UK Football

Hard part comes after QB decision

John Clay
John Clay

You might think the Kentucky coaching staff is tackling the hard part now, eyeballing the film, putting their heads together, gazing into the crystal ball to pick a starting quarterback.

In some ways, that's the easy part.

As LeBron might tell you, dealing with the aftermath of "The Decision" is the harder of the two.

"Because whoever wins it, there's going to be people who think the other guy should have got it," said Randy Sanders, Kentucky's quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. "That's whether it's on the team, whether it's in the media, whether it's the fans or whatever."

That's a given.

If Sanders and head coach Joker Phillips choose Mike Hartline to take the first snap Sept. 4, critics will insist Morgan Newton, 5-3 as a 2009 starter, deserved the nod.

If Newton is named the starter, the opposition will argue Hartline's experience and senior status should have won out.

Then there will be those who argue redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski actually tops the trio.

Sanders and Phillips care not nearly so much about the critics as they do the candidates, and how each will react to their ruling. Even the winner.

"I've seen guys fall into that pitfall," Sanders said. "They're named the starter and suddenly they try to act a little different, carry themselves a little different. It's not that they get cocky, or egotistical. It's not that, but they start trying to prove that they're supposed to be the guy."

"You want him to act different as far as being the leader, you do want that," said Phillips after Saturday morning's scrimmage, "but you don't want a guy to get comfortable in that position."

"When you win the job," Sanders said, "you've got to be tougher-minded really to stick to what you're doing and stay in the discipline of the offense (more than) if you don't win the job."

Oh yeah, the guy who doesn't win the job.

"You got the second guy," Phillips said. "He's got to continue to work and learn and do all the things he needs to lead this team, too. Because the most popular guy will not be the starter. It'll be the backup guy."

Age-old truism: The most popular person on the team is always the backup quarterback — until that person becomes the starting quarterback.

Popularity aside, there's little doubt that the quarterback who doesn't get the first-string call will be one disappointed second-stringer. Both Hartline and Newton have been starting quarterback. Both have won SEC games. Both have helped teams to bowl appearances.

"I've been faced with both situations," Sanders said. "A guy loses the job, and he shuts it down a little bit. I've also had it where a guy wins the job and he starts trying to win everybody over, trying to prove it."

So what can you draw up on the chalkboard to take care of that? You can't.

"A big part of coaching, period, is being a psychologist," Sanders said. "It doesn't matter what position, or whether you have the starter or not, a big part of coaching is being a psychologist. That's never more true than when you're in a situation like we're in right now."

"That's the business that we're in now," Phillips said. "We're not in the coaching business."

So are the three in contention mature enough to accept the decision when it comes?

"I hope so," Phillips said. "It's hard to say for sure, because they are young. The thing they have to be is loyal to this football team. And loyalty to this football team means being loyal to the guy who wins the job."

Same for the entire team.

"Hopefully," Sanders said, "they'll buy into whoever we feel is the best."

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