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Barnhart updates coaching search after Tennessee game, says response has been good

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On Saturday afternoon, the 2012 Kentucky football season and the Joker Phillips era came to an end in Knoxville, Tenn.

A Craig McIntosh field goal on the first drive of the second half cut Tennessee's lead to 20-17, but the Volunteers scored the game's final 17 points for a 37-17 victory. The Wildcats finished the season 2-10 (0-8 Southeastern Conference, but attention immediately shifted to the search for UK's new coach.

Minutes after the season-ending loss, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart spoke with the media for the first time since making the decision to replace Phillips at season's end. Since the process is still very much ongoing he didn't discuss specifics, but Barnhart did confirm that there is interest in the position.

"It's a good job," Barnhart said. "People are excited about the opportunity to coach in our league, coach at the University of Kentucky."

This is the first time in nearly a decade that UK has conducted an outside search for a football coach.  According to Barnhart, there has been a noticeable change in the perception of the job.

"People have been responsive to talking about the job," Barnhart said. "It's much different. Last time we were on probation, looking at losing 19 scholarships and there weren't a lot of folks who thought it was a really great opportunity."

Of course, Barnhart would tab Rich Brooks as head coach before the 2003 season. Brooks would go on to a successful run, starting a school-record streak of five consecutive bowl trips. Phillips was named coach-in-waiting in 2008 before taking over two years later. His tenure didn't turn out as he or Barnhart hoped, but Phillips has conducted himself with remarkable class through the final weeks of his more than two decades as a player and coach at UK. His players have followed suit.

"Joker has been as classy as classy can be," Barnhart said. "He's an amazing guy, which hasn't changed at all. It's exactly what you'd expect. You'd expect our players to conduct themselves in a certain way and he's made an absolute example of how to do that."

On his way out, Phillips has encouraged players to immediately buy into the whoever ends up succeeding him. The Wildcats were among the youngest teams in the NCAA in 2012 and Barnhart believes their development makes the future bright and the position he's looking to fill that much more attractive.

"The person who walks in will have an opportunity to inherit that young talent," Barnhart said. "There are obviously some things that we have to get better at and we all know that. That's why we're in this position. We do have some young players in this locker room who care about the program and have a chance to move it forward and we'll just continue to work through it."

As for the finding the man who will lead those players next season and beyond, Barnhart is keeping his mind open. He believes a successful coach can come from a variety of different backgrounds.

"There's no blueprint for these things," Barnhart said. "I've seen them work a lot of different ways and a lot of different places. Places that have a lot more tradition and places that have a lot less tradition. Mid-majors, big-time places. We're looking for the right fit and we'll continue to work our way through that."

Barnhart understands that the widespread interest on the part of fans stems from their passion for the university. He wants to keep the wait for the new coach as short as possible, but won't rush at the cost of compromising the process.

"I appreciate that everybody has been patient. Misinformation flies around and I get all that," Barnhart said. "I won't respond to that noise and we'll just keep working away as we always have here in the last 10 or so years. I appreciate the way you all have respected our team and our coaches and we hope to get to this sooner rather than later."

Cat Scratches did not travel with the team for the Tennessee game, so we used video posted by Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal for quotes from Barnhart's session with the media.

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