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Kentucky fires football coach Joker Phillips

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Kentucky fires football coach Joker Phillips

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips knew after Saturday's embarrassing loss to Vanderbilt that keeping his job would be tough. The end came a day later.

Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart announced Phillips' firing Sunday in an open letter on the Wildcats' web site. The letter stated Phillips would be let go, effective at the end of the season, but athletic department spokesman DeWayne Peevy later said the coach's status for the final two games was still to being determined.

``We, as coaches, are measured on results,'' Phillips said in a statement. ``We didn't get the results we had worked and hoped for, therefore change is needed. In my current 10-year stay at Kentucky, we've had some memorable moments as an assistant, coordinator and head coach. We've had the opportunity to coach some fine young men and I am grateful to have had the privilege of watching them grow as players, as students and as people.''

The Wildcats lost their eighth straight game on Saturday, a 40-0 home loss to Vanderbilt. It was their worst loss to the Commodores in 96 years. Kentucky (1-9, 0-7 Southeastern Conference) is on the verge of going winless in the conference for the first time in school history.

Kentucky plays Samford on Nov. 17 before closing the season against SEC rival Tennessee.

``I have determined that it is in the best interest of our athletics program to make a change in our football coaching staff at the conclusion of the season,'' Barnhart said. ``I do so with a heavy heart for a man who has served his alma mater for almost 22 years as a player and a coach. Joker Phillips has carried the banner for the Blue and White with honor and pride. I have enjoyed working alongside him and am thankful for his friendship for the last decade.''

Barnhart said the school will immediately begin a search for a new coach.

Phillips had two years left on a contract that pays him $1.7 million per season. Peevy said the school would honor the contract.

Phillips' firing comes as no surprise.

The 49-year-old coach is 12-23 overall in three seasons at Kentucky. He led the Wildcats to a bowl game in his first season but they have gotten worse each season since.

Other than a victory over Kent State, Kentucky has rarely been competitive this season. The Wildcats lost for the first time at home to instate rival Western Kentucky, and were blown out at Florida, Arkansas and Missouri - the Tigers' first-ever SEC win.

Wildcats fans have bombarded sports radio talk shows with calls for Phillips' firing. The intensity picked up after the Western Kentucky loss and has remained steady since.

Attendance at Commonwealth Stadium has also dropped sharply from last season. The Wildcats entered the game against the Commodores averaging 51,255 - down from 60,007 in 2011.

Saturday's attendance was a season-low 44,902.

Barnhart has been asked repeatedly about his coach as well but responded by saying he would evaluate the program after the season as he does with all programs. In his letter, he said the circumstances of this season led him to make a decision now.

``In the end there are realities we must face and overcome,'' Barnhart said. ``Right or wrong, we must respond to those realities to protect the 22 programs and 500-plus student-athletes for whom we provide. Obviously our football program is not where we want it to be and we are all disappointed; coaches, players, administration and our fans.''

The loss to Vanderbilt marked a low for Kentucky. The Wildcats gained just 260 yards and trailed 27-0 at halftime.

Phillips seemed resigned to his fate after the game.

``If there was a decision either way,'' Phillips said, ``I would think it would be important for me or Mitch to come out and make a decision, either way. ... Help get another guy or help us in recruiting.''

Before his comments Saturday, Phillips handled the scrutiny by referring to his close relationship with Barnhart or cracking a joke. Last week he said, ``I was coming over here (to his weekly media session), and I got in the car, and my seat was hot.

``And I looked up, and I had hit the seat warmer.''

Injuries have forced Kentucky to play 26 freshmen against one of the nation's toughest schedules, but in the SEC patience tends to be short - even at Kentucky where basketball is king.

When Phillips took over the football program, it was enjoying its best run ever.

Under former coach Rich Brooks, the Wildcats had established a level of respectability in football with four straight bowl appearances from 2006-2009 - a first for the program.

Phillips was Brooks' hand-picked successor and he made it five straight bowl trips for the Wildcats in 2010. But that turned out to be the high point of his tenure.

``I am very appreciative of Mitch Barnhart and Rich Brooks for providing the opportunity to have been the head coach here,'' Phillips said.

``I appreciate the Big Blue Nation and encourage the fans to stay behind their team going forward.''

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Bruce Allen addresses Alex Smith's recovery and the Redskins' future at quarterback

Bruce Allen addresses Alex Smith's recovery and the Redskins' future at quarterback

Alex Smith is "well on his way to a recovery," Bruce Allen told reporters at the Senior Bowl. When that recovery ultimately happens, though, remains unclear.

"We'll see where it goes," Allen said in his first session with the media in quite some time. "We're optimistic. If anyone can come back, it's Alex."

"I appreciate the love and the care, that all of our fans have reached out to him," he added. "It's a tough thing for him and his family, but all the love and the care have helped him quite a bit."

Smith, who's a little more than two months past his devastating leg injury, was seen at Monday's Wizards game at Capital One Arena. He also hung out in the Wizards' locker room, using crutches to get around. He was wearing an external fixator on his right leg.

The fact that Smith was able to be out in public was encouraging from a human perspective. From a football perspective, however, it brought about additional concern regarding his future in the NFL.

But that doubt isn't forcing the 'Skins to make acquiring a signal caller a primary task in the coming months, according to Allen.

"We prioritize every position on the team and we'll see what we get in free agency and the draft," the team president said. "We don't have to make that decision right now."

Colt McCoy is one in-house option for the Burgundy and Gold, and he'll be healthy enough to participate in the offseason programs, per Allen. McCoy broke his leg a few weeks after Smith, but his break was much less severe.

In looking back on the trade to get Smith from the Chiefs last January, Allen referred to it as a "no-brainer" and recalled that all decision makers were "unanimous" in their interest in Smith. 

Yet, while it's wholly unfair to criticize the trade now considering how unexpected last season's events were, Smith's health has put the Redskins in a very difficult spot.

The main thing off the field, of course, is hoping and ensuring that he's able to live his life how he wants to. 

On the field, meanwhile, the Redskins need to do something under center. Allen can say that every position is of equal priority, but the simple truth is that this franchise's every step will be tied to Smith's injury as well as finding a new option as long as he's sidelined.

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The Arena Football League is expanding to Atlantic City with Monumental's third team

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The Arena Football League is expanding to Atlantic City with Monumental's third team

Arena Football is officially expanding to Atlantic City N.J., the League announced Tuesday. 

The expansion franchise, owned by Ted Leonsis' Monumental Sports & Entertainment, expected to be placed at the historic Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, will begin its inaugural season in April.

Sports gambling's recent emergence has to be appealing to this venue and location for obvious reasons. Seven casinos now have sports books on their properties. DraftKings, an Arena League partner, operates one at Resorts Casino Hotel.

“We are thrilled that Atlantic City will be the next great arena football town,” said Leonsis in an official release. “Arena Football is a game that’s tailor-made for an integrated sports betting experience, and Atlantic City is a perfect fit to help realize our vision for the AFL as the next frontier in sports betting and gaming.

“We are excited about this announcement and about future expansion of the league to come.”

Atlantic City is now the fifth active franchise in the Arena League, joining the Phialdelphia Soul, Albany (New York) Empire and the MSE-owned Baltimore Brigade and Washington Valor. 

Fans are invited to submit team name ideas at AtlanticCityAFL.com. The final choices will then be available for a fan vote at a later date.

The reigning champion Washington Valor greeted the brand new team shortly after the announcement. 

The 2019 regular season schedule will feature 12 games. Atlantic City is in the process of searching for its first head coach.