Phillips speaks in Frankfort

With Joker Phillips at Kentucky, Charlie Strong at Louisville and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, all three of the Commonwealth’s head coaches at NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools are African-American.

Each of the coaches spoke on Monday at a gathering in Frankfort, sponsored by the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, in honor of Black History Month.

Here are some excerpts from Coach Phillips’ speech:

“All I wanted to do since I was a child was play football at the University of Kentucky and my next dream was to play in the NFL. I got a chance to do that (play in the NFL). I was always the point guard in basketball, quarterback in football and the catcher in baseball, so all I ever did was act like a coach on the field or the court.

“When I went to school at the University of Kentucky, I used to always show the recruits around and have a good time, and one day I told our recruiting coordinator -- who gave me ten dollars a night to take a recruit out, which couldn’t get a lot done but could get something done -- that I was going to have his job one day and coach here at the University of Kentucky, so it was truly a dream come true (when he became an assistant coach at UK). I never really dreamt of being the head coach at Kentucky until I started seeing those salaries those guys had (laughter from audience).

“As we celebrate Black History Month and I am going to talk about Dr. (Carter) Woodson also, who graduated from Berea (College), is the person who started Black History Week and now we call it Black History Month. He was the second African-American to get a (doctoral) degree from the University of Harvard. People ask me how I feel being the first African-American head coach at the University of Kentucky and I feel like a giant … The reason why? It is because I am standing on the shoulders of Dr. Woodson and Lyman T. Johnson. He was the African-American who tried to get into graduate school at the University of Kentucky and was (initially) denied because African-Americans and whites were not allowed to go to school together, which really started Brown vs. the Board of Education. Everyone understands how Brown vs. the Board of Education changed the world today. I am standing on the shoulders on Lyman T. Johnson and Johnny J. Johnson. A lot of you don’t know who Johnny J. Johnson is, but he was a Franklin native and was actually a classmate of my dad at Lincoln High School and was the president of the NAACP chapter in Kentucky. He was the person who integrated my local swimming pool so that I could learn how to swim in a local pool and not learning how to swim in Drake’s Creek. I am standing on the shoulders of Nate Northington and Greg Page who were the first African-Americans who came to sign at the University of Kentucky … I also stand on the shoulders of Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg (additional African-American football pioneers at Kentucky). I can only imagine what they went through. When people ask how I had my success, it is not Joker Phillips, it is not that I am persistent in what I do or that I have strong determination in what I do. The reason I have had success is that I am able to see over the tall obstacles, or maybe step over the obstacles, because I am standing on the shoulders of a lot of people and that is what makes me successful in my opinion. I do not forget the people who have come before me.”

Phillips took questions from the audience and media:

If wide receiver E.J. Fields will play much after his injuries …

“We will find out. He continues to grow up, (but ) he is still a baby. That is what you all don’t understand is that they might look like men, but they are babies … So we will find out this spring how many reps he will get and find out if he can go. He is such a good kid, he does well in the classroom and he will be successful whatever he does, but we just hope he has success this year in football, because we need him.”

On being both friends and rivals with Charlie Strong at Louisville and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky…

“Well, Charlie and I have been doing it for years. He has been at Florida; I have been at Kentucky as coordinator coaches. Except for one weekend a year, we will still be friends. We try to maintain a positive relationship except that week when we play each other. Other than that it will be a positive relationship.”

On how ready he is for Operation Win to get underway with spring practice approaching…

“I am so ready to coach some football. I am ready to see Operation Win come together. The first phase, which is recruiting, went well. We are doing a good job in the second phase, which is to build a program, and I am ready to see the third phase which is to see how we compete in spring football.”

On the quarterback situation and how the reps will be divided up…

“It is a three man race for sure. We have two (Mike Hartline and Morgan Newton) that won games in the SEC and a third one (Ryan Mossakowski) who we think is a guy who can compete and win in the SEC. We have to give people reps early and get it down to two as quickly as we can and if the separation is not big enough, then we will have to carry out the competition among those two in fall camp.”

On what he expects out of Mossakowski…

“I expect him to be ready to compete. From all indications from the players and the trainers, he is ready to go out and compete, and we just expect that from him. I have seen him in some drills but not the throwing drills. He looks good in the drills I have seen. Whether or not he is going full speed, we will see what happens in spring football.”

On some of the other objectives and what he hopes to get accomplished in the spring…

“In the offensive line, we lost four guys up front. We were able to play a lot of guys up front (last season). Larry Warford got a lot of playing time, Brad Durham played a lot, and Matt Smith played most of the game against Miami of Ohio. We feel good about having guys up front, but now we have to see if we have guys who are willing to compete every down in the SEC.”