Joker Phillips makes emotional plea to fans to support UK football

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJuly 27, 2012 

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips looked on during the Blue-White scrimmage on April 21.

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Joker Phillips doesn't care how you feel about him.

Dislike him if you want.

He doesn't care about how you feel about the football staff he's assembled at Kentucky.

In front of a group of UK boosters and supporters at the annual Kickoff Luncheon, UK's head coach said he's not worried about himself.

He's worried about Cats fans getting out and supporting the players.

"These players don't need everybody to believe in them," a choked-up Phillips said from the podium at the downtown Convention Center on Friday. "But they damn sure need somebody to. I expect you, the Big Blue Nation, to get behind this football team. Why? Because we are UK."

Phillips' comments came in the wake of a Herald-Leader report that noted Kentucky's season ticket sales are down 27 percent from last season and 37 percent from 2009. There are six weeks until Kentucky's home opener against Kent State.

Before the luncheon, the coach was asked directly about the decline in ticket sales. Kentucky has sold 35,486 season tickets as of Sunday.

"To those who have bought the tickets, our guys are working extremely hard to reward them with a great season with some great moments," he said. "We've had a lot of great moments here at Kentucky. In the last couple of years we've had two really great moments in beating South Carolina and beating Tennessee. There's more great moments to come."

And to those who haven't purchased tickets?

"I'd suggest you do," Phillips said. "There are more great moments (to come). Our players are working very hard to make sure we have more of those moments."

At Friday's luncheon in front of several hundred, UK President Eli Capilouto made it clear that he supports Phillips.

"He runs a strong program; he emphasizes those critical qualities we want to see in our players," he said. "We stand behind him."

And Phillips stands behind his players: "When you look in their eyes, you see Wildcats, who are willing to do whatever it takes to get this thing right."

Not every moment at the luncheon was so intense.

UK's two coordinators kept it light at times, with offensive coordinator Randy Sanders noting that many in this state are "liars."

"I can't tell you how many people in the last six years who came up to me and said, 'Coach, I don't care what you do. Just beat Tennessee,'" he said with a wry smile, referencing the Cats' first win over the Volunteers last season after 26 straight losses.

Sanders and defensive coordinator Rick Minter both noted that some of their best seasons have come when they're the underdog.

"Two of the three of the better defenses that I've been associated with over a long period of time now really did come when the expectations were perhaps the lowest," Minter said.

Sanders, who has been coaching in the Southeastern Conference since 1989, said the same thing.

"Some of the best years I've ever had are when people didn't give us a whole lot of credit," Sanders said.

And Sanders said he believes in the players UK has coming back on offense, including all of the skill players except Matt Roark.

"I feel way better about this offensive team than I did last year at this time," he said.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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