LEXINGTON — Now that Kentucky’s five-year bowl streak is over, UK¿coach Joker Phillips can find only one silver lining in not having practice in December and a bowl game to prepare for this season — it will allow him and his staff to get on the recruiting trail in full force much earlier.
“That is a positive that we will be able to have all seven of our guys (coaches) out to sell the program. It gives me an opportunity to get in some homes before Christmas,” Phillips said Monday.
“I don’t want a recruit to come here because of Joker Phillips,” said Phillips, a former UK¿player. “You sell the opportunity to play. You sell this great university, this great conference you play in. You are not selling me.”
Phillips said he did not come to Kentucky solely to play for coach Jerry Claiborne.
“I came here to help change the perception of a team not winning,” he said. “They also said African-Americans could not win here. I didn’t sign (to play at Kentucky) for a coach. I think that is the wrong reason to choose a school.”
Phillips said that he didn’t “have a clue” about whether athletics director Mitch Barnhart felt any differently about the program than he did a month ago when he vowed Phillips, 10-14 in his two seasons as head coach, would return in 2012.
“I am focusing on this game out there,” Phillips said.
That includes not mentioning the losing streak publicly.
“I'm not going to talk about the streak. I'll talk about the goal of ours to win the last game. Our goal, when we started off (the season is) to win our last game, is to be in a bowl game to win our last game. How big would it have been last year if we'd have won our last (game)? We'll talk about that goal and the goal that's out there. The goal out there is to win our last game. That's why it's important to us,” Phillips said. “Any time you win it helps in recruiting. People think kids come for the glitz and glamour, but kids come to win.”
He also would not speculate on potential staff changes once the season ends even though last year he proclaimed before the season ended that changes would be made and they were.
“My goal right now is try to get this team prepared for our last game out there,” Phillips said.
Kentucky’s seniors will not only be playing their final home game Saturday, but Phillips noted it will also likely be the final football game for many of them. That’s why Monday several UK seniors talked about this game being like a bowl game for them.
Phillips credited his team for getting “physically and mentally” ready to play at Georgia last week when a win would have given UK a chance to keep its bowl streak alive by beating Tennessee. Now he says the players have to play for “personal pride” as well as the seniors who are “taking this as a bowl game” to end their careers.
“This is the last game. Many of them will not put on a uniform and play again. It’s not like basketball. I played until I was 38. It’s not like baseball, or softball where play until you are 400 pounds and can still hit it out,” Phillips said. “That is why it is so emotional for football players when they play in their last game. You don’t get to play it again. This is it for a lot of those guys.”