UK Football

Florida's Will Muschamp glad Joker Phillips is on his side

Former UK football coach Joker Phillips
Former UK football coach Joker Phillips

HOOVER, Ala. — It's been exactly a year since Joker Phillips wore his Kentucky blue tie up at the big podium at Southeastern Conference Media Days.

A lot has happened for Phillips in the last year, including losing the head coaching job at his alma mater, but he seems to have found a comfortable place to land at Florida.

On the first day of SEC Media Days, Gators Coach Will Muschamp and his players had kind things to say about their new wide receivers coach.

"Really pleased with the addition of Joker Phillips, our wide receivers coach — a guy that played the position — coached the position," Muschamp told a crammed ballroom of media at the Wynfrey Hotel on Tuesday. "He's been an offensive coordinator and a head coach, which I welcome in the room."

The Florida coach said having a guy like Phillips, who has been there and done that, has been refreshing.

"That's something that I think gives you great ideas and benefit from a guy that has sat in the chair before," Muschamp said. "Certainly when I was defensive coordinator (I liked) having guys in the room that have called it before and they see the big picture."

The wide receivers were an often-maligned, underachieving unit last season for Florida and Muschamp said the group needs to get more consistent this season.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel said he's seen changes in his wide receivers since Phillips took over.

"He's brought in a different mindset," Driskel said. "He was a head coach so he's definitely got a good track record. He brings in a known leadership. They really respect him and they've really responded to him. He was a huge hire for our staff."

Florida players said Phillips has openly challenged the receivers and they're responding.

"It's a real good addition," offensive lineman Jon Halapio said. "Seeing the intensity and aggressiveness of the wide receivers is an eye opener for me. His thing is if you can catch the ball, you can block, too. And they've done a good job of that."

Phillips and his wide receivers will be at Commonwealth Stadium on Sept. 28.

A pseudo depth chart

The new Kentucky coaches didn't put out a depth chart before the start of spring, wanting to give players a chance to show what they could do. No official depth chart developed after the Blue-White Spring game, either.

On Tuesday, the newly released UK media guide offered at least a glimpse into what the staff is thinking after the spring. Obviously, it could change dramatically when the freshmen get in the mix.

Here are some notable highlights:

■ Ronnie Shields, a former tight end, is now listed as the No. 2 receiver behind Daryl Collins. It shows the true lack of depth at a key position in Neal Brown's offense.

■ Jonathan George, who was starting running back at the end of last season, is listed as third-string back on the chart, behind Raymond Sanders and Dyshawn Mobley.

■ The media guide taunts with all three quarterback candidates being listed as "OR." So your starter is Max Smith OR Patrick Towles OR Jalen Whitlow. The chart numbers also say Whitlow has put on 18 pounds and Towles has dropped 17 pounds since the end of last season.

■ Kevin Mitchell, who started all 12 games at right tackle last season, moves to right guard.

■ Recently dismissed LB Pancho Thomas was listed as the third-string middle linebacker behind Avery Williamson and Tyler Brause.

U of L, Miami start times

Start thinking of the Air Raid sirens as the new Kentucky alarm clock. The SEC released television times for the first two UK home games and both will have the early noon kickoffs.

The Sept. 7 home opener against Miami (Ohio) will be played at noon on FSN. The Louisville game the next Saturday also will be played at noon and shown on ESPN.

As previously reported, the Cats' Thursday night game against Mississippi State will be played at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 24 and will be shown on ESPN.

Slive's vision

Media Days isn't Media Days without random cerebral references in Commissioner Mike Slive's pre-event speech and he didn't disappoint this season, mentioning Ben Franklin, James Baldwin, a Gordian knot and Johann Gutenberg's printing press among others.

He did sprinkle in a little bit of news as well, including a closer look at the upcoming SEC Network.

In addition to the football tripleheader on the network each week, Slive said the network will put together a two-hour on-site pregame show. The show will run every Saturday from a different SEC campus.

"In addition to in-depth game analysis and commentary about all of our games, we will focus on traditions, rituals and spirit that distinguishes the SEC and each of its member institutions," said Slive, who added that ESPN is concluding its technical site surveys on each campus this week.

"We are committed to bring the full color and passion of SEC football and SEC sport to the entire nation."

Visor buddies

Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze admitted that he started wearing a visor as a high school football coach because he wanted to be like his hero South Carolina's Steve Spurrier.

"When I was a high school coach, I wanted to be like Steve Spurrier," Freeze said. "That's the truth. Ever since then, Steve and I have become really good friends. He liked that story. He calls me his visor guy."

This was news to the crowd of media, who recalled Spurrier's shot at the then 2-10 Rebels at last year's Media Days.

"You think I make the schedule? If I made the schedule Georgia would be playing LSU and we'd be playing Ole Miss," he said last year at this event.

Newcomer Freeze bristled at the time. "We do play them in 2013. I'll circle that one and hopefully change his perspective of Ole Miss football."

The two have become friends since that exchange, apparently. Spurrier said Freeze has done a great job at Ole Miss, leading the Rebels to a 7-6 turnaround in 2012.

"We both play golf; we both wear visors; we both call plays," Spurrier said of Freeze. "How can you not like a guy like Hugh Freeze?"

A good mess?

The Ole Miss coach offered a glimpse of the growing pains UK is sure to have over the next year as construction and renovation take over the Cats' on-campus football facilities.

"We're undergoing an inconvenience at our place right now, but it's a good inconvenience," Freeze said. "We're involved in a $12 million upgrade of our indoor facility, locker rooms, team rooms, dining rooms, weight room, the whole deal. ... It's a mess around the place right now, but it's certainly something we're going to be extremely proud of."

Nothing sweet from Sugar

The sting of a 33-23 loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl in January clearly has left a bitter taste in Florida's mouth.

"It was embarrassing," said Driskel, the quarterback. "They tore us up. Louisville played a great game. ... We didn't take them lightly. They just beat us."

Muschamp took the blame on Tuesday.

"We got away from our formula," the coach said. "Our formula is playing good defense. We struggled on third down mightily. We got away from what we should have been on offense.

"I felt like we lost our composure a little bit in the second half. That was disappointing as well. We hadn't done that all season. We'd been behind eight times and came from behind. That was disappointing."

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