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November 6, 2012

Phillips speaks for first time since firing

Head coach Joker Phillips spoke to the media after practice on Tuesday for the first time since being fired on Sunday. He talked about a lifetime as a Kentucky Wildcat, and what he learned in his three years as head coach.

He addressed some issues with the team this year, talked about why he decided to finish the season, and laid our what he thinks it will take for UK to be successful. He was emotional at times, but remained composed and professional.

Video from Phillips and some UK players is on our blog. Here's what Phillips had to say:

"First, I'd like to say that I came here in 1981 as a freshman from a small town, Franklin, Ky. Everybody knows. I was hoping to have a good career, hoping to be an asset to this place and I feel like for 20-something plus years that I have been, regardless of what other people might think. I never thought I'd have this type of success with memorable wins. We had some memorable losses. I've been to eight bowl games out of 15 that the place has had. Been to bowl games as a player, as an assistant coach I've had success.

"As a coordinator, many might think that we didn't have success. We only had the highest scoring offense here and we didn't have a nickname for ours so it might go unnoticed. We didn't have a catchy name, all we did was have the highest total offense here as far as scoring goes and I think that's the most important thing. And then as a head coach, had a couple of memorable moments. The memories that I will remember the most will be those guys out there.

"We went about this thing a different way a couple years ago. We tried to establish relationships. We were losing a lot of our classes, over 50-something percent of our classes in four years that were either not getting here or not finishing here in four years. You can blame it on me, I get that, I was a part of it, no question about that. But I also wanted to be a part of the solution also, so we decided to go about it a different way. Build relationships, that's what sales is. I feel like we've done that. Our recruiting weekends and the way we recruited was very personal and that's why a lot of the parents, the young players' parents, the young players because of the relationships that we built with them, are saddened by this. I'm not saying saddened by me, saddened by the assistant coaches not being here. Not me. That's what makes you sad, when you're doing it the right way and when you do it the right way, sometimes it takes a little bit longer.

"I get what we saw Saturday, I get that and that's a huge part of it. It's a result-based business and you're measured by that and we didn't get the results quick enough. At the beginning of the year, the one thing I tried to stress with our staff was 'Let's show improvement and get to 2013,' because I thought 2013 would be the year that we'd have an opportunity to make a huge move. I thought we could show improvement this year. In the first three games, we showed improvements offensively and it's hard not to notice that, I don't care who you are, it's hard not to notice that. We showed improvements on special teams and when we started showing improvements defensively, the injuries hit.

"You saw those. You saw those improvements also. We started making improvements and the defensive injuries hit, and then the special teams injuries hit because so many of our players are on defense. When Max goes out, we go the other way offensively. Therefore, you don't get a chance to continue what you had hoped to do and I get it.

"Again, I'm very grateful for all the opportunities that everybody around here has given me. I came here as an 18-year-old kid, this place turned me into a man the first time. This time, all it did was strengthen me as a man. It gave me strength. It made me understand how important character is. My character got challenged a few times. It taught me how important integrity is, and my integrity got challenged a few times. It showed me how important loyalty is. With that, I'm very grateful and appreciative.

"You guys (speaking to assembled media), you guys have been unbelievable. You had to do a job and I get that. You guys have been very fair and a lot of that I hope is because of the relationships we had. I have a hard time when I see coaches attack somebody who is just trying to do their job. I'm not going to be that guy. I'm not going to be a guy that doesn't want the managers to talk to him. I'm not going to be that guy. One of the first things I did was I talked to our players, I talked to the support people, that's important to me.

"Somebody told me that one thing they wanted on their headstone is 'Good person, good friend, OK ball coach.' That's fine with me. That's fine with me. I want to be a good husband, good son, good friend, and if it says 'OK ball coach,' that's fine with me. I get that. With that, I open it up to you guys if you have any questions."

How hard was it to decide to coach these last two games?

"You know, it was hard, because I don't want to be a distraction. I don't. I've had my senior day, and somebody was saying 'Let's send him out…' I don't want to be sent out. I don't want an open casket. I don't want to be somebody's centerpiece. My grandmother-in-law, that's one of the things she said and I get that now. I want it to be about those seniors, but many of those guys I sat in their homes and I was selling to them 'I want to watch you grow up.' Selling to their mom, I don't know how many coaches say that. 'I want to watch you grow up.'

"And you know, I heard that from them and that's the reason why I'm back. 'Hey, coach, you said you wanted to watch us grow up.' That's the reason why I'm doing this. The only reason."

How tough was it when Mitch told you the news?

"It wasn't. It wasn't. I promise you, when I walked out there in the stadium on Saturday, that was enough for them. That was enough for me. I understand this. We didn't get the necessary results, I understand that. I'm very appreciative of Mitch. I'm not bitter by any means. I appreciate the opportunity. I got a chance to grow up here. I got a chance to get even stronger by coming back."

Would it have helped to be a head coach someplace before you came here?

"You know, you lose the excitement of coming back and I understand that. I got the job because we had success offensively. In 2007, you can said the Air Raid and all that… Our offense was as good as any in the country. As good as any number-wise that we had here. I got the job because of that. The excitement in 07, we go down a little bit in 08 and it's hard to keep at that level, it is. In 09 we go down a little bit. At the time I get it, the excitement has worn off and I understand that. There will be excitement when the next guy comes in and there should be, rightfully so. It might have been better to go away and come back, but that's now how we've don't that thing. We accept that.

"The thing I would tell the Big Blue Nation is that I'll continue to buy my season tickets - I won't buy as many - but I'll continue to buy my season tickets and we all have a hand if we want this thing to succeed. We all do. We all have a hand in making sure this thing succeeds. It's not moaning and groaning when you don't get the results. When this next guy doesn't get the results as fast as we want, stand behind these players, these coaches. Stand behind them. I'll stay behind them. I'll be rooting like heck for them. When you want to get the thing done and from what I can see, they want to get this thing done, the fans must get behind this team.

"Show up in droves. You know how hard it is to recruit when nobody is in (Commonwealth Stadium)? I'm talking about 2006. There was nobody in there then. It was a hard sell to sell a 2007 class to come here. 'Coach, nobody is coming.' 'Yeah, I know, but we're 8-5.' There's no one coming. Until we got to the bowl game. The Georgia game it was probably 50,000 people there. I don't think that's the way you build the program. Everybody is involved in building a program and especially building a program here. You have to stay behind this team. You have to come out in droves to support this team. You're a part of getting kids here also. We all are. I'm a part of it. I'm trying to sell kids to come here today. That's what this is. This is the message that hey, this can be a really good place. But it's going to take everybody, everybody to get involved in this thing."

Do you expect to be a head coach next season?

"Next year? No, I don't have a clue. I'm going to take some time. I don't have a clue what's next. You probably don't know what you're going to do in the next five minutes. I don't have a clue if it will be a head coach or coaching period, I have no clue. The thing I think is best is to step back, step away, let all the emotions die down, then figure things out."

What does the next guy need to know about this job specifically that isn't so obvious?

"That's not for me to… I actually read a story about a coach who had success elsewhere was telling what needs to happen. This is different than any job you've ever worked at. It is. All of them are, they're all different. What helped you have success at one school is not necessarily going to help you have success at this school or that school. I think that we were trying to do it the right way in building it and keeping our guys here. There were 46 guys in our last two classes, that's 82 percent of guys who are still here.

"You must, must have a quarterback here. Tell me when we've won when we didn't have a quarterback. Do you know? I don't know. You must keep upper classes that have to be stocked. Andre Woodson. I think it was hard for people to see because it was so ugly for Mike Hartline, they couldn't see how good the guy was. The guy was a good quarterback but it was hard to see it because of the perception that we as fans had of him. The guy was such a good quarterback, he was. I think there is a one here who could take it to the next level. Max Smith is a guy. He wasn't available (to play).

"I think you have to have a quarterback, you have to keep your kids here. We put some things in place that helped us keep some of the kids here. Jeremy Jarmon's position, accountability teams, two chaplains, big brother program, we did a lot of things to keep them here. I was a part of it, but the thing I wanted to do was be a part of the solution and that's the reason why we put some of the things. When you took over, you had to look and see where your players were. There were two redshirt seniors - Mike Hartline and Ricky Lumpkin. That opened up my eyes. What's going on here? We have to keep our classes together. Two fifth-year seniors. I think that makes it tough."

Did you feel like you got everything you needed?

"I never asked Mitch for anything that… All I asked for is stuff that would help the players. Jeremy Jarmon's position, everything I asked for in recruiting. Anything that would benefit the players, he never once said 'No.'"

Do you wish you'd asked for more?

"No. I think bells and whistles don't sell places. They don't. They just don't. They might help a little but they don't sell places. I was at Notre Dame and if you'd seen the locker rooms and meeting rooms, they weren't there. They had won a few championships there. I don't think the bells and whistles help. I think steady recruiting and making sure you have a guy that can pull the trigger here (a quarterback) and making sure you have your two upper level classes stockpiled."

Some people might lump the two staffs (before and after Rich Brooks left) together. Is it fair to say that was more difficult than anticipated?

"I don't want to answer fair or not. I had an opportunity. I had an opportunity and we didn't get it done, we didn't get the necessary results to continue the things."

Do you think the next guy will be in a bowl next year with this group?

"That's hard to say also."

Did you think you were going to be in a bowl next year?

"Obviously we did. When I said earlier, let's get to 2013. If we could be coaching when Bud Dupree was a junior, his class is juniors, we thought we had a chance to be good. With Max Smith, we thought we had a chance to be good. A lot of things, when new systems come in, these players might not fit the system of the next guy. They might have to get their own players in here.

"Again, give them time."

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