UK football notebook: Washington adjusts to new home, offense

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMarch 3, 2012 

UK wide receivers coach Pat Washington

Forgive Pat Washington if he wakes up, rubs his eyes and then has to stop for a minute and think about what city he's in today.

Even for a college coaching journeyman, the last two months had to have been a bit disorienting for the new Kentucky wide receivers coach.

"Everything's been moving really, really fast," he said.

After spending three seasons at Southern Miss, Washington was lured away to be an assistant coach at East Carolina on Jan. 6.

By Feb. 17, he'd gotten an offer from UK Coach Joker Phillips to be assistant coach and passing game coordinator for the Cats.

When he got the first call from former Tennessee colleague and current Cats offensive coordinator Randy Sanders that the job might be opening up, Washington swallowed hard and called his wife, Claudette.

"Honey, we need to talk," was the first thing he said to her.

Less than a month before, he had just finished convincing his family, which includes sons Tyson and Justin, that the move out of Hattiesburg, Miss., was best for the family.

"I got them ready to go, fired up; I showed them the schools and I had everything in place, then out of left field comes this deal," he said in a phone interview on Friday afternoon.

This week was when his family was supposed to be in Greenville, N.C., to find a new house. That location has changed slightly.

But moving to Lexington wasn't as difficult a sell as Washington initially feared.

As soon as he told his wife about the offer, she encouraged him to take it.

Both of them had been to Lexington and liked the area. Washington said it reminded him a lot of Knoxville, where he spent 11 years as an assistant coach for Tennessee.

"Both of us thought it was a no-brainer," he said. "We love the SEC. Most of my coaching and playing career has been in the SEC. So when (we got) the opportunity to come back in this conference, we couldn't pass it up."

He worried about how his boys would respond.

"To get the kids on board was important to me," he said.

They weren't much of a hard sell either, but for different reasons than some might think.

"I called my youngest son and told him, 'Dad may not be staying at East Carolina, Dad might be going to Kentucky,'" Washington relayed.

His son, much like his mother, said it was a no-brainer.

"He said, 'Kentucky basketball's No. 1, so if you get tickets, let's roll,'" Washington said.

Washington has coached at nine different schools (if you include his short stint at East Carolina) since graduating from Auburn in the mid-1980s and spent most of that time at Tennessee.

In a strange twist, Washington was largely responsible for recruiting Tee Martin to play for the Volunteers. Now Washington replaces the former UT quarterback as wide receivers coach at Kentucky after Martin bolted for the same position at Southern California last month.

Washington, 48, had an in with Martin since both coaches are from Mobile, Ala.

The new coach said he's spoken with Martin since taking the UK job.

"Congratulations to him," Washington said. "He's on a fast rise. He's doing a really good job."

'Like brothers'

It's not hard to see why Sanders would get back in touch with his former coaching colleague from Tennessee. The Volunteers had major success when the two were on the staff, including an undefeated, national championship season in 1998 (with Martin as quarterback).

But there's always a fun story behind the story and Washington had it.

Just before the national title game that season, then-Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe took the head coaching job at Ole Miss.

Vols Coach Phil Fulmer promoted Sanders to offensive coordinator.

"That was a tough situation," Washington recalled. "No, no pressure in your first game on the job."

But that situation helped bond Sanders and Washington for life, the new UK assistant said.

"He and I had the most experience at the time in the room, so we had to really put our heads together and put a game plan together," he said. "And it was like we were counting on each other like brothers. ... We won the game and from that point on we've had a really good relationship."

Their game plan wasn't too far off from what Washington said they plan to do at Kentucky.

"We just took our best players, found a way to get the ball in their hands and found a way to make plays," he said.

On the fly

Washington has been on UK's campus roughly a week. It has been like a late-night cram session before a final.

"I've been looking at film from last year, trying to get a good feel for the offense myself," Washington said.

There's been a lot to learn in a short amount of time.

"It's like learning a new language," he said of UK's offense under Sanders. "It's like walking into a Spanish class and you've never taken Spanish and you need to learn the language in two weeks."

Because he coached for so many seasons with Sanders at Tennessee, it would seem less like learning a new language and more like brushing up on an old one.

But that's not the case, Washington said.

"The system is different than what it was at Tennessee," he said. "It was a system that Joker (Phillips) plays. But at the same time, there are some similarities."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Email: jsmith3@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com

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