Back in January when Joker Phillips became the head coach of the offense with Randy Sanders taking over the title of offensive coordinator, many wondered how it would affect the day-to-day operations of Kentucky football.
On game days, the effect will be minimal. Like they have in years past, Phillips will call plays from the press box with Sanders signaling them in from the field.
The move was made more in looking toward the future of the program. Phillips will take over as head coach whenever Coach Rich Brooks decides to retire. And Phillips has made it clear he wants Sanders, who's name has popped up with head coaching opportunities the past two off-seasons, to remain as his offensive coordinator.
"The title change didn't really mean anything," Phillips said. "It was a way to secure Randy. He and I have a great working relationship. He's a really true good friend of mine, and he's a good football coach. I really want to keep him around here. If he leaves here, he'll be leaving here with me wrapped around his leg."
After being a fall guy for Phil Fulmer at Tennessee, Sanders rebuilt his reputation at UK by transforming the career of Andre Woodson. He received a raise out of the promotion/title change but said that wasn't the most important element.
"From a personal and professional standpoint, it meant a lot that Rich and Joker were willing to give me that title," Sanders said. "That gave me a little affirmation that they've appreciated what I've been able to do so far. That appreciation means more to me than a title, money or anything else."
Brooks' path to turning the UK program around was aided by the fact that he's been able to retain his top assistants, with Phillips and Sanders' names at the top of the list. With Phillips and Sanders seemingly in it for the long haul, Brooks can breathe easier when he retires and turns the program over to Phillips.
When Brooks left Oregon following the Rose Bowl in 1994, top assistant Mike Bellotti took over and retained a good portion of Brooks' staff. The Ducks continued their ascent and are now looked at as a top 20 national program.
"I just think it's a good situation for transition, when transition takes place, that we have as many of the components that have made this run in Kentucky football possible still here so that the pieces are in place," Brooks said. "If I didn't have good coaches I wouldn't have been able to get it done. The idea is to keep some good things going and make sure that everybody continues to upgrade and try to climb higher than where we are because we're not happy where we are."
Brooks said that Sanders has taken a more active role in the practice when it comes to preparation and game planning. And while Phillips continues to call the plays, it will occasionally be a joint effort.
"Joker and I have worked together the past few years in the game plan," Sanders said. "There's still got to be one guy calling plays, but that doesn't mean that if you see something you don't make suggestions."
And Brooks has the autonomy to make the final call if he sees fit.
"The head coach of the offense outranks the offensive coordinator," Sanders said. "And the head coach outranks the head coach of the offense. If Rich sees something he wants, we're going to do that."
"Every now and then he'll say, 'Hey, we need to run the ball,' " Phillips said. "But that usually only happens about once a game."
Phillips said he never sits down while he's in the press box.
"I guess maybe because I'm too short," he said. "I need to see and use my hands, and the (UK press box) is not real high, so I started standing and now I do it in every press box."
Phillips said he usually scripts the first 10 plays of each game but rarely sticks with it.
"The script thing is a little overrated," Phillips said. "If you get to your third play and it's third-and-1 and you've got a deep ball called, you've got to get off of it. You script because you want to see how the defense plays against different formations. You try to get as many looks with different personnel and formations in those first 10 plays."
Sanders eventually would like to land a head coaching job but said that doesn't mean he's looking for the first ticket out of Lexington.
"Number one, I like it here," Sanders said. "I like working with our offensive staff. Rich has been great. The defensive staff has been great. Lexington is a great place to live, and I like the guys on the team, I like the fans, and I like the situation we're in. We're building something special and it's fun to be here right now. Plus wife likes it, my kids like it, so there's a lot of reasons to stay."
Brooks said that senior linebacker Micah Johnson (foot) made it through Thursday's practice and is "questionable to probable" for the Miami (Ohio) game. Senior fullback John Conner (ankle) is listed as questionable.
Seniors A.J. Nance and Maurice Grinter would fill in if Conner can't go. Grinter is the No. 3 tight end but has played some fullback during his career.
Burden to startat defensive end
Sophomore Chandler Burden will start at left defensive end ahead of redshirt freshman Collins Ukwu. The two had been bracketed together on the depth chart released this week.
Tickets still available
Tickets are available for the opener vs. Miami (Ohio) in Paul Brown Stadium. UK is sold out in lower- and club-level seats but has upper-deck seating available at a cost of $35 each. Fans interested in lower-level seating can contact the Miami ticket office at 1-866-MUHAWKS. (Ask for section 152 if you want to sit next to Kentucky fans.) Those tickets are $45 each. Tickets will be available on game day. All seats in Paul Brown Stadium are chairbacks.
Cat Walk on for Saturday
A rearrangement of arrival logistics at Paul Brown Stadium will enable the fans and team to have the "Cat Walk" on Saturday morning. Fans wishing to cheer the Wildcats upon their arrival should line up along Central Avenue on the west side of the stadium by 9:45 a.m. The team will unload at the bus cutouts on the avenue.
Due to expected congestion around Paul Brown Stadium, fans are advised to arrive early on Saturday. Parking lots open Saturday at 8 a.m. and stadium gates open at 10 a.m.