UK Football

Nord returned to UK 'to be the best'

Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips officially named Greg Nord to his staff this week, but the seeds were sewn nearly three decades ago when Nord was the running backs coach at UK and Phillips was a graduate assistant under Jerry Claiborne.

Nord recalled those days Wednesday, talking about how he and Phillips traveled together on recruiting trips.

"I tried to show him how to recruit, show him the ropes," he said. "He couldn't go in with me, but I talked to him between schools. He'd sit in the car and wait for me. From that time on, we both realized that we had great dreams, for the University of Kentucky and ourselves."

Phillips and Nord, who played at UK from 1974-78, went their separate ways but stayed in contact over the years. Both coaches tried numerous times to reunite, but those plans didn't start coming to fruition until Phillips was named Rich Brooks' successor.

"This was something that we both saw as a real possibility at times in our career," Nord said. "There's been several opportunities through both of our careers where we both tried to get each other on different staffs. I've tried to get head coaches I had worked for to hire Joker, because I knew what he brought to the table."

Nord spent 15 years at Louisville before leaving to take a job at Illinois. When Nord got the call from Phillips about coaching special teams and tight ends at UK, Nord decided to pack his bags and come home after just one year in Champaign. He replaces Steve Ortmayer.

"The timing maybe wasn't what any of us would have liked, but the decision wasn't hard at all," Nord said. "This is a destination job. That's what made it attractive for Joker and myself. This is our school. This is where we want to win championships."

Nord has never officially coached special teams but said he has extensive experience in that aspect. He was in charge of the punt team and ran special teams meetings during his year at Illinois.

"With the help that I'm going to have coaching and the support from Coach Phillips and good players, we'll put together a good product on special teams," Nord said.

Nord said he believes in fielding an aggressive special teams unit. Kentucky returns two of the nation's top return men in Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb, and also brings back its starting punter, Ryan Tydlacka. Tydlacka's older brother, Wade, was a punter at Louisville while Nord was an assistant there.

The most pressing issues Nord will face are finding a place-kicker and addressing blocked kicks, which have been a problem for the Wildcats in recent years.

"The one thing you have to do on special teams is attack," Nord said. "You've got to be sound fundamentally but you've got to stay on the attack. If you start sitting on your heels, you'll open yourself up for failure."

Nord's first game on the Wildcats sidelines will be against his former employer, U of L, in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Sept. 4.

"As you walk into the stadium there'll be some obvious emotions that show up," Nord said. "But once you get between the lines, whether it's your brother, your sister or your mom that you're lined up against, you've got to compete to win."

Nord was a part of perhaps the most successful run in Louisville football history, which culminated in a 2007 Orange Bowl win. He's hoping to help Kentucky football reach its apex as well.

"If I did not think that was the goal of Mr. (UK Athletics Director Mitch) Barnhart, Coach Phillips and the whole community, I wouldn't have wanted to come back," Nord said. "I'm not coming back here at my school to be mediocre. I'm coming back for my school to be the best there is."