The term "game manager" can be taken in different ways, depending on how it's used and who it's coming from.
Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders prefer to look at it as a positive.
Phillips objected earlier this week to a reporter's assessment that "game manager" is a dirty word.
"It's not dirty to me," Phillips said. "We manage to win this game, it will be the cleanest thing I've ever seen."
"Managing the game is probably the most important thing that a quarterback does at any level, whether it's high school, college or the NFL," Sanders said. "It means you are communicating the game correctly, getting the other guys on the right page, you are managing the 24-second clock, down and distance, field position, and making the plays you need to make."
Then again, we've never heard Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Brett Favre referred to as a game manager. The term can be looked at as a friendly way of saying a quarterback might not have the talent or physical skills to carry the offense, but has enough experience and guile to get by and not screw things up.
Enter Mike Hartline. The term "game manager" has often been associated with UK's senior quarterback, who is 8-6 in 14 career starts. He doesn't have a cannon for an arm or run a sparkling time in the 40-yard dash.
"Sometimes it does have a negative connotation, or some people take it as a negative, but that's absolutely the most important thing a guy's got to do," Sanders said. "If he can't do that, he has no chance."
Even Hartline admits it's one of the more intricate terms in football.
"It can be difficult to explain," he said. "To me it's putting your offense in position to win. If you want to break it down even more, it's putting your offense in position to get first downs, keep the chains on the field and score touchdowns and field goals. Game managing is just about being a positive motivator out there, managing the environment and your emotions out there. It goes a long way toward being a steady quarterback."
All that's good and fine, but Phillips, Sanders and Hart line all know that they're going to need more than game management for the offense to make waves this year. However, both coaches point out that Hartline has proven that he can do more than manage. There were the two late touchdown passes in a comeback win over Arkansas in 2008, and an Offensive MVP trophy from the Liberty Bowl later that same season. And the last time Hartline was fully healthy, he was in the midst of his best game as a Wildcat at South Carolina before going down with a knee injury.
"We've won with the quarterback position, too," Phillips said. "The quarterback position is similar to a pitcher. You don't manage the game at that position. You've got to go out and win games, make people hit the ball on the ground or in the air, also strike people out. Mike does those things that you need to do at that position."
Sanders added that it's a gradual process taking a quarterback from game manager to game changer, and he remembered Andre Woodson going through the same thing.
"When I first got here, we didn't ask Andre to do a whole lot because we had guys making plays around him," Sanders recalled. "Later in his career, we asked him to do more things and he was able to respond. Part of the position of a coach is not to put a guy in situations he's not ready to handle. If he makes the plays he's supposed to make, let's you get a chance to win. As he matures and he can handle more, you ask him to do more."
Hartline said that he won't look to go outside of the offense or try to do too much, but he also admitted that he's ready to do more than manage.
"You need to take risks, whether it's the coaches' call, whether it's making plays on your own," Hartline said. "You need to throw the ball downfield, you need to call some trick plays, you need to do something. It's not all on the quarterback. It's on the offensive coordinator and everybody else."
Phillips said he expects the U of L defense to load the box and concentrate on Derrick Locke and the UK ground game, which should open up some opportunities to go downfield.
"I would expect every team to load up on us, especially with our lack of throwing last year and our ability to run the ball," Phillips said. "We've got to prove to teams that we can throw the ball. I think we will."
Hartline said last year's South Carolina game gives him confidence going into the U of L opener, and he's hoping to pick up where he left off.
"Everything seemed to be in slow motion," Hartline said about the South Carolina game. "I was in a zone that was so comfortable, it almost seemed surreal. If you prepare that way, you have the confidence. You understand where you can be at. You see that if you do the right things, how much better you can make yourself and your teammates."