UK Football

Kentucky football's Phillips, players focused on next game, not coach's future

Kentucky Wildcats running back Jonathan George (25) scored  a touchdown in the 3rd quarter as Western Kentucky University defeated Kentucky 32-31   on Saturday September 15, 2012 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats running back Jonathan George (25) scored a touchdown in the 3rd quarter as Western Kentucky University defeated Kentucky 32-31 on Saturday September 15, 2012 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Kentucky starts Southeastern Conference play this week at Florida, but its coach answered almost as many questions about his future as he did about his future opponent.

Joker Phillips said he's too busy to worry about his future as the coach at Kentucky, but acknowledged that his players will hear the whispers much more often than he will.

"I told our staff yesterday the players will hear it," he told the media on Monday. "We won't hear it. We'll be buried in the office. We sense it, but we don't get a chance to hear it because we're buried in there trying to get ready for the next opponent."

UK's players acknowledged that there is lots of outside noise.

"You've still got class and stuff to go to and people know who you are, so you just have to tune it out the best you can," junior linebacker Avery Williamson said. "Your friends and stuff talk. You just got to take it and just walk away from it."

The players hear the talk, but they don't talk about it amongst themselves, running back Jonathan George said.

"We don't discuss that," said George, who had three touchdowns in UK's 32-31 overtime loss to Western Kentucky on Saturday. "He's our head coach and we love him. We depend on him to coach us to win."

Senior defensive end Collins Ukwu concurred.

"It's something that we as a team don't think about," Ukwu said. "The only thing Coach Phillips tells us is we're all we got, basically. ... We're all we got, so we basically just play for each other. We're our biggest fans right now."

Ukwu denied that there's extra pressure on the players to try to save their coaches' jobs.

"We more rally around each other, especially the senior class," he said. "This is our last time, regardless if he's going to be here or gone.

"This is our last time: me, Taylor Wyndham, Martavius Neloms, Mikie Benton, Cartier Rice. This is our last go-round, so we try to bring guys together and just tell the young guys to stay committed. Adversity is going to set in, so we've got to keep pushing, keep trying to get better."

Phillips and his staff's jobs are to be the loudest, most consistent noise their players hear, the coach said.

"This is a time they need us the most as coaches," he said. "We'll be there for them."

When asked why he deserved more time to get UK's season turned around, Phillips pointed to the team's youth, noting the Cats have 72 freshmen and sophomores this season. Twenty true or red-shirt freshmen already have played this season and they will grow into a solid team if given time, he argued.

One reporter asked if a win at No. 14 Florida (a current 241/2-point favorite) would fix what ails the coach and his 1-2 Cats.

"I don't know if it turns everything around just like that, but it definitely helps with momentum," Phillips said. "We're getting ready to go into a tough SEC grind, so it would definitely help in gaining momentum. I don't think there's anything that's a quick fix."

Ticket sales down 20.5 percent

The final season-ticket count for Kentucky football at the start of the season was 38,554.

That number, released to the Herald-Leader via an open records request, represents a 20.5 percent decline in season ticket sales from last season and a 31.7 percent decrease from 2009, the height of football season ticket sales this decade.

The 38,554, the sales total on the date of Kentucky's home opener on Sept. 8, is 9,851 fewer than last season and 17,886 fewer than the number of tickets sold in 2009.

■ In UK's season opener, the announced attendance was 48,346, the smallest crowd for a season opener at Commonwealth Stadium since 1988, when only 41,736 showed up for the Cats' win over Central Michigan.

The announced crowd for the Western Kentucky game was 53,980. Commonwealth Stadium's capacity is listed as 67,942. Not since the stadium expanded in 1999 have smaller crowds attended the first two games.

■ The new mini-plan option introduced by Kentucky this season to help boost ticket sales yielded 658 total sales, but those numbers do not figure into final season ticket sales numbers.

Bullet points

■ Injury report: Safety Cartier Rice (thigh bruise), running back CoShik Williams (hip strain) and offensive lineman Darrian Miller (ankle) are listed as day to day. ... Linebacker/safety Josh Forrest (thigh bruise) is doubtful and tight end Gabe Correll (hip flexor) will not play against Florida.

■ Next game: Kentucky vs. South Carolina on Sept. 29 will start at 7 p.m. on ESPN or ESPN2.

■ Depth chart adjustments: Freshman Thomas Chapman was added to third string spot at defensive tackle behind Donte Rumph and Mike Douglas. ... Demarcus Sweat is listed as an "or" with Aaron Boyd at wide receiver. Also, Daryl Collins is now listed ahead of Gene McCaskill.