It didn't take Joker Phillips long to get his "Operation Win" theme off the ground.
Right after his introductory news conference to be named Kentucky's 36th head football coach, Phillips hit the road recruiting, making clear that will be the No. 1 point of emphasis during his new regime.
He'll first look to put the finishing touches on UK's 2010 recruiting class. The Wildcats have 24 known commitments, and with the Southeastern Conference's new rule stating that schools can only sign 28 prospects per class, Phillips presumably has four scholarships to work with.
Spots will be held for Dyjuan Lewis, a four-star receiver who originally committed to ex-Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, and Miles Simpson, a running back from Simon Kenton who took his official visit to UK on Dec. 5 and was also at Rupp Arena last weekend for the Kentucky-Louisville basketball game.
Lewis is scheduled to be in Lexington this weekend for an official visit along with Maudrecus Humphrey, a three-star receiver from Hoover, Ala.
UK is also in the mix for three-star athlete D.J. Howard, a Lincoln (Ala.) product and Auburn commit. According to Kentucky Ink's Jeff Drummond, Howard will visit the Kentucky campus the weekend of Jan. 22.
Phillips is also waiting on Central linebacker Tim Patterson, who probably will choose between Kentucky and Louisville.
The transition from Rich Brooks to Phillips is expected to have minimal impact on UK's commitments because the players had been aware of the possibility of Brooks' retirement and Phillips was heavily involved in recruiting many of them. DeKalb County (Ga.) running back Raymond Sanders told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he actually never met Brooks. Two of Sanders' teammates, Jabari Johnson and Ronnie Shields, have also committed to UK.
"I respect Coach Brooks but it doesn't really have an effect on me. I would have liked to get to know him better and I was supposed to meet him on my visit up there this month," Sanders said. "But Coach Phillips, I know him well. He pretty much ran things around there and he's been learning from Coach Brooks for years. So I know he'll make a great head coach and I'm still excited to go up there."
Phillips' second order of business was to begin re-shaping his first UK staff. He informed offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins and defensive line coach Rick Petri that they would not be returning in 2010. Phillips filled the offensive line position Saturday when he hired Arkansas offensive line coach Mike Summers.
That means Phillips currently has two openings: Petri's spot and Phillips' position as wide receivers coach. There are several potential candidates with ties to either UK or Phillips:
Steve Pardue: A Hopkinsville native and coach at LaGrange (Ga.) High School, where Phillips has developed a pipeline that brought UK players such as Wesley Woodyard and Braxton Kelley. When asked about Phillips' promotion, Pardue told WRBL-TV in Columbus (Ga.), "All it means is that my best friend is a millionaire. I am really excited for him and I don't know if there is an opportunity and we have not talked about anything and never really have." With at least five LaGrange products expected to be on the UK roster next fall, Pardue joked, "It might be better for (Kentucky) if I remained a high school school coach."
David Turner: The current defensive line coach at Mississippi State, Turner coached with Phillips on Bill Curry's UK staff in 1993-94.
David Lockwood: Thanks to a strong recommendation from Phillips, Rich Brooks hired Lockwood to coach the Kentucky secondary in 2007. Lockwood spent one season at UK before leaving to coach the secondary at West Virginia, his alma mater. Lockwood served as defensive coordinator at Minnesota for two seasons before coming to UK.
Gerad Parker: A Kentucky receiver from 2000-2004 who spent two seasons as a UK grad assistant, Parker is a favorite of Phillips and considered a rising young star on the coaching circuit. Parker is in his second year coaching receivers at UT-Martin.
Dontae Wright: Wright finished his second season as a UK grad assistant and could provide a young, energetic presence on the recruiting trail.
Chris Rumph: Clemson defensive line coach who developed a relationship with Phillips during his tenure as a head coach at Calhoun County (S.C.) High School. Also the uncle of 2009 UK signee Donte Rumph, who is still trying to get his academic situation in order and become a Wildcat.
There's been a lot of Internet buzz regarding the possibility of Phillips adding Wesley McGriff to the staff. McGriff, in his third year as defensive backs coach at the University of Miami, was perhaps the most popular member of Guy Morriss's UK staff in 2001 and 2002 among players. He also spoke fondly of his time in Lexington and has strong recruiting ties in Florida and throughout the South. But McGriff said on Friday that he had not been contacted by Phillips about an opening.
Rich Brooks and his wife, Karen, said last week that they'll remain in Lexington for the time being before eventually heading back to Oregon. But they plan on maintaining a residence in Lexington and will be regulars at UK home football games and other events such as Keeneland.
Brooks was a true professional and will be missed. Like most coaches and reporters, I had a few tiffs with Brooks over the years, and a couple of them were heated. But he was always willing to talk things out and never held a grudge. Just a couple of years into his UK tenure, he met me for drinks in the Wynfrey Hotel bar, the only coach I've ever covered who was willing to do something like that.
There was also a softer side to Brooks that people who weren't around him on a daily basis never got to see. My 40-yard dash story that became a running joke on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been such a good sport and been willing to play along.
Brooks also made a nice gesture right before his last game against Clemson in the Music City Bowl. I was in his office for an interview and he asked me about my plans for Christmas. Since the team was scheduled to practice on Christmas Day, I told him I'd probably be in Nashville. He responded by saying he had decided to close the Christmas Day practice to the media, in large part so the media could go home and spend the holiday with their families.
Best of Brooks era
Most important players (Not necessarily the best overall players, but the most pivotal players in UK's turnaround under Brooks):
1. Wesley Woodyard: Woodyard has to top this list for a lot of reasons. He gave the program a much-needed defensive identity. He was the most respected locker room presence of the Brooks era. He reopened the LaGrange pipeline. And most importantly, he could play.
2. Andre Woodson: Woodson became Brooks' most high-profile player at UK and brought the program good publicity by appearing on the Heisman radar briefly during his senior year in 2007.
3. Keenan Burton: Burton's personality and knack for the big play made him one of the most identifiable players of the Brooks era.
4. Trevard Lindley: Nobody made more game-changing plays during Brooks' tenure.
5. Rafael Little: The first big out-of-state recruit and the most versatile offensive threat Brooks coached at UK.
1. Jeremy Jarmon: Thoughtful, smart, funny and not afraid to speak his mind, Jarmon was also cool and accommodating when he saw the media out in public.
2. Dicky Lyons Jr.: The most entertaining player of the Brooks era by far.
3. Corey Peters: Always introspective and candid, Peters was the media's go-to-guy in 2009 and a welcomed regular at the Monday news conferences.
4. Jacob Tamme: Interviewing Tamme always made you think, "This guy could have a career in TV, as a coach, or in politics."
5. Ricky Lumpkin: Has many of the same qualities as Jarmon. The likely media go-to-guy in 2010.
Note: It was hard to leave Jared Lorenzen and Derek Abney off this list, but they were only around for Brooks' first year in 2003.
Most memorable games
1. Kentucky 43, LSU 37 (3OT), 2007
2. Tennessee 52, Kentucky 50 (4 OT), 2007
3. Kentucky 40, Louisville 34, 2007
4. Arkansas 71, Kentucky 63 (7OT), 2003
5. Kentucky 24, Georgia 20, 2006
Most memorable plays
1. Steve Johnson's late game-winning touchdown catch vs. Louisville, 2007
2. Braxton Kelley's fourth-down stop against LSU, 2007
3. Taylor Wyndham's hit on Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, 2009
4. Dicky Lyons Jr.'s one-handed touchdown catch vs. Mississippi State, 2006
5 (tie). Myron Pryor's fumble return touchdown vs. Louisville, 2008, and Ventrell Jenkins' fumble-return touchdown vs. East Carolina in 2009 Liberty Bowl.