Joker approaches final home game

Lexington, Ky. (WKYT) - Joker Phillips will coach in Commonwealth Stadium for the last time and the UK seniors will play their final home game, when Kentucky hosts Samford Saturday night at 7:30pm. Samford will come in with a 7-3 record, Kentucky will be looking to snap an eight game losing streak. Phillips commented at his regular Monday news conference.

JOKER PHILLIPS: The injury report is pretty small today. Jabari Johnson is day‑to‑day and we'll get (Martavius) Neloms back tomorrow and see how he does after practice. Again, happy Veterans Day. You guys know how I feel about the veterans, and just want to send a shout‑out to them.

Samford, a 7 and 3 football team, not sure if the polls have come out but they should be ranked in the top 25 in the FCS polls. They were getting some votes last week after they had beat Wofford, who was sixth in the country, and got another big win this week against Elon and now 7 and 3, so should be in the top 25. Polls had not come out when I had left.

Offensively, 375 yards of offense, averaging 27 points, passing for 232 yards, have a senior quarterback that's thrown for over 2,000 yards, a running back that's rushed for over 1,000 yards.

Defensively, six seniors on their defense, giving up 19 points a game. Free safety, (Jaquiski) Tartt, is a leading tackler with four interceptions. (Nicholas) Williams has seven sacks, solid kicking game with (Riley) Hawkins averaging 10 yards a punt return, and (Fabian) Truss averaging 27 on the kickoff returns.

Q. What are your expectations for your young guys, especially Patrick (Towles) and Jalen (Whitlow) over the next two weeks?

JOKER PHILLIPS: Well, just to continue to improve. I mean, I think they both have made some huge strides. I think they both got better this last week in the open week. They took a lot of snaps. Every snap they get they'll be better, and that's all we can wish for is for those guys to continue to improve.

Q. Question regarding DeMarcus Sweat being removed from the depth chart …

JOKER PHILLIPS: Yeah, we're looking at maybe pulling DeMarcus and just allowing him to focus on academics. This thing is bigger than myself. I'm looking for the future of this program and also the future of DeMarcus Sweat. At this point we're looking at maybe just letting him focus on his academics.

Q. Talk about senior day for the players.

JOKER PHILLIPS: Well, I had my senior day. Again, that's one of the reasons why I considered not coming back is because I don't want to be a distraction. There's been a lot of people wanting to come up. I don't know why. I've had ‑‑ if you had told me in '81, a guy from Franklin, a town of about 8,000 people that would have had the success that I've had, I would have told you you're crazy. The success that I've had here, and I don't need any ‑‑ again, I told you guys the other day, I don't need any treatment, special treatment or anything. It's not my senior day. I want those guys that have been here and given all they have for this program to be rewarded.

Q. Have you had time to think about your future?

JOKER PHILLIPS: No. I mean, it's way too soon. I (arrived) here 10 years ago ‑‑ first of all, it's hard to be at a place for 10 years in this business. I've been here for 10 years, and five of those years Bowl games, three of them I've been the head coach, five I've been the offensive coordinator. That's as much as anybody can ask for. I left here 10 years ago, or actually 16 years ago and was out there building a nice little résumé for myself and will continue that. We've got a chance to see and coach a lot of different other conferences, had some success along the way, and we will continue that.

Q. Have you gotten calls or have people reached out?

JOKER PHILLIPS: Everybody, yeah, a lot of friends. I don't have a lot of enemies. I've got a lot of friends, so everybody is reaching out. But I haven't had a chance to get back with everyone.

But we will. People understand the business. People understand the emotions that come with the business, therefore the friends that I have are definitely going to reach out to you.

Q. You said you didn't want to be a distraction. How have practices been?

JOKER PHILLIPS: Practices have been good, upbeat. We've had no problem with that part of the whole season. We've had some upbeat practices, been positive, had some fun. Again, you're so young, guys are just excited to be out there on the football field.

Q. If you had it to do over again, I know how much you love this program, would you stay 15 years as a coordinator versus taking this chance of being a head coach?

JOKER PHILLIPS: Nothing is guaranteed. You could be a coordinator ‑‑ first of all, it's not going to happen. You're not going to be a coordinator. After year three (with Coach Brooks), the noise started then. We were one of the best that's ever been here. I wouldn't be a coordinator for 15 years.

Again, it's all about growth. It's all about growth in the business, growth as a human being, and this right now is the right thing to be doing for me. I mean, you can't look back and say would you have done it different. No, I've enjoyed the process, and I'm ready to continue growing.

Q. Back to your seniors who are going to be honored Saturday, what are your emotions about them?

JOKER PHILLIPS: Some of them are five‑year seniors and some are four‑, and when we took over this thing 10 years ago we were selling dreams, and we continued to sell dreams, because it's so hard to keep going. It's so hard to keep going in this business, at this place, and you look not just at this place, every place. It's hard to keep going because only 50 percent of the teams are going to win each week.

I appreciate the guys that continued to buy the dreams that we were selling and the seniors did get a couple Bowl games. I really think that the young guys who haven't gone to Bowl games will get to Bowl games.

I think the other thing that we sold to them is come here and allow this place to help you grow up. I mean, I'm a living example of that. We've got great support people around here; the fans are amazing. Come here and let this place help you grow up. You watch those guys as they go out this Saturday ‑‑ Collins Ukwu, Collins Ukwu hadn't even seen the place when he came here. He decided to come here without ‑‑ had never seen it. He had heard about it, read about it. He got a sense of our play when he was on an unofficial (visit) ‑‑ at another school, but he had never seen the place, and he trusted enough to us to come here. Already got his degree.

Gene McCaskill texted me last week and said thanks for saving my life. Get out of here. I mean, get out of here. Thanks for taking the opportunity to save your own life. It's not about me, it's about him and what he did. Took advantage of an opportunity to save ‑‑ what he considers, his life was good anyway, but he thinks it saved his life, but I think he saved his life. He saved his own life by taking advantage of the opportunities, all of them.

Cartier Rice already has his degree, and the rest of them will get their degrees either this December or in the spring. So proud of those guys.

Q. Along those same lines, every player we talk to since the decision has been made has said what Joker Phillips has done for me is make me a man, turning me into a responsible adult off the field, all these things I could never put into words. When you hear that how do you feel?

JOKER PHILLIPS: That hits hard. That's the reason I'm coaching these last two games. That hits hard because that's what we set out to do. That's why I got in the business. You didn't get in the business for money; no, it's gotten crazy since, which is the reason why you get three years. If it didn't change, if it hadn't changed and the money hadn't gotten the way it has, you'd probably get eight years like some of the guys that have got it going, but you don't now. So you got in this business to help young men.

I also got a message from Larry Kirksey. Larry Kirksey is the reason I got in the business. I just really liked the way he approached me in recruiting, he's professional, he was an Eastern Kentucky boy, little small town, Harlan, came to my house, and he wowed me. He wowed me, and that's the reason I wanted to get in this business, to try to wow and help, help a young man with his life. Somebody similar to me, single parent, okay, small town, town helped raise you and give those guys an opportunity, and many of our guys have taken advantage of the opportunity.

What hurts you the most, I told our players, is if ‑‑ what will hurt Joker Phillips the most is if they do not continue doing the things that we've taught them. I'll be destroyed ‑‑ that'll destroy me if our kids just go another way, don't finish out the semester well. One thing I do not want is the next coach to say, man, the APR is down, these guys are doing really bad in school. I don't want that. That's me if that happens. I've tried to stay on our kids about that because I've seen that happen, seen a guy take over a program and all he can say is how bad they've done in school, how bad the kids are. We've got good kids here, and I want them to continue that.

Q. I know you said you don't want to be on parade, you don't want the next couple games to be about you, but personally over the next couple weeks because of how much you love the place, are you taking some time to sort of soak in being here at this place for two more weeks, this opportunity that you've had to be the head coach here?

JOKER PHILLIPS: You know, I've always taken it in and soaked it in. I've been very appreciative the whole time. That's the reason why I tried to carry myself the way I did. If I didn't appreciate this place, I would have said, hey, I'm not best thing to happen to this football program; guys that say that stuff, they don't appreciate where they're at, and I appreciate where I am.

Q. What is your take on the facilities here?

JOKER PHILLIPS: We’ve got good working facilities. The stadium obviously needs some work, and Mitch (Barnhart) is working very hard and making sure that those things come to life. I think the facilities are a great working facility. Again, we've got enough here to continue winning. Again, time is what the place needs. You need time and you need to give this next guy time, just because players -- played a lot of freshmen (this season), that doesn't make it enough time for him next year. You've got to give him time. I hope he gets more than three years because it's not fair for him coming in. He needs to get at least five to six, seven years. It takes that long, especially here at Kentucky.

Q. This might be the greatest stretch in

terms of football success in the SEC. How does someone come here, minus deep pockets, things like that, great basketball program –

JOKER PHILLIPS: Deep pockets? You can't give players money. Hurricane Sandy (Bell) is right there, shoot (laughing).

Q. How do you get the players to come here?

JOKER PHILLIPS: Well, we caught lightning in a bottle to be honest with you with Andre (Woodson). We got a home run with a player, and we continued to be consistent in our recruiting and development. Again, Andre Woodson was the guy that ‑‑ he was our lightning in a bottle, and we've brought in some players around him that had the right attitude. And it only takes one or two to change the attitude.

You talk about Andre Woodson changed it on offense, Wesley Woodyard changed it on defense. But you know what, it only takes one or two to turn you back the other way, so you've got to be consistent in how you recruit and who you recruit.

And again, we decided to do it in building relationships and getting to know our players, to try to keep them around here. You can't go four straight years and not have 50 percent of your recruiting class stay here. You have to be heavy in the top end of your classes, also, juniors and seniors, and then also you have to hit a home run in quarterback, you do, a quarterback, a couple receivers, a couple guys that can make plays for you.

Q. Why was that attrition happening?

JOKER PHILLIPS: What did we change? I don't want to get into why it happened, but what did we do to try to change those things? People asked about did Mitch ever say no to anything. I went straight to Mitch and said, hey, we need to get the position that Jeremy Jarmon is in to keep our players, no question, we need that. I've got two guys I think we need to have, period, around our players, chaplains. We got it. It was never no. It was never that. These things are going to help us with our players.

Because you don't have enough help, nine coaches is not enough help. It's not. You need somebody that ‑‑ while you're up in meetings and doing work with them, those things, that's able to talk to them on their level, also. We started some accountability stuff, different accountability teams. We started big brother program, which allows a guy that's ‑‑ we tried to match them up with guys. ‘Hey, I'm homesick.’ Well, I was, too. You'll get better, just make sure you get through the semester. We lost a lot of kids from being homesick. You guys don't understand how tough it is for 18 year olds, especially in today's world where everybody is taken care of, and now you get here, you're on your own, you've got to get yourself up and go to class, you've got to do this.

We did some things that I thought helped us, helped us in keeping our classes here. And I think those are things that's needed here. You have to have those things in place to grow your team, to be able to develop your team.

You can't have ‑‑ in my first year, two fifth year seniors. You can have it but you're not going to be successful for very long.

Q. A lot of times when a new coach comes in there's one or two guys that can help make a bridge from the old to the new. Who should the next guy ‑‑

JOKER PHILLIPS: You're not going to get me to say it. We've got a really good staff, okay. That's his opinion, whether he keeps them or not. But I would definitely look to keep some of these guys. They understand the lay of the land. I think that's very important. Me coming back here with Rich, I understood the lay of the land. I think that helped, and I think the next coach ‑‑ but that's his opinion. That's his opinion. But there's some good assistant football coaches over there.

Q. You've got two weeks to get ready for the team coming up. Talk about some of the things that may concern you about them.

JOKER PHILLIPS: Well, again, they're a physical football team, got a Heisman coach in Pat Sullivan who knows how to win. He's from the state of Alabama; he understands the lay of the land there. He's got a lot of good football players. They throw the ball around well, they play great defense, and they do a really good job in the kicking game. All those things concern me.

Q. Question regarding the maturation of Tristian Johnson …

JOKER PHILLIPS: Well, again, my feeling is they don't always grow up as fast as we want them to. We challenged Tristian, I think Coach Turner, David Turner, who's another one of those nine coaches that we're talking about, he does an unbelievable job of bringing the guys and making them part of his family, and I think a lot of it has helped Tristian Johnson in growing up. Again, we challenged him because Tristian was going to have a hard time playing here unless he did it.

Now I think not only is he a guy that's grown up here, I think he's one of the vocal leaders of the bunch. He's a guy that I think they look to, the guy that can pull them aside and talk to them about the mistakes that he's made. I mean, he's been a huge asset this year.

Q. Changing the subject a little bit, I don't know how much time you've had to watch other teams in the SEC, but when you look at what happened with Texas A & M and Alabama on Saturday, does that surprise you having played Missouri?

JOKER PHILLIPS: Nothing surprises you in this league. I've been in this league a long time. Nothing surprises you. It's a league that you always have to get up. You saw how we played one week, how we played against Georgia, the next week we played flat against Arkansas. I mean, nothing really surprises you. A & M has enough players, enough erasers. You saw those erasers we talk about. I think that Missouri getting their quarterback back, he's an eraser. You’ve seen how those receivers played when they knew they had an opportunity to get the ball, similar to ours. Our guys played a lot better when we had our guy in the game, and I think that gave Missouri a chance to beat Tennessee, because of the way they played on the perimeter and the way they played at quarterback.

Nothing really surprises you. It's a really tough, tough league, a lot of good football teams. Again, that's changed. I think all the teams have gotten better. All the teams are doing what I say you need here. All of them that are winning have quarterbacks. They don't have true freshmen quarterbacks, they have quarterbacks, and I think that gives everybody a chance.

Q. Question regarding if Coach Phillips will help the transition of the new coach when hired …

JOKER PHILLIPS: No, nobody ever asks a guy on their way out to (help), I mean, I know you did a shitty job while you was here, but help me. (Laughter.) Tony, I can say that now. (Laughter.)


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