LEXINGTON — His job status has to be in jeopardy, but give Kentucky coach Joker Phillips credit for keeping his sense of humor.
At his weekly press conference Monday, he was asked how he dealt with speculation that the Joker Phillips’ era at Kentucky is over after three years because of his team’s 1-8 record after its loss Saturday at Missouri.
What about any talks with UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart about his future?
“I was going to tell you guys last week after I left, Mitch and I talked. We’ve been talking about an extension. No, I’m just kidding,” Phillips smiled and said. “No, it hasn’t changed. We have talked. Again, just, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ ‘I’m doing good.’ Just small talk. Talking like friends do weekly.”
So no conversation about his future?
“No, we have not, and it has been his policy to wait until the end of the year,” Phillips said
He says the speculation about his future has not changed the way his staff recruits.
“I’ve had to recruit this way most of my career. We went into homes and recruit. Again, I don’t think about the media and how you guys ... what you think. What I do is think about what the recruits think. We go in, sell who we are, sell what we do and we’ve had success in doing that,” Phillips said.
Phillips noted that while he worries about all his players, he wants none of them worrying about his future.
“They are 18- to 22-year-olds. Those guys need to be able to have fun, go to school and play ball. That’s what they are here for. I never bring it up,” Phillips said.
Phillips said friends and/or ex-UK¿players often come to practice and talk about how “upbeat and energetic” the players are.
“Again, a lot of it has to do with we’re playing with a lot of young kids getting an opportunity to play. Again, I’m so proud of how the veterans have handled this thing also,” he said. “Those guys have done a really good job.
“Again, those young kids are just excited to play. Not only they came here in hopes of playing, but when you come on campus — and that’s what it is. It’s hopes of playing. You don’t expect to. You hope to. A lot of those guys are getting to play. It’s really helped the way they prepare.
“Again, any time a guy gets a chance, he starts preparing a little bit different, especially when you’re a young kid, and these young kids are coming to practice, ready to work.
“Again, you think (starting sophomore linebacker) Bud Dupree is an old guy? Bud Dupree has been here a year and a half. He’s a young guy. Those guys have done a really good job of coming to practice, preparing, and ready to go to work.”
Phillips said he plans to start one of those young guys — Jalen Whitlow — at quarterback again this week against Vanderbilt but will also have “a plan” to get freshman Patrick Towles in the game again.¿He did that after Whitlow led two successful drives to start the game at Missouri, but Towles could not generate a first down in two series and the Wildcats’ offense was stagnant the rest of the game.
After the Missouri game, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders suggested he had second thoughts about sticking to the pregame plan. Phillips said he had no second thoughts.
So did he and Sanders disagree?
“We don’t disagree. We both agree he’s (Towles) going to go in on the third series. Again, looking back on it, probably shouldn’t because it didn’t work out. Then we get questions from you guys,” Phillips said.
And more questions are going to keep coming. That’s life when a team is 1-8 and 12-22 over the last three seasons. Even Dupree admitted Monday it was hard “not to be discouraged” and players had to fight the urge “not to give up” as the losses continue to mount.
“Winning helps everything. It helps the injury report. It helps everybody involved. It helps a lot of things. Winning does,” Phillips said.
The problem is Kentucky isn’t winning, and the problems and frustrations just continue to mount.
UK Football: Phillips remains upbeat despite sitting on hot seat
Joker Phillips/The Associated Press