UK football head coach Joker Phillips has been relatively quiet since the end of spring practice, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been busy.
He sat down with Cats Illustrated in Destin, Fla. last week during the SEC meetings to talk about the program. In part one of our two-part interview with Phillips, he discusses his recruiting class, hot-button issues facing the SEC and his quarterback situation.
Cats Illustrated: Any roster changes since the end of spring?
Joker Phillips: Roster changes? Yeah, we'll have 24 new guys anywhere between June 5 and June 21. Those 24 guys will be added to our rosters.
Cats Illustrated: Is Bookie Cobbins eligible?
Joker Phillips: Bookie did a good job this semester. He's got a little work to do, but not as far as he was during the semester last year. He's eligible now. We just have to make sure he's eligible at the end of this thing.
Cats Illustrated:Is Josh Clemons back up and running?
Joker Phillips: Josh, we gave him two weeks off this summer. Gave him a chance to go home and visit with his family this summer because he's a freshman. There were a couple other guys that were injured, Morgan Newton and Collins Ukwu who did not get that two-week break. Him being a freshman, we gave him two weeks off to spend with his family. Being a freshman, we thought that was important. He is back on campus right now. (Trainer) Jim (Madaleno) feels like he will be ready by the start of camp. We're going to push him a little bit harder now that the summer is here to see how far along he is.
Cats Illustrated: Any injuries that I missed? Any new injuries?
Joker Phillips: Nope, so far we're all good. It's been a pretty quiet summer. This is the fourth week of the summer, and our kids are excited. We'll get back together June 3, this coming Sunday night, for a meeting. Making sure everybody gets back safely and will be ready to go on Monday the 4th.
Cats Illustrated: When you finished spring practice, you mentioned that you had two quarterbacks who had started for you before and you wanted to see how they approached the summer. Has one of them set himself ahead of the other at this point?
Joker Phillips: Well, so far, Max has been off all summer. He took off, another freshman. He's back in California. The majority of our team is off this four weeks. I think it's important for those guys, it's really the only break they get. Morgan did not get a chance to go home because being an upperclassman and needing to rehab, we'll see who takes the bull by the horns on June 3 and runs with it.
This is pretty much the same scenario that Andre Woodson had. Got beat out in the spring (by Curtis Pulley), came back in the summer and acted like he was the starter. So we'll see how Morgan responds to it and see how Max responds to summer workouts.
Cats Illustrated: So is Morgan on track with his recovery? Collins Ukwu as well?
Joker Phillips: Collins, I think, is a little ahead of Morgan. The reason being, he doesn't have to throw. He's further along. If we had to go today, I think (Ukwu) would be ready. Morgan has been throwing a little, not throwing a lot. But by mid-July, we think he'll be throwing full speed.
Cats Illustrated: Some recruiting stuff now. You only have one commitment. Does that worry you at all?
Joker Phillips: No, we're right where we need to be. Right where we need to be. Here's my thinking on all this recruiting business. It's building relationships with the guys that we're recruiting and that's what we're doing. If a commitment happens, our relationship is so strong, how many times have you seen us have three or four commitments now and of those three or four guys, only one sticks with us? I'm pleased with where we are. We've got a strong commitment in the one commitment that we have. The next guys that go down will be because of the relationships that we have built with those guys, which means there will be more staying power with that commitment.
Cats Illustrated: What do you feel like is different with you all in recruiting this year? Are you being more selective this year because you don't have quite as many scholarships?
Joker Phillips: We've definitely been selective. One thing we're trying to do is to get better than you have. We have to start trying to get better than we have. We want to get guys that look like SEC players. When you start doing that, you start being more selective. We've got a lot of offers out there like everybody else, but in our offers we've been really selective in who we want.
Cats Illustrated: Do you kind of hope that every new class that comes in will be a challenge to the class that came before it?
Joker Phillips: Definitely. We want every class to come in thinking they're better than the one you just signed. I think that creates competition. It creates depth, therefore it should make us a better football team.
Cats Illustrated: Have you seen that happen with the last class that came in and maybe you'll see with this class? Is that one reason for some of the attrition among juniors and seniors?
Joker Phillips: We have. Guys don't usually leave that are starters. I saw a story on the way in here that there were 400-something guys that transferred in basketball. There weren't many starters, I can tell you that. Most of the guys that leave your program are guys who were second and third team that don't feel like they're second and third team. That has to do with the classes we've put together these last two.
Cats Illustrated: When your coaches go in and talk to recruits, do they ever ask about your job?
Joker Phillips: No, maybe that does come up. I'm sure that will come up once other coaches are able to get in front of them. It's something that coaches use more than players and right now a lot of the coaches haven't had a chance to get in front of the players.
We had that last year and we were able to get a couple guys who had been told that a lot. Justin Taylor and Khalid Henderson, who believe in us and believe in what we're doing. I think that's what we have to do is get guys who believe in what we're doing. Again, building relationships with guys who want to be a part of this team.
Cats Illustrated: What do you say when a topic like your job comes up? Is there a way to spin that as a positive?
Joker Phillips: If you look at it, the thing I always tell a recruit, you can win then leave. How many coaches are there that win, then leave? How many guys retire? How many guys decide it's too much and quit? Coaching changes happen to everybody, it happens to guys that are winning also. We were getting beat up by coaches who had only been at the place one year and left. That's not being there, too. They say 'Hey, he's not going to be there.' Well, you're not going to be there. You just left the program after one year.
Cats Illustrated: You always talk about how a player should sign with a school, not a coach, right?
Joker Phillips: Yeah, that's the thing. The relationship part is not just with the coach, it's being in a relationship with the school, the players, the conference, the AD, those are the things we talk about when we talk about building relationships with the players.
Cats Illustrated: Have you all gotten to talk at all about moving from eight to nine conference games?
Joker Phillips: You know, we haven't really had a chance to get into it. Our meetings start at one o'clock. That was discussed a little bit in our February meeting. The majority of us think eight games is plenty. It's the toughest league in the country, and playing eight games is plenty.
Cats Illustrated: If it went to nine games, how much tougher would that make things with you?
Joker Phillips: How can it be any tougher? We're in the SEC. People say 'It would be tougher for ya'll.' It would be tougher for everybody. It's tough for the guys at the top, week in and week out.
Cats Illustrated: If the league did go to nine games, would that make you reconsider the Louisville series?
Joker Phillips: That's something we would have to think about. It's something we'd seriously have to think about.
Cats Illustrated: If the requirement for a bowl game moves to seven games, where would you stand on that?
Joker Phillips: I mean, teams can talk about us getting in with six (wins). We've only gotten in with six two times. We've had seven the other times in the five years we went to bowl games. So, whatever they decide, we have to get to. Right now it's six, that's what it takes to get to a bowl game. We don't just want to win six, we want to win as many as we possibly can. But only two of the seasons that we went to bowl games did we have six wins.
Cats Illustrated: Have you looked at any tape of Mizzou yet?
Joker Phillips: A little. A lot of summer evaluations, and with me not being on the road in May, it was a chance for me to go through and look at every team in our league. I didn't watch A&M, because of the coaching change, but I did watch Missouri.
Cats Illustrated: When you look at Missouri and Texas A&M, even though you won't play Texas A&M, those are two new, different offenses joining the league, aren't they?
Joker Phillips: Well, we see that type of offense. It's just another team we'll have to face that runs a hurry-up, up-tempo offense. We've seen it, Auburn runs it. We played them two years in a row. One year we did really well against it, the other year they had Superman at quarterback and we didn't do so well. It gives us a chance to see it again with Missouri being in this league. Other teams will see it twice. I think other teams are starting to go that route as well, so I think that will help us prepare for seeing Missouri, because we'll see it more often.
Cats Illustrated: When Texas A&M and Missouri came into the league, you said it wouldn't make a difference for you all in recruiting. But now you have Pat Washington, who has some experience recruiting in Texas. Are you going to try and get in there more, or not so much?
Joker Phillips: We did this spring. We had been in there before. We need to get more people in Florida and more people into Ohio, but with the addition of Pat Washington, we have a few connections in the Dallas area. Pat went to the Houston area, and Greg Nord went to Dallas for us. We have a pretty good connection with George Adams, one of our past players who has worked a lot in the area with some of the Dallas guys, and Coach Nord actually coached George Adams. So that's given us an in for the Texas area.
Cats Illustrated: As you talk about the plus-one versus the top four teams, do you have an opinion on that?
Joker Phillips: I'm curious to see how the plus-one works out, but my opinion, let's have the four teams. Learning a little bit more about the plus one, I think it would be a few too many games for me but if we can come up with something with the top four teams, I think that really suits me.
Cats Illustrated: It seems pretty consistent among the coaches here that it should be the top four teams, but no one seems decided on how they should be picked. Do you think it should be the computers, or like the NCAA tournament, or something else?
Joker Phillips: I don't have any ideas on that. I just think the top four teams need to go. I don't want to get into a bunch of games. I saw with the basketball tournament, one team missed three weeks of class. I don't want to do that, especially that close to finals for us.
Check back tomorrow for part two of the interview. Phillips discusses negativity around the program, his recent trip to Ethiopia, and his wish list for football facilities.