, which would have enabled him to stay in the SEC.

Let us be clear:  This was the first time since the departure of Bear Bryant when the Cats had a legitimate opportunity to hire a coach who had proven himself at the highest levels of college football.  For schools like Kentucky -- with a long history of poor football -- such opportunities are extremely rare.  For the sake of all the devoted Kentucky fans who have spent decade after decade supporting one of the worst programs in all of college football, the University had to make this hire.  Failing to do so, and throwing away such a wonderful chance, would be downright cruel.

But like most things in Kentucky, the UK football program is not run for the benefit of the people who it is supposed to serve.  Instead, it is merely a plaything for a few wealthy and powerful folks who use it for their own convenience.  And those people -- the same people who imposed Billy Clyde Gillespie upon UK's basketball fans just a few years ago -- apparently believed that Petrino did not meet their rigid moral standards.  (We say apparently, because the folks who run things in Kentucky rarely explain why they do what they do.)  So instead of hiring one of the best coaches in the country, they hired a guy who had never been a head coach at all.  And then they, with their usual support from the local media, spent months trying to convince the Commonwealth that they had done the right thing.  We were told that Mark Stoops had a great staff, a great new system, and one of the greatest recruiting classes in UK history.  Today, on the first day of the new season, tens of thousands of UK fans drove down to Nashville, confidently expecting the New Cats to roll to victory against Western.  After all, UK almost beat Western last year, when the Cats were 2-10.  Surely the New Cats would have an easier time of it.

Meanwhile, Western Kentucky -- ecstatic with its opportunity -- had scooped up Petrino for itself.  Yes, the Hilltoppers took some criticism from the press.  Yes, some cynics insisted that Petrino would leave Bowling Green as soon as possible.  But today, when the game started, Petrino and his staff were working for the Hilltoppers, not the Wildcats.  And Petrino humiliated the Cats, beating them 35-26 in a game that was not as close as the score indicated.

Consider the following:  every single player on Western's line-up would have preferred to take a scholarship from an SEC team like UK.  No player on UK's team would voluntarily leave the SEC to play in the Sun Belt.  So don't tell us that Western has good talent, or that they played hard, or that Joker left UK with no good players.  UK lost this game because the Powers That Be in Lexington didn't want Bobby Petrino in their playpen.  Period.  UK lost this game -- as it has lost so many games in so many years -- because the Powers That Be are either indifferent to their responsibility to one of the best fan bases in the country, or are incapable of making decisions that will benefit those fans.

I would say that the UK Athletic Department got the result it deserved.  But, of course, they got the result they wanted.  Only the UK fans were hurt.

No wonder populism runs rampant in western Kentucky.  No wonder so many of us grow up with so much skepticism of our supposed betters.

And hooray for the folks at Bowling Green who proved the importance of giving us different choices, so we can see how alternative policies would have played out.  Good for them for making their fans happy.  We can only hope that someday UK fans will have such people working for them.  In the meantime, UK fans will have to wait for basketball season.

1 comment:

  1. By the way, Louisville opened its season with a 49-7 victory over Ohio University.