UK Football: Phillips is used to the underdog role at Kentucky
Joker Phillips says the opening game against Louisville not only is important to Kentucky, but is important to the Cardinals as well. ¿Those guys want to win just as much as we do,¿ said Phillips Thursday. (Clay Jackson / July 27, 2012)
Phillips wasn’t about to make that same mistake Thursday at the Governor’s Cup press conference promoting the Sept. 2 UK-Louisville game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
“I¿am not going to say anything. I got a lot of e-mails telling me how cocky and arrogant I was last year,” said Phillips. “It will be an intense game. They understand that. We understand that.”
It doesn’t worry Phillips that UK goes into the game as a double-digit underdog, or is being picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.
“I have been at Kentucky 30 years. We have always been an underdog,” Phillips, who is 11-14 in two seasons as head coach, said. “It’s exactly where we were five years ago with (quarterback) Andre (Woodson) and all those skilled guys on offense (going into the Louisville game that UK¿won). It’s the same position we have been in for 30 years. Right Fran?”
Fran is former UK coach Fran Curci, who annually attends this event. He led UK¿to a 10-1 mark in 1977 — a season UK was on probation and not eligible for a bowl game — and a Peach Bowl win in 1976.
“That is it, babe,” Curci responded.
Later, Curci said he felt much like Phillips most seasons in that few gave Kentucky football a chance to succeed.
“It’s not easy at Kentucky. You think you have it going, then something happens. Joker just has to keep recruiting. He’s got good players, but he needs more. Playing in the SEC, it never gets easier. Those are hard teams to try to compete with and beat,” Curci said.
Louisville coach Charlie Strong has the opposite problem. Expectations are soaring for the Cardinals in his third season. After a 2-4 start last year, they won five of their last six games and are being picked to win the Big East Conference.
“What you like to bring up and hope players understand after losing games that we think we should have won is that is what happens when you are not consistent game by game, season by season. That’s hard for guys to understand. When people tell you that you are not very good and then you beat somebody you shouldn’t, you start to think you have arrived. We just try to feed it to them every day not to believe everything,” Strong said.
“People talk about how good you will be and what you have. Remember, we are going into our third season. We are similar to Kentucky. We are still a very young team. We have nine seniors and are short on leadership, so it has got to come from the coaching staff. Two years ago nobody thought we could win any games and somebody said, ‘Coach if you can win one or two games, I will be happy.’ I¿had never heard that. Last season we were 2-4 and then won five of our last six. We want to keep that going.”
That’s why Phillips explained that those who believe the Sept. 2 game is a make-or-break game for UK¿are making a mistake.
“We both go our separate ways (after the game), and the team that has won has carried the momentum to the next game,” Phillips said. “It’s an important game. Everybody talks about how important it is to us. It’s important to these guys, too, and they’ll tell you that. It’s an important game for both teams. When it’s important, it makes it an intense rivalry.”
“We know you never want to downplay this rivalry,” Strong said.
Trash talk: Strong and Phillips both emphasized they have no tolerance for players doing any trash talking about the game via Twitter or any other social media after some tweets from Louisville players created a buzz earlier this summer.
“It’s social media — and I say it all the time — it’s going to be the downfall of society,” Strong said. “You never realize once you tweet, it’s there and it’s never going to go away. People (say), ‘Well, I can go take it off.’ No. Once it’s posted, it’s posted. We just have to be smart about what we do and what we say.
“Some guys that don’t even play do all the talking. Just shut up. You have to play the game. The game is going to come to you. You have to play the game, so we don’t need to put anything out there. Just worry about your program, just worry about your football team.”
That’s what Phillips wants from his players as well.
“We don’t get into that,” he said. “I respect this game. The game of football does so much for many of us. I respect this rivalry. I’m a Kentuckian, and I’m just so happy we play. For many years we didn’t play. We’re not going to disrespect the rivalry. That’s what’s important to me.”