HOOVER, Ala. — There was almost an audible gasp from the football writers as Coach Joker Phillips said the words: "We want to hitch our wagon to our basketball program."
A reporter at the annual Southeastern Conference Media Day had just asked if it bothered Phillips to play second fiddle to Kentucky basketball, especially in a year when it was coming off a national championship.
"I'm selling our basketball program," the Kentucky coach replied. "I would be crazy to try to fight that."
Phillips, a UK graduate and Kentucky native, assured that the Final Four run and shiny new trophy was the opposite of bothersome.
"It was unbelievable advertising of our logo," Phillips said. "Every time our basketball team went to the next round, playing in the Final Four. How many times did kids see the UK interlocking brand out there? I think that's huge."
As it appeared the next question was ready to be asked and the subject was over, Phillips kept talking. He wanted to make it clear that his relationship with Coach John Calipari was sound.
"A couple weeks ago I had a kid on campus, a dual– sport athlete on our campus," Phillips related. "Coach Cal, he's coaching the Dominican Republican team in Puerto Rico. Five minutes before he goes out on the court, Coach Cal calls me on speaker phone to talk to a recruit. How many coaches would do that five minutes before they're going out on the court?"
Calipari also let Phillips bring in some recruits before Kentucky played North Carolina this season in a battle of the top two teams in the nation.
"He and I have a great working relationship," Phillips said. "Again, everything there is to sell about Kentucky, we're selling to our football recruits. Our basketball program is one of those selling points."
The questions were inevitable for Phillips on his day to speak at SEC Media Days. Reporters wanted to know how he was handling being on several national "hot seat" lists for coaches whose jobs may be in jeopardy if they don't turn their seasons around.
Phillips, standing at a podium in front of the main media group, was fully prepared to answer.
"I'm not sitting down right now, so there's nothing hot," he said with a wry smile, before answering as best he could.
"I don't have time to listen to that stuff," he said. "All we have time to think about is doing all the productive things in our program that we need to get it back to the level that we want to. I don't have time to think about those things."
The UK seniors at the event had a similar answer when asked about the distraction of having a coach on the proverbial hot seat (whether he's actually sitting at the time or not).
"If you pay attention to that stuff, it's easy to get caught up in," senior center Matt Smith said. "But when it comes around to football season, I try to stay away from it as much as I can. I don't want things getting in my head that shouldn't be there, thinking about things that I don't need to be focusing on."
Jarmon added to staff
Former NFL defensive end Jeremy Jarmon has been added to the Kentucky staff as assistant director of player personnel, Phillips told the media on Wednesday morning. He replaces Tommy Cook, who left to take a position at Kent State less than a month ago.
"It's really huge to have a guy like Jeremy around, who's been a part of our program and understands how we do things and also he's just a couple months removed from being an NFL player," he said. "It's huge as far as developing young players in our program."
Jarmon has more than just NFL experience to pass on. His early exit from UK also could serve as a cautionary tale for current players. He had to forgo his senior season after testing positive for a banned substance.
While at UK, Jarmon played in 38 games with 31 starts. As a junior, he had 38 tackles, including 10 for loss as well as 4.5 sacks and six pass breakups.
Before he had to forgo his final year of eligibility, Jarmon was on pace to break UK's career sacks record. His 17.5 quarterback sacks is still third in school history.