Over 60 years ago, a soon-to-be legendary coach had the University of Kentucky football program as one of the country’s best.
Led by players such as George Blanda and Babe Parili, the Wildcats, who had won five SEC games between 1936 and 1945, tallied 60 wins in an eight-year span between 1946 and 1954, including the 1950 SEC championship.
The same year that Kentucky won the SEC title, they earned a right to face Oklahoma in the 1951 Sugar Bowl, defeating the Sooners 13-7. They would follow that season up with an 8-4 record in 1951 and a Cotton Bowl win over TCU.
Two years later, after being promised by the president of the university that the school’s popular basketball coach would be forced to retire because of a scandal that rocked the program only to be given a new contract, the coach decided to pull up stakes and head for the Lone Star State.
After he left Texas, he managed to return to his alma mater and lead the school to six national championships and coach some of the most legendary players in college football history.
In the nearly 60 years since Bryant left for Texas A&M, the University of Kentucky football program has struggled to escape not only the shadow of a highly successful basketball program but the ghost of the Bear.
And although there’s been brief periods of success, most recently the five year run of bowls from 2006 to 2010 as well as the brief appearance in the BCS top 10 after beating eventual national champion LSU in 2007, Kentucky football has spent the last 58 years chasing ghosts.
On yesterday, Joker Phillips, who replaced Rich Brooks after the 2009 season as head coach, became the first SEC coach to be axed during the 2012 season almost a year after the Wildcats ended a 27-year losing streak to the rival Tennessee Volunteers.
And while Phillips will forever be remembered as the coach that ended the streak against the Vols, ending a dubious streak against a rival doesn’t necessarily grant you lifetime job security.
Nor does getting destroyed 40-0 by a resurgent Vanderbilt in a half-filled Commonwealth Stadium.