Former Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson admits it hasn't been easy accepting that his football playing days are over.
But coaching is something Woodson believes can help him cope.
Woodson and ex-UK receiver Glenn Holt have joined Joker Phillips' staff as student assistants. Both have enrolled at UK for the spring semester. Woodson said he's about two semesters away from a degree in kinesiology, and Holt expects to get his sociology degree in December.
Woodson's story has been well-chronicled. After an outstanding career at UK, a rough week at the Senior Bowl contributed to his falling to a sixth-round pick of the New York Giants.
The Giants already had a roster stacked with quarterbacks, and Woodson stayed on the practice squad for a year before being cut. He then had a short stint on the Washington Redskins practice squad before being cut, and then after a UFL audition didn't work out, Woodson knew he had reached the end of the road.
"It's been difficult," he said. "I'm only 26, and I still have a lot of ability. Sometimes I'd watch TV, and see other quarterbacks I played against and wonder to myself, 'How did I get in this situation?' Everybody was interested in my mechanics and throwing motion, trying to change the style of football I played and the way I played, and it affected me. I think it got in my head and I never could really get into a rhythm. And a lot of times it's just about being in the right place and the right system at the right time."
Woodson said he talked to Phillips about joining the UK staff in the fall, but Woodson didn't enroll in time. Now he thinks the timing is perfect.
"I just didn't want to walk away from the game entirely," Woodson said. "You've just got to move on and understand that life goes on. I think coaching is the perfect way to help me to do that. I can stay involved with the game, help some of the younger kids out and help the program out."
Holt is excited to be joining the program in the midst of its streak of five consecutive bowl games. Holt lettered at Kentucky from 2002-05 and never got to play in a bowl game. UK's bowl streak started the following year with a trip to the Music City Bowl.
The Wildcats went 18-30 during Holt's four-year career. UK went 7-5 in 2002, Holt's freshman year, but couldn't go to a bowl game because of NCAA probation. That was followed by three losing seasons.
Holt played four seasons in the NFL after leaving UK, three with the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I was just telling the guys in a meeting today, appreciate that you've been able to go to bowl games," Holt said. "I was here four years and didn't get to one. ... They're very fortunate. They'll say, 'Well, you played in the NFL. You played behind Chad Johnson.' Yeah, but I never went to a bowl game."
Holt and Woodson started shortly after UK returned from the BBVA Compass Bowl last month. As student assistants, they're allowed to work with players in the off-season when the coaches are prohibited from doing so. Holt will assist Tee Martin with the wide receivers.
And you can count on him being motivated to help UK get to a sixth straight bowl.
"I want to be in a bowl game," Holt said. "That's one of my main goals. I didn't get to one as a player, so now I want to help the program get there as a coach."
Woodson said he's been working with quarterbacks Morgan Newton and Maxwell Smith for about three weeks, and his presence could be a big boost to the young signal-callers.
Woodson recalls the struggles he went through early in his UK career and wishes he would have had someone close to his age with NFL experience to guide him through. He said he's been impressed with both Newton and Smith, and he's looking forward to working with recent signee Theltus "Bookie" Cobbins when he arrives in the summer. And because NFL scouts and coaches were so obsessed with his mechanics, Woodson believes he can tutor the young quarterbacks precisely on what to do and what not to do.
"I'll be able to help them understand what it takes to be a successful quarterback in the SEC, and let them know what NFL scouts are looking for," he said. "I've been there."
Smith is a relative unknown after enrolling as a grayshirt in January, but Woodson likes what he's seen so far out of the California native.
"He's really been impressing me with his work ethic," Woodson said. "He's challenging me to coach him as many hours as I can, and he wants to throw as much as he can. He's willing to put in the hours and the time to be a great quarterback, and he's got a strong arm. It'll be interesting to see if he can challenge for the (starting) job."
Assistant coach contracts
It was a good week for Tee Martin, who was rewarded with a contract extension and raise on Saturday, and then was named one of the top recruiters in the SEC by ESPN.com's Chris Low. Martin, who was promoted to passing game coordinator, got a salary increase from $160,000 to $185,000. He will get another raise up to $205,000 on July 1. Special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Greg Nord also received a raise in January, going from $200,000 to $215,000
Here are the salaries for the rest of UK's 2011 staff, obtained through an open records request:
Steve Brown: co-defensive coordinator/defensive backs-$320,000
Rick Minter: co-defensive coordinator-$275,000
David Turner: assistant head coach/defensive line-$275,000
Mike Summers: offensive line-$275,000
Greg Nord: special teams/tight ends-$215,000
Tee Martin: wide receivers/passing game coordinator-$185,000 (will go up to $205,000 July 1)
Chuck Smith: linebackers/recruiting coordinator-$163,500
Steve Pardue: running backs-$130,000
Final recruiting rankings
UK's class was ranked 32nd in the nation in the final rankings by Scout.com. It was the second-highest ranking for the Cats since Scout began assessing recruiting classes in 2002. Kentucky's 2002 class was ranked 27th.
Kentucky's class was not ranked by Rivals.com, which ranks only the Top 50 classes.
Cats add walk-on RB
The Cats officially signed 26 players last week but have added another member to their recruiting class in Terrance Timmons, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound tailback from Mobile (Ala.). Timmons has accepted an academic scholarship to UK and will join the team as a walk-on. Timmons ran for more than 2,000 yards and 29 touchdowns as a high school senior. While his size scared away most Division I programs, Timmons is being projected by the UK coaching staff as a multi-purpose player in the mold of Derrick Locke.
Cobb, Locke headed to NFL Combine
Kentucky senior tailback Derrick Locke and junior wide receiver Randall Cobb have been invited to the National Football League scouting combine, set for Feb. 24 through March 1 in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The event will be televised on the NFL Network and also can be followed on NFL.com.
Both Cobb and Locke appear to be rising up the draft charts. ESPN.com and Scouts Inc. analyst Todd McShay gave them extremely high marks on his NFL Draft Buzz blog on Friday. He said Locke has separated himself from many of the backs projected to go in the mid-to-later rounds, while Cobb is his No. 29 overall prospect and is viewed as an early second-round pick.
Chip Cosby covers UK football for the Herald-Leader. This article includes his opinions and observations. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.