UK football notes: Seniors didn't want to end season without Phillips

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 16, 2012 

Kentucky's Joker Phillips has been adamant that he wants Saturday to be about the seniors.

After the head coach was fired nearly two weeks ago, he said one of the reasons he didn't want to finish out the rest of the season was a fear that he would be a distraction for the players.

"I don't need any treatment, special treatment or anything," he said earlier this week. "It's not my senior day. I want those guys that have been here and given all they have for this program to be rewarded."

But his players, specifically his seniors, said it wouldn't feel right to finish out their time at Commonwealth Stadium without Phillips.

"It's huge," senior center Matt Smith said. "He talks a lot about how he doesn't want the recognition or for anything to take away from our senior day. But he's been a huge part of this program and this school for longer than most of us have been alive.

"We wouldn't be a family if he didn't finish this out with us. He's been such a huge part of my life and my experience here that I really wanted him to come back and coach us through."

Phillips agreed to a point, opting to finish coaching the Samford game on Saturday and then next week at Tennessee, but he's still adamant that Saturday should not be about him.

When asked if he'd soak in his final moments at Commonwealth Stadium or if he'd be extra emotional on a day already loaded with emotion, Phillips was pragmatic.

"I've left here before," he said, both as a player and as an assistant coach in a similar situation. "I've been through it. I try to remember how it was then, It was kind of just, hey, 'Time to move on. Time to move on.' That's the type of attitude I'll take with this one."

But it doesn't mean he's moving on without some special memories.

"I had an opportunity to be here 10 years, five of them bowl games," he said. "Five of them as a coordinator and three as a head coach. I just feel fortunate to be able to do that.

"Name me somebody that's had as many memories as me here at Kentucky? Name me someone. I feel like I've done all I can do here. I appreciate the opportunity."

Something to prove?

Lost in the pomp and circumstances surrounding this day might be that UK actually has a game to play against a Samford team that's 7-3 this season and knocking on the door of the FCS Top 25.

The Bulldogs are coming off two straight victories behind a senior quarterback who completes more than 66 percent of his passes. In fact, Andy Summerlin has thrown for 2,165 yards and 10 touchdowns already this season.

UK's Phillips fully expects the Cats to be in for a battle.

"I'm sure they're using this to get ready for next year and also use it for a bowl game or a playoff game," he said.

And he's been impressed on film with the talent he's seen from Samford.

"There's some guys that might've been not big enough at the time or overlooked, wasn't as fast and got faster or transferred down," he said. "So they've got some good players on this football team. ... So it'll be a good football game."

Next man up

It's hard to go anywhere in Lexington without hearing whispers about who the next football coach will be at Kentucky.

Since Phillips and his staff still live here, it's been tough for them to avoid the chatter. The former UK player and current head coach was asked on Monday if he thought Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart would ask for his input.

Phillips laughed. "No, nobody ever asks a guy on their way out to (help). I mean, 'I know you did a (expletive) job while you was here, but help me.'"

Interestingly enough, though, Phillips and his staff are interested in the next hire because they're also out there looking for jobs.

"We all, including the assistant coaches, we've got to chase rumors right now, just like you guys do, to try to stay ahead of it," Phillips said to the media on Thursday. "Myself, I'm not chasing them as much as the other guys are because I think I need to step back and take a breather."

He did have an interesting theory on the coaching search.

"It's always a guy you never hear about," he said. "Everybody knows that."

Herald-Leader staff writer Ben Roberts contributed to this report. Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241Twitter: @jenheraldleaderBlog: ukfootball.bloginky.com

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