LOUISVILLE — Kentucky coach Joker Phillips had a passionate plea for UK football fans with the Wildcats coming off concesutive losing seasons.
“Get behind this team. You don’t have to get behind me.¿It’s the wrong thing for a coach to sell himself and what he does. Coaches change (jobs) on their own or don’t win. Coaches retire. You are not about to see me selling me. I am selling you the fans (in recruiting). This a great state, great university. I tell that to players when they come here,” Phillips said Friday during an appearance at the Louisville Quarterback Club.
Phillips also tactfully explained to those questioning the coaching staff changes he’s had in his two years why that is not a bad thing and how wide receivers coach Pat Washington and secondary coach Mike Cassity are valuable additions to his third Kentucky team.
“I learned a lot from (former assistant coach) Bill Glaser (who was in the audience Friday). I learned not to be afraid to speak up when I was working under him at Kentucky,” Phillips said. “I like change. I am not afraid of change. I want staff changes every two years. I am open to new ideas. The same thing year after year is not always good. I want to be open to new ideas and things and tell our coaches that.
“If you have change, I see that as a good. Mike Cassity wanted to be back here. He’s from Kentucky, played at Kentucky. He’s put 35 guys into the NFL. I am glad to have him back coaching the right team in this state. (Cassity previously coached at Louisville.) Pat Washington has coached in this league for 13 years and played in this league. He coached and recruited Tee Martin (at Tennessee). When Tee left (for USC), why not go get him?”
Phillips called the Southeastern Conference “a grown man’s league” and noted that is why it was encouraging to view Kentucky’s defensive line as the team’s strength based on the way the returning players performed in the second half of last season.
“Mister Cobble is a Myron Pryor, Corey Peters (two former Cats now playing in the NFL). The biggest adjustment for college kids in athletics is being able to go from freshmen to sophomores. Once they get to their sophomore year, you can see things go uphill. He had a problem (academically) getting to be a sophomore. He didn’t care of himself academically. Now he is way ahead academically and I think he will get his degree next year,” Phillips said of his defensive tackle.
“Him and Donte Rumph, who we signed three times ... he ought to be good. He is a guy coming into his own, too. Danny (Trevathan) made a lot of tackles last year and people said our defensive line was not very good. But the defensive line did not let guys get on the linebackers and Danny made plays because of the guys up front.
“End Collins Ukwu is a self-made guy. He’s a first generation football player from Nigeria. He has not grown up in the game. The most natural guy at the position is Farrington Hugeunin, a guy we redshirted last year. He has the most natural ability. He is a more natural defensive end. Those guys are why I think the defensive line will be the strength of our team.”
Phillips emphasized for the second straight day that sophomore Maxwell Smith would “start today” if the season opened and will get the majority of reps with the No. 1 unit when practice opens Aug. 3. However, he also said senior Morgan Newton, who has made 16 starts, will get at least a third of the reps with the first unit and that true freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow will split reps with the second unit when practice begins.
“Then we have to figure out who gets more No. 1 reps. It might be one of the freshmen to see how they perform with better people in front of them. We’ll just see who earns the reps,” the Kentucky coach said.
He said Towles and Whitlow would not wear red shirts early in practice — quarterbacks typically wear red shirts and don’t have live contact.
“I want to see how they respond. We have enough quarterbacks that we need to see how they respond with bullets flying,”¿Phillips said. “In the past with just three quarterbacks we have not felt comfortable enough to take the red shirt off and make it live.
“I think both of those guys you need to give the best chance to compete because both of them can beat you with their legs. You have got to give them their best chance to make plays. Sometimes a quarterback will have a red shirt on and defensive guy runs past and the play is dead when he might not have had him. Whitlow and Towles will break tackles that some defensive linemen think they will make. That’s why I want to see how they do with bullets flying.”