LOUISVILLE — Joker Phillips hasn't had much time to catch his breath since officially taking over as the Kentucky football coach.
Not long after his introductory news conference, he hit the road to put the finishing touches on his first official recruiting class. Then he started working the phones and hosting camps to get going on his 2011 class, which already has 14 commitments.
Now Phillips is traveling across the state as part of his GAM3DAY READY tour, which made its fourth stop at Louisville's Shawnee Park on Tuesday.
The tour was geared toward children from 7 years of age up to the eighth grade and provided football activities, games and UK items. The tour made previous stops in Hyden, Central City and Danville.
Phillips came up with the tour as part of his 'Operation Win' theme.
"The concept is to try to bring awareness to kids about getting out and getting to the parks and playing, eating right, and also doing the things they need to do in the classroom," he said. "It's been fun seeing how appreciative the people are in the different cities we've been in and how warm they've been to us."
And Phillips also knows that public appearances such as these help get his name and the UK brand out there.
"There's a lot of people who still don't know that Joker Phillips is the head coach," he said.
Phillips is no stranger to Louisville. He's recruited several players to UK from the Derby City since returning to Lexington in 2003, including current NFL players Myron Pryor, Corey Peters and Alfonso Smith. And while the season-opener against Charlie Strong and Louisville isn't until Sept. 4, it's already a hot topic wherever Phillips goes. With Phillips and Strong both in their first year on the job, Phillips didn't try to downplay the significance of this year's game.
"This is a huge game, no question about it," he said. "It's a huge game for us, it's a huge game for them. If you look at the history of this series, the team that wins has momentum, and the momentum is important going into conference play."
Phillips answered questions about a variety of issues, including former coach Rich Brooks' comments to the Eugene Register-Guard on Sunday. Brooks told the newspaper, "If Kentucky wants to maintain what we have started there, they're going to have to get into the 21st century. They have to make that commitment."
Facilities and assistant coaches' salaries were a major sticking point with Brooks when he was evaluating whether to retire or not. Plans for a multi-purpose recruiting room adjacent to Commonwealth Stadium have been drawn up, but the project has yet to get fully funded.
When asked if he thought UK was in the 21st century, Phillips said, "I think we're in the 21st century with hiring an African-American. That's a big feat we've done. I think we're doing the things we need to do, but there are some other things that we need to do. Facilities are one of those things."
But Phillips said for UK to get closer to the top of the football food chain it comes down to two things: continuing to recruit better players, and winning more games.
"I don't think kids come because of recruiting rooms," he said. "It will allow us to have on-campus events and give our lettermen a place to congregate on game day, but I don't think kids will come because of that. We have to continue to win games and put a good product on the field."
Phillips noted that 19 former Wildcats were currently on NFL rosters. And while sending players to the pros is a good selling point, Phillips said it's not what he wants to define his program. UK basketball coach John Calipari generated a lot of discussion last week with his comments regarding the overall significance of the NBA Draft in evaluating his program.
"That's definitely not (the measuring stick)," Phillips said. "That's not what we're about. The No. 1 thing is making sure our players have success in the classroom and doing the things they need to do in community, and also winning football games. And if you do those things, you'll have guys make it to the NFL. All of that helps recruiting and helps us sell. Before, all we could only sell was playing time."
Phillips and his staff have been doing a good job of selling thus far, as they have 14 commitments compared to just two at this time last year. Getting kids to commit is just half the battle now, as schools will continue to woo players until signing day. Phillips said the UK staff is prepared to fight to secure its commitments. Two of UK's current commits, East St. Louis teammates Glenn Faulkner and Clint Tucker, are already being chased by several high-profile programs.
"We've been good at evaluating; now we just have to make sure we hold on to those players," he said. "We're not afraid of who's offering these kids. We evaluate kids, then they develop as players and people start to nibble at them. But we're not afraid to be the first to offer."
Phillips said he'll finally get a little down time after the GAM3DAY READY tour is complete, then it'll be back to the grind with SEC Media Days coming at the end of July and first practice set for Aug. 5. "I want to recharge my battery," Phillips said. "But when Aug. 5 hits, I'll be ready to go."
■ Phillips said that senior tailback Derrick Locke will be ready to play in the U of L game after breaking his arm in a moped accident earlier this summer. But Phillips said he may limit the fall camp practice reps of Locke and junior receiver Randall Cobb. "We've got to get them to the game," he said. "They know what to do, and they're two of our better conditioned players. We've got to find out who these guys' backups are going to be."
■ A pair of names were left off separate lists that ran in Sunday's notebook. Former UK receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. is currently on the Denver Broncos' roster; recruit Malcolm McDuffen recently enrolled in summer school.