LEXINGTON, Ky. – Joker Phillips, currently the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach for the University of Kentucky football team, has been designated as UK’s head coach of the future, Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart announced Friday.
Phillips will take over when current head coach Rich Brooks leaves the position. Brooks, who has completed five years at Kentucky, received a contract extension on Friday that will take him through the 2011 season.
“With the landscape of college football changing from year-to-year, the decision to name Joker Phillips the next head coach at the University of Kentucky provides continuity and consistency for current and future players,” Barnhart said. “Continuity and consistency will be a competitive advantage for UK going forward, an advantage our program has not enjoyed very often during its history.
“Joker is a native of the Commonwealth, an alumnus of the University, a letterman, and a person who has been an integral piece of our last three bowl victories in program history. He bleeds blue and believes in the foundational principles that Coach Brooks has put in place for the program.
“He has had success as a player, position coach, offensive coordinator, and recruiter, and has been sought after by some of the nation’s most prestigious college programs and the National Football League,” Barnhart continued.
“As I am one of the elder statesmen in the coaching profession, I thought it important for recruits to know that there will be continuity in the program and the coaching staff,” Brooks said. “Joker Phillips has earned the right as a Kentucky graduate, and having built one of the most productive offenses in school history, to have the opportunity to lead the program in the future.”
UK President Lee Todd added his support for the move. “Coach Brooks has built this program the right way, with hard work and integrity. Joker Phillips has played a major role in that effort and I’m proud to see one of our own poised to take the reins of this program. He deserves it and, frankly, we could not find a better candidate to lead UK football into the future.”
Phillips recently completed his third season as offensive coordinator and fifth as wide receivers coach in his current tour of duty at his alma mater. Kentucky has improved its scoring average and total offense all three years under Phillips’ direction.
Year Points Per Game Total Offense Per Game
2004* 15.7* 275.5* (*under previous offensive coordinator)
2005 21.7 297.5
2006 26.7 375.3
2007 36.5 443.4
Kentucky scored a school-record 475 points during its 13-game schedule in 2007, helping spark the Wildcats to its Music City Bowl championship. UK’s average of 36.5 points per game ranked fourth in the Southeastern Conference and 15th nationally. On a points per game basis, the 36.5 mark ranks second in school history.
Total offense also was a highlight of the recently completed season. UK’s total offense of 5,764 yards was the second-highest total in school history. The average of 443.4 yards per game is fourth in UK annals.
Phillips’ offensive style has shown flexibility and balance between the run and the pass. Over the past three seasons, UK has had a 3,000-yard passer (André Woodson, who accomplished the feat twice), two 1,000-yard receivers (Keenan Burton and Steve Johnson), and a 1,000-yard rusher (Rafael Little, who reached the millennium mark twice).
Balance is shown by the fact that Kentucky led the SEC in passing yardage in 2007 while also rushing for 2,021 yards, 155.5 yards per game, and 4.2 yards per attempt. All three rushing marks are UK’s best in a dozen seasons, since 1995. The ’07 season was the first time in school history that UK averaged at least 250 passing yards per game while rushing for at least 150 yards per game.
As wide receivers coach, Phillips has mentored some of the best in school history – Burton, Johnson, Dicky Lyons, Jr, and Derek Abney. With Burton, Johnson, and Lyons leading the way, along with tight end Jacob Tamme and tailback Rafael Little, Kentucky was the only team in the nation in 2007 that had five players with at least 1,000 receiving yards during their careers.
In addition to his coaching, Phillips also is a highly effective recruiter, as his straightforward, likeable personality earns the trust of young players and their families. He served as UK’s recruiting coordinator in 2003-04, giving up that post because of his additional offensive responsibilities, but continues to be deeply involved in recruiting.
Phillips’ abilities in that area have become known across the country, as he has been identified as one of the nation’s top recruiters by SI.com and Rivals.com.
Philips has gained additional coaching experience by working post-season all-star games. He was the winning head coach in the 2005 Magnolia Classic. Following the 2006 season, he was an assistant on the winning squad in the IntaJuice North-South All-Star Game.
“I feel honored and blessed that Dr. Todd (University President Dr. Lee Todd), Mitch Barnhart, and Rich Brooks have the belief and confidence in me to someday run the program that I truly love,” Phillips said. “It has been an honor to work for Coach Brooks. He has done an amazing job in getting this program to where we have envisioned it. I’m excited to have the opportunity to continue to learn from him.”
Phillips is a familiar face around Kentucky football. He played at UK from 1981-84 and was on the football staff from 1988-96. As a player, Phillips helped lead the Wildcats to appearances in the Hall of Fame Bowl in his junior and senior seasons. He finished his playing days tied for fifth on the UK career receiving list with 75 catches for 935 yards and nine touchdowns. He went on to play a total of three professional seasons with the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (1985, ’87) and with Toronto in the Canadian Football League (1986).
Phillips began his coaching career at his alma mater as a graduate assistant in 1988-89. In 1990, he served as an assistant recruiting coordinator. He was a full-time assistant coach, in charge of the wide receivers, from 1991-96. In 1991, under Phillips’ guidance, wide receiver Neal Clark broke the single-season record for pass receptions with 47 catches. Clark’s mark stood for six years. Another protégé, Kio Sanford, set three SEC records for kickoff returns in 1994. The SEC’s all-time leading receiver, Craig Yeast, played his first two seasons under Phillips in 1995-96.
Phillips returned to UK from South Carolina, where he coached the wide receivers during the 2002 season. Gamecock newcomer Troy Williamson had an outstanding rookie campaign, earned consensus SEC All-Freshman honors. He went on to be the No. 7 pick in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
Phillips also has coached at Cincinnati (1997-98), Minnesota (1999-2000), and Notre Dame (2001). At Minnesota, Phillips guided first-team All-Big 10 wide receiver Ron Johnson, who went on to play for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. Although he spent only one season with the Fighting Irish, Phillips placed two wideouts in the NFL, Javin Hunter with Baltimore and David Givens with New England.
As a coach, six of his teams have gone to bowl games, including Kentucky to the 1993 Peach Bowl and 2006-07 Music City Bowls, Cincinnati to the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl, and Minnesota to the 1999 Sun Bowl and Micronpc.com Bowl (2000).
Phillips is a native of Franklin, Ky., and was a three-sport standout – football, basketball, and track – at Franklin-Simpson High School. He is married to the former Leslie Stamatis.