UK Football

UK football notebook: Joker Phillips had a lot to learn in first year

Coach Joker Phillips said he will tweak practices to allow the freshmen to observe and learn from the veterans.
Coach Joker Phillips said he will tweak practices to allow the freshmen to observe and learn from the veterans.

Even when you think you're more than prepared, starting a new job always comes with a few surprises.

Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips admitted as much when he had a brief interview session with the media this week.

The learning curve is often steep even when you're in your late 40s and fully entrenched in a program.

Before he took over the head coaching job at UK, Phillips recounted a conversation he had with friend and Houston Coach Kevin Sumlin.

Phillips cornered Sumlin at a coaches' clinic and asked him about his first month on the job as head coach.

The UK coach remembers his friend's response well.

"He said, 'Nothing really prepares you for it,' " Phillips recalled. "Everybody says if you're a coordinator, it prepares you to be a head coach, but that's not true. There's so many little things that you have to take care of."

Phillips gets it now.

He tried to use numbers to put it in perspective.

As offensive coordinator, he went from managing three other position coaches and about 50 players to managing 10 coaches, four graduate assistants as well as countless office and support staff.

"There's nothing that really prepares you for all of the things that come up during the season," Phillips said.

He hopes some of his growing pains are over and that he will be a better coach because of them this season.

The top thing he learned?

"How to say no to folks," he said.

Now, he feels more comfortable delegating tasks to assistant coaches.

Some of the other things he's learned are less tangible. For instance, there will be some subtle changes at camp this summer.

This year, instead of dividing up the team at practice — first and third teams together and second and fourth teams together — Phillips will put everyone together for a longer period of time to let the "freshmen see the upperclassmen getting the reps and see them succeed at the reps," he said.

That will be vital this season with so many inexperienced players expected to play big roles, the coach said.

The freshmen also will stay longer after practice while the veterans do their conditioning. Then some of the older players will be invited to return to the field and help coach some of the younger players.

"A lot of kids are visual and it will help them watch the veterans practice early," Phillips explained.

It's a plan that makes sense to players like quarterback Morgan Newton, who said last week that many of the head coach's plans are becoming a natural evolution for the program during the summer.

"The young guys are interested in learning from the older guys," the junior explained. "And the older guys are definitely trying to be better role models."

Making a run for it

Joker Phillips expressed concerns over the lack of true stars returning at the offensive skill positions. He knows there's youth and inexperience at wide receiver and also at running back.

But in a recent interview, Phillips seemed less concerned with the latter. A veteran offensive line returning four starters makes the head coach stress less about the running game.

"All our guys have got to do is run to daylight," Phillips explained. "I feel comfortable that there are enough quality backs that are upperclassmen. ... The young freshman backs (he mentioned Marcus Caffey and Josh Clemons by name) have created some buzz also."

Cobble update

Between academic difficulties and injuries, defensive tackle Mister Cobble has had a rough time getting on the field for Kentucky.

Coach Joker Phillips believes those struggles will be a thing of the past for Cobble, a Louisville native who played for Central.

"He's doing well academically and he'll be fine there," Phillips said. "We think that Mister Cobble will be a good player here for a long time."

It's a bling thing

Work began this week to remove the two old scoreboards in either end zone of Commonwealth Stadium. UK officials expect the new scoreboards — which will include a digital ribbon board and a new sound system — to be in place before the first home game of the season on Sept. 10.

Each of the new LED video boards will be 37 feet high by 80 feet wide. The total square footage of 2,960 will make them the 15th largest scoreboard display in the country, according to UK.

The additions, which are estimated by UK athletics to cost close to $6 million, are just another way to keep up with the Joneses, Coach Joker Phillips said.

"It's what's selling nowadays," Phillips said. "Uniforms are selling, video boards. You've got to be creative at the stadium. You try to create an atmosphere. It goes along with trying to attract recruits and have fans get (more) involved."

Field updates

In the past few weeks, several portions of the Commonwealth Stadium field sod have been replaced as part of routine maintenance, UK spokesman Tony Neely said.

The weather this off-season has been especially difficult on Bermuda grass all around the state, necessitating the new parts of the field.

On the road again

Coach Joker Phillips will try to get portions of the state "Gameday Ready" this week as a part of his annual tour. He will be in Pikeville on Sunday with registration starting at 1 p.m. at the Bob Amos Track.

The events are open to students from age 7 to those entering their eighth-grade year, and they will teach skills such as agility, passing, kicking, the 40-yard dash and vertical jump.

On Tuesday, Phillips will be in Covington at Randolph Park for a similar event starting at 4:30 p.m.

The UK coach also will be in Birmingham on Thursday as a part of the annual Southeastern Conference Media Days. Also representing UK will be quarterback Morgan Newton, linebacker Danny Trevathan and offensive guard Stuart Hines.

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