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July 27, 2012Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders cracked jokes about praying for touchdowns every Sunday. Defensive coordinator Rick Minter made light of the youth of his players.
But when head coach Joker Phillips returned to the podium to close the lunch, he took a different tone. Phillips delivered an emotional speech to the fans assembled at the Lexington Center for the UK football kickoff luncheon on Friday.
"When I retire, when I'm done with this sport, I'll be one of you," Phillips said. "I'll be one of you that roots for whoever puts the blue and white on and has Kentucky across his chest.
"These players don't need everybody to believe in them. But they damn sure need somebody to. I expect you, the big blue nation, to get behind this football team."
Phillips' opening remarks were decidedly more up-beat. He reflected on 2011's season-ending win over Tennessee and the group of young players thrust into key roles at the end of the season.
He wasn't the only one who spoke positively about the days that lie ahead. Even though the Wildcats finished 118th in the nation in total offense a year ago and have been widely picked to finish last in the SEC, Sanders said he felt his unit has a "chance to be pretty good this year."
"Some of the best years I've had were when people didn't give us a whole lot of credit (early in the year) going all the way back to my first year of coaching in 1989," Sanders said. "I feel way better about this offensive team than I did last year at this same point."
Minter's situation is quite different than his offensive counterpart. He spoke about anchoring his defense with four key linemen, but replacing four starting linebackers and a pair of starting corners.
With all that production gone, several more youngsters will be counted on again this year. But unlike in previous years, there's more competition at linebacker and in the secondary among a plethora of players.
"A year ago I stood in front of you and I said we're going to be fun, exciting to watch and we happened to have a little experience," Minter said. "This year, we're just going to be fun and exciting to watch."
Phillips took his closing remarks in another direction, though. A day after UK released information on declining season ticket sales to The (Lexington) Herald-Leader, Phillips used his time at the podium to tell the fans how important they are to the program.
That starts with recruiting, when the coaches sell crowds at Commonwealth Stadium as a draw to young players. But it extends into the season, especially when the team is facing uncertainty entering the season like in this year.
"We sell the fact that since the expansion of Commonwealth Stadium, we've had 11 years in the top 25 for attendance," Phillips said. "We're selling you. We're selling the fans. Expect to win. So get behind this team. It's your team. Don't do it for Joker Phillips. I don't care how you feel about Joker Phillips or the staff. Do it for these young men that have agreed to come here to represent you."
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