Joker Phillips begins his separation from UK

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 19, 2012 

In token ways, Joker Phillips already has started to part ways with Kentucky.

The head coach, who was fired two weeks ago, has started wearing less UK gear, including at Monday's news conference, where he donned a simple black Nike pullover and khakis.

"You've got to start to separate," he explained, before adding: "I understand this is still my university."

And because he still feels so tightly connected with this place he's called home as a coach and player for 20-plus years, he's encouraging UK's current players to stay put even though Phillips and his staff are departing.

"It is the place for them," he said. "I expect them to stay here, stay together and get this thing turned."

Kentucky's players, especially the juniors who get to learn a whole new staff, new playbook and probably a whole new system, admitted the unknown can be frustrating.

"It's kind of hard to think about it," junior defensive lineman Tristian Johnson said. "I try not to think about it too much."

Another junior, running back Raymond Sanders, said he doesn't love the idea of playing for his third position coach, but he tries to remain upbeat, especially for the younger players.

"My football IQ is pretty decent, so I can learn a playbook fast," he said. "Once I can get my hands on a playbook, I feel like I can help any of those guys that need some help. There's some positives and negatives to it. You've just got to deal with it.

"I believe God does everything for a reason. He's putting us in this position for some kind of outcome. We've just got to keep pushing and churning and trying to do the best we can."

The Kentucky administration has done its part to ease players' fears about scholarships and the future, but it's still a difficult thing, linebacker Avery Williamson said.

"They've reassured us not to worry about that," he said. "But like some other people said, it's an audition. With new staff coming in, everything's open."

The outgoing UK coach said he and his staff are doing everything they can to help ease the transition.

"We've got to leave these guys with positive attitude because the show goes on, and that's what we have tried to do," he said.

Phillips reminds his players that he went through his own coaching change, moving from Fran Curci to Jerry Claiborne, and that everything turned out OK.

""Hey, you're going to have a great time here," Phillips said he's told them. "I went through the same thing. It's going to be good. You guys are going to be successful.'"

And if they're not, Phillips overheard special teams coach Greg Nord issue a stern warning to kick returners Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins, in whom the coach sees big-time potential.

"(Nord) said, 'If you don't become great returners, I'm going to come in here and kick both your rear ends,'" Phillips relayed.

Phillips issues challenge

A few weeks ago, Phillips relayed the story of a former UK player who was battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer to his players and the media.

That former offensive lineman and student assistant, Mike Scott, 36, was diagnosed in October and is now home with his family under the care of hospice. During the bye week, Phillips said he was able to visit Scott at his home in Georgia. The coach encouraged Kentucky fans to donate to help Scott's family with mounting medical bills. The Web site to give is http://www.giveforward.com/miracleformike.

"I would like to challenge not just the ex– Cats but the state of Kentucky," Phillips said. "I would like to challenge a thousand Kentuckians to give $100 — I understand there are those that can't — but for those that can, I would challenge them to. Nobody loves this school more than Mike Scott."

Kentucky will be giving him the game ball from Saturday's win as well, Phillips said.

Notes

 Junior defensive tackle Donte Rumph was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week by the league office for his performance against Samford. He had five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in the win.

 Kentucky won the annual Big Blue Crush blood drive battle with Tennessee last week for the third straight year. The Kentucky Blood Center reported that this state trailed by 13 pints entering the final day of competition and came from behind to win with 803 donations on Friday.

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

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