Published July 22, 2010 - 10:53am
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We’re in the middle of the second of three days of the SEC Media Days event. Joker Phillips, the new head coach of Kentucky, was interviewed by the media yesterday and below are his questions and responses. You may also click this link to watch a video of the entire interview. Enjoy…
THE MODERATOR: We’re ready to continue with the new head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, Joker Phillips. If you could give us some comments on the upcoming season, then we’ll take questions.
COACH PHILLIPS: How you guys doing? I had a bad dream last night. A dream? I call it a nightmare, but you guys might call it a dream. I dreamed that a fly flew in my mouth and Dicky Lyons was giving me mouth-to-mouth. He’s still haunting me.
A lot has happened in the last six months. It’s definitely been a whirlwind. But I’m truly living the dream. Not only am I a letterman, alumnus, a Kentuckian, for me to be able to lead the program I truly love, I’m living the dream, and carrying it out.
There’s been some huge differences. One of the biggest differences has been that I’m now making the hardcore decisions. When I say, “hardcore decisions,” before I had a lot of opinions, a lot of ideas. I used to sit in the staff room and give them. A lot of them didn’t matter. Now I’m having to be responsible for those hardcore decisions.
For example, it’s been making decisions in regards to this coaching staff that we put together. Had to make some hardcore decisions in that area.
What I was looking for in hiring a coach is, number one, can he recruit. If you look at our staff now, we have seven coaches that have been ex-recruiting coordinators sometime in their career. Does that mean that he is a great recruiter? Now, it makes him an organized recruiter, a recruiter who can sell our plan. So we feel fortunate to be able to hire the guys we hired because of their recruiting abilities.
The second thing I was looking for is, can he teach the fundamentals that we need to teach to win in this league. Can he teach our schemes that we have at Kentucky.
The third thing is, can he connect with the players we have at Kentucky. The third thing was, does he have “juice,” meaning energy; does he have enthusiasm; does he have the passion for the job we have here at Kentucky. So many times I’ve been around coaches that don’t have that at the school they’re at. I want guys with passion, energy, and enthusiasm for the job we have here at Kentucky.
With that said, I was able to hire six coaches, five with SEC experience totaling 35 years or more. We hired guys that not only can recruit, can teach, have the juice and the energy and enthusiasm, but they understand this job in this grueling league that you have, to go through year in and year out.
When I took over, I introduced to our players what I call Operation Win. What does that mean to our program? It means we want to win in the classroom. Winning in the classroom by getting the best possible grade we can get. When we are winning in the classroom. Our GPA went up four-tenths of a point. We had 40 kids over 3.0, we had three that had over 4.0, so we’re winning in the classroom.
Has everybody bought in? No. But the ones that haven’t bought in, they will either be no longer with us or they’ll be the best conditioned player on our football team. We need those guys to buy in.
The second thing that Operation Win means is we want to win in the community, by doing community service, getting into the group homes. We want to mold our young men into being productive citizens so someday they might have a positive contribution to society. If that is happening, the one thing you’ll see is ‘Blue Nation’ will embrace what’s happening in our place. That’s what we want. We want the ‘Big Blue Nation’ to embrace what’s happening in Kentucky. And they will only embrace if they feel good about what’s happening at Kentucky. So we want to win in the community.
The third thing is we want to win on the field. We make no bones about it. We want to win on the field, winning on the field by getting into the film room and understanding everything we can about our opponents, getting in the weight room and out-working our opponents, and then taking everything to the practice field and perfecting the skills that we have.
Operation Win is in full effect. There’s no question about that. Our coaches did a great job of selling the 2010 class, and we finished recruiting strong. Our coaches also did a great job of selling our present players, which was important. We had a really good off-season winter conditioning. We had a real positive spring. A lot of big competitions at different positions. It’s in full effect.
Our 2011 recruiting is at an all-time high. Last year at this time we had two commits. This year we have 14. For us to continue to grow this program, the thing that we have to do is we have to continue bringing in talented players, and we’re doing that.
I’m getting great reports from our summer workouts. The attitude is unbelievable. Our kids are working hard. We are excited about what we think can happen in 2010.
With that, I’ll answer any questions.
Q. How do you envision Randall Cobb’s role evolving this year? Do you see doing different things with him?
COACH PHILLIPS: Definitely Randall Cobb will be the source guy in the league, no question about that. He’s got to get the ball in a number of different areas, whether it be special teams, punt returner, kick returner, whether he’s lined up at quarterback, receiver. He’s one of the most dynamic players in this league. He’s excited because he just got named the all-purpose, first-team all-purpose. And it’s by the coaches, which makes him feel good about that accomplishment.
He’s now trying to convince me that he can play DB. We’re not ready to do that yet. But he’s a guy that has to touch the ball, and has to touch the ball in numerous positions.
We don’t want an always, where Randall Cobb is always lined up on the same formation on all same side. I think it makes it easier for teams to defend him and harder for us to get the football to him.
Q. Coach Brooks made a lot of inroads into the state of South Carolina for recruiting purposes. You have South Carolina guys on the roster. Is that something you’ll keep trying to do as you continue the program?
COACH PHILLIPS: Definitely. When I coached at the University of South Carolina in 2002, I was the lead recruiter there. We’ll continue that. I have a lot of contacts. I think we signed five or six players this past year. When you sign five or six, the thing you have to do is go back immediately. We cannot stop going into South Carolina ’cause we have kids on our roster which makes it easier to attract more guys from South Carolina on our roster. We’ll continue that as one of our primary areas that we’ll recruit.
Q. How do you see offense in college football and at Kentucky evolving? There’s so much proliferation of the spread offense now. Do you see that continuing to explode or do you see maybe a shift towards something else?
COACH PHILLIPS: I see it continuing. I really do. What you’re seeing in the high school ranks, you’re seeing more athletic quarterbacks. You’re not seeing a lot of the pro-style quarterbacks. High school programs are using the spread, and therefore the type of quarterbacks that are out there that are pro-style, which is what — we are not a two-back pro-style offense. We are more of a one-back spread pro-style offense. There’s not a lot of those type of quarterbacks.
We’ve been able to attract those types of quarterbacks because of the style we play. We’re not a big zone-read team, which you need more of an athletic quarterback. We’re more of a hard play-action, let the runningback be the guy that gets you the yardage on the ground.
Q. With your experience with teams, how important is it to have a play-making quality quarterback lead your team and make a difference for you on offense? Can you talk about your quarterback situation, trying to get that.
COACH PHILLIPS: I thought the quarterback situation would be the first one.
It’s important to have play-makers. You know, if you look at 2007, we were one of the top offenses in this league, we had a play-maker at every position. Play-maker, two or three at receiver, the number one tight end, a back that was a really good player in this league, a quarterback that could make plays. It’s important to have play-makers.
We feel like we got two dynamic players. We feel that there’s a couple other guys that are close to being those type of players that we had in 2007.
It’s important that your quarterback now — we are three years removed from Andre’ Woodson, so it’s important that our quarterbacks are winning games for us instead of just managing games. That’s what’s happened the last couple years.
Our quarterback situation, we use it as a positive because we got two quarterbacks that have won in this league. One was a true freshman last year that won on the road at some tough places that Kentucky hasn’t won in a long time. We feel like we have two guys that can win in this league. We have a really talented freshman that is just excited about competing against those guys.
Somebody asked earlier about Andre’ Woodson separated himself in his year in the summer. Did any of our quarterbacks this year separate? The thing we had in that year of Andre’ Woodson, he separated himself because we didn’t think the backup quarterback was competing as hard. This year, all three of those guys are competing. I don’t see the separation being as drastic as it was in 2006.
Q. Could you talk about what Tee Martin brings to the staff?
COACH PHILLIPS: The number one thing is he understands Facebook, which a bunch of us don’t understand it. I understand it a little bit, but he understands Facebook.
I mean, he is not that far removed from winning the national championship. These kids know him. Randall Cobb and he were already friends on Facebook. Randall was right there in Alcoa, which is right outside Knoxville. He was one of his idols, because Randall was a quarterback. That’s helped us. He’s brung that.
He’s also been able to get into this state. His name is out there in this state. Been able to get into the Atlanta area, which he’s done a lot of things. He also was the quarterback in all of the Nike camps. He knows people all across the country. He’s brung a lot of positives to us and we are excited to have him.
Q. Could you evaluate this year’s Eastern Division of the SEC and where you think your Wildcats can finish?
COACH PHILLIPS: I know Brooks used to come in and talk about where you ranked us. You ranked us in the same spot, which is fine with me. The only puzzling thing is, we are the only team that has a head coach that’s undefeated. I can’t believe y’all ranked us as low as you did (smiling).
No, last year we had a chance. We were one game away from being second in the east. We are trying to build on that, similar to what we’re trying to do to our program, to continue the growth of it. We’re trying to continue to build the growth of climbing this SEC ladder. We think our attitude, the attitude of our football team, will allow us to do that.
But the SEC East, one of our program goals is to win the SEC East; not to win the national championship, but to win the SEC East. If you win the SEC East, there’s a chance you’re going to be competing for a national championship.
Q. You talked about Facebook earlier. It’s been up in the news here lately. It seems like a lot of this NCAA investigation with agents has come from things that players have put on Facebook. What do you tell you kids? You don’t hear very much good news that comes from Facebook when your kids are on there.
COACH PHILLIPS: Well, one of the things, we tell our players, we educate them, let them know they’re representing not only their families, but the university and their football team. We don’t want them to put anything out there that’s going to embarrass any of the three.
With the agents, one of the things that we try to do is educate our players in the consequences. We also educate our young players. We want our young players to be policing this thing. We’ve educated our young players and let those guys know you will be the guys who will get the blunt of the blow. The young players won’t be able to go to Bowl games, play on TV, be able to compete for championships.
We’ve asked our young players, If you see something that’s going on that is not right, come tell us. The thing that we’ve tried to do is tried to educate our players on the agent thing.
Q. What is the best piece of advice you either got verbally or by watching Rich? How much do you speak with him now or hear from him?
COACH PHILLIPS: The best advice I got from Rich was, Don’t listen to the noise. ‘The noise’ is you the media, some of the fans. Just continue to go about your business, make sure you got sound plan, stick to your plans.
I always talk about when we first took over. When we first took over, there were a lot of young coaches, including myself, we wanted to veer off from the plan because we were struggling in year one and year two. Rich, the wise soul that he is, Hey, we gonna stick to this plan.
That’s the other thing he taught me, Get you a sound plan, stick to it. Don’t listen to outsiders. Don’t go and change all your schemes. Continue to recruit talented players that have character and continue to work to develop those guys.
Do I speak to him? We do speak periodically. Right now, if you guys are following Twitter, you have a 68-year-old guy Twittering. I know every golf score. I’m working his handicap myself, because everyday, I’m getting score from him. And he’s fishing. He doesn’t have time this time of the year.
But we do speak from time to time when he is in range. A lot of times in some of those fishing holes that he’s at in Oregon, he can’t get service.
Q. Can you talk about Jonathan George, what you expect to see from him this season?
COACH PHILLIPS: We expect Jonathan to compete. We know that Derrick Locke is our starter, starting tailback. We expect Jonathan to compete for the backup position and also be able to come in and help us on special teams.
Jonathan was a state champion in wrestling, state champion in the 400 meter. He’s blessed with a great body which says he should be a good special teams player. That’s what we expect him to do this year here. If something happens, if he’s competing for the backup position, he will immediately be the starter.
He’s got a bright future. No question about that. One of the strongest kids on our team. We’re excited to have him there.
Q. You hired Mike Summers to your staff. Can you speak to what you saw in him, what it’s meant to him getting back on your staff?
COACH PHILLIPS: When I arrived at Kentucky in 1981, he was the runningback coach. He left the second year in ’82, went to Texas A&M, started building a nice résumé, started taking over the offensive line at numerous places, was the offensive coordinator, understood how to run the ball. He was in an option when he first became the coordinator at Northern Illinois.
So watching his offensive lines and how physical they were, we were able to compete against him when he was at the University of Louisville. We competed against him when he was at Arkansas. Watching how physical his offensive line, and how they ran off the football, punched people in the mouth, was exciting to me.
An opportunity and a chance to get Mike Summers back at Kentucky, who grew up right down the road in Lexington, Tates Creek High School, it was something that we couldn’t pass up.
Q. You beat Georgia in Athens last year, the first time in over 30 years. You have eight players from the state in this recruiting class. Is that victory something you’re going to continue to pound on the recruiting trail?
COACH PHILLIPS: If you look at the states we have targeted – South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, we’ve gotten out into the Texas market also – there’s enough to go around. Are we going in there and beating Georgia on players, no. But there’s enough that we feel like we can get and we have developed to compete at the high level that you need here in the SEC.
So we’ll continue to pound those areas in recruiting. Not only pounding those areas, but also pounding those areas to get talented, character kids. One of the things I’ve learned, a character kid, he will improve every day. That’s what we’ve been able to attract at Kentucky.
Q. Is Joker your real first name?
COACH PHILLIPS: No, it’s not. That’s usually the second question I’ve been getting on this tour. The quarterback is the first. The second question is my name.
My name is Joe. My dad’s name was named Joe, who passed away. My grandfather, just so when he called one Joe, both of us wouldn’t come running, he deemed me as Joker. It’s the only name I’ve ever known.
The problem I’m having now is all my cards and all those things, Delta cards, all those things, have Joker on it. I’m having a hard time getting through the airports because my license has Joe. I need to change my Sky Miles number or my credit card number.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH PHILLIPS: Appreciate you guys.