UK Football

Phillips continues reshaping coaching staff

Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said he wants his players talking about winning the East division.
Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said he wants his players talking about winning the East division.

University of Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips said at his Monday news conference he learned in his first year on the job about the tough decisions head coaches have to make.

It hasn't taken Phillips long to act on those decisions.

UK spokesman Tony Neely confirmed Tuesday that Phillips has made changes to his coaching staff. Running backs coach Larry Brinson and safeties coach Chris Thurmond have been let go. Also, Phillips will hire a new defensive assistant who will serve as co-coordinator with Steve Brown.

Brown was a member of Rich Brooks' original UK staff in 2003, and he was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2007. The defense made significant improvement in Brown's first three years, going from 118th nationally in total defense to 53rd and sending several players to the NFL. But the defense regressed in 2010, largely because of personnel losses. The Wildcats are a respectable 49th among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense but rank 79th against the run and 104th in turnovers forced. Official hirings won't be announced for at least a week, as job openings must be posted on the UK Web site for seven days.

Several coaches with ties to Phillips could be candidates for the openings, including:

■ Rick Minter: Phillips was an assistant under Minter at the University of Cincinnati in 1997 and '98. Minter has served as a defensive coordinator at Notre Dame and South Carolina and is currently the linebackers coach at Indiana State.

■ David Lockwood: Phillips and Lockwood coached at Minnesota together and remain close. Phillips was instrumental in bringing Lockwood to UK as a defensive backs coach in 2007. Lockwood left after one year to coach defensive backs at his alma mater, West Virginia.

■ Steve Pardue: Pardue recently resigned after a successful run at LaGrange (Ga.) High School. Pardue is a Kentucky native and is also close to Phillips and has sent several of his players to Lexington, including linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Braxton Kelley.

■ Wesley McGriff: McGriff was an assistant under Guy Morriss at UK in 2001 and 2002, where he was popular with the players and regarded as an excellent recruiter. McGriff was an assistant on the staff of recently fired Miami head coach Randy Shannon.

The departures of Brinson and Thurmond mean only three assistants remain from the staff Phillips inherited from Rich Brooks when Brooks retired after last season — Brown, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders, and linebackers coach/recruiting coordinator Chuck Smith.

Previously replaced were offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins, special teams coordinator Steve Ortmayer and defensive line coach Rick Petri.

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