Joker Phillips in his own words

I don’t do this often, but Joker Phillips was so good today in his post firing news conference, I thought you’d want to read it all. So here is the transcript of his news conference in its entirety.

OPENING STATEMENT: First, I’d like to say that I came here in 1981 as a freshman from a little small town: Franklin, Ky. Every body knows. Was hoping to have a good career, hoping to be an asset to this place, and I feel like after 20-something-plus years that I have been, regardless of what other people might think. Never thought I’d have this time of success, and with memorable wins. We had some memorable losses. Been to eight bowl games out of 15 that the place has had. Been to bowl games as a player. As an assistant coach, I’ve had success. As a coordinator, many might think we didn’t have success. We only had the highest scoring offense here. We didn’t have a nickname for ours, so it might go unnoticed. All we did was have the highest total offense here, as far as scoring. I think that’s the most important thing. As a head coach, had a couple memorable moments.

The memories that I will remember the most will be those guys out there. We went about this thing a different way a couple years ago and tried to establish relationships. We were losing a lot of our classes, over 50-something percent of our classes, in four years. (Classes) were either not getting here or were not finishing here in four years. You can blame it on me. I get that. I was a part of it, no question about that, but I also wanted to be part of the solution, also. We decided to go about it a different way: build relationships. That’s what sales is. We feel like we’ve done that. Our recruiting weekends and the way we recruited were very personable. That’s why a lot of the parents, young players’ parents and the young players, because of the relationships we did build with him, are saddened by this. I’m not saying saddened by me. Saddened by those assistant coaches not being here. Not by me. That’s what makes you sad when you’re doing it the right way. When you do it the right way, sometimes it takes a little bit longer. I get what we saw Saturday. I get that, and that’s a huge part of it. This is a results-based business. You measure it by that, and we didn’t get the results quick enough.

At the beginning of the year the one thing I tried to stress with our staff is let’s show improvement and get to ’13 because I thought ’13 would be the year we have an opportunity to make a huge move. I thought we could show improvement this year. Then in the first three games, we showed improvements offensively. It’s hard not to notice that. I don’t care who you are, it’s hard not to notice that. We showed improvement on special teams. When we started showing improvements defensively, the injuries hit. You saw those. You saw those improvements also. We started making improvements, and the defensive injuries hit. Then the special teams injuries hit because so many of our players are on defense. When Max goes out, we go the other way offensively. Therefore, you don’t get a chance to continue what you had hoped to do.

And I get it. Again, I’m very grateful for all the opportunity that everybody around here has given me. Again, I say I came here as an 18-year-old kid. This place turned me into a man the first time. This time, all it did was strengthen me as a man. It gave me strength. It made me understand how important character is. My character got challenged a few times. It showed me how important integrity is, and my integrity got challenged a few times. It showed me how important loyalty is. With that, I’m very grateful and appreciative.

You guys, you guys have been unbelievable. You had to do a job. I get that. You guys have been fair, very fair. A lot of that I hope is because of the relationships we all had. I’ve never been one, and I have a hard time when I see coaches attack somebody that’s just trying to do their job. I’m not going to be that guy. I’m not going to be that. I’m not going to be a guy that doesn’t want the managers to talk to him. I’m not going to be that guy. One of the first things I did was talk to our players, and I talked to all the support people, I’m talking the little people. That’s what’s important to me.

Somebody told me one thing they wanted on their headstone is “Good person, good friend, OK ball coach.” That’s fine with me. That’s fine with me. That’s what I want to be: good husband, good son, good friend and if it says OK ball coach, that’s fine with me. I get that. With that I’ll open it up to you guys if you guys have got any questions, which I’m sure you do. I’m here.


HOW HARD WAS IT TO DECIDE TO COACH THESE LAST TWO GAMES? “It was hard because I don’t want to be the distraction. I don’t. I don’t. I’ve had my Senior Day, OK? Somebody was saying, ‘Let’s send him (trails off).’ I don’t want to be sent out. I don’t want an open casket. I don’t want to be somebody’s centerpiece. My grandmother-in-law, that’s one of the things she said and I get that. I get that now. I want it to be about those seniors. But many of those guys, I’d sat in their homes and told them — and this was one of my selling tools — ‘I want to watch you grow up.’ It’s a selling tool of mine. I don’t know how many coaches say that: ‘I want to watch you grow up.’ I heard that from them. That’s the reason why I’m back. I heard, ‘Hey, Coach, you said you want to help watch us grow up.’ And that’s the reason I’m doing this, the only reason.”

HOW TOUGH WAS IT WHEN BARNHART GAVE YOU THE NEWS? “It wasn’t. It wasn’t. It wasn’t. I promise you. When I walked out there in the stadium Saturday, that was enough for me. That was enough for me. I understand this. I understand it. We didn’t get the necessary results. I understand it. I’m very appreciative of Mitch. I’m not bitter by any means. I just appreciate the opportunity I had. I got a chance to grow up here. I got a chance to get even stronger by coming back.”

WOULD BEING A HEAD COACH SOMEWHERE ELSE FIRST HAVE HELPED YOU? “You lose the excitement of coming back. I understand that also. I got the job because we had success offensively. In 2007, you can say the Air Raid and all that thing. But our offense was as good as any in the country. As good as any, number wise, that we had here. I got the job because of that. So the excitement in ’07; in ‘08 we go down a little bit — it’s hard to keep it at that level, it really is — ’09 we go down a little bit. By the time I get it, the excitement has worn off. I understand that. There will be excitement when the next guy comes in and rightfully so. It might have been better to go away and come back, but that’s not how, that’s not how we done this thing. We accept that. The thing I would tell the Big Blue Nation is that I’m part of you. I’ll continue to buy my season tickets. I won’t buy as many, OK. I won’t buy as many. I’ll continue to buy my season ticket. We all have a hand if we want this thing to succeed; we all do. We all have a hand in making sure this thing succeeds. It’s not moaning and groaning when we don’t get the results. When this next guy doesn’t get the results as fast as we want them, stand behind these players, the coaches. Stand behind him. I’ll stay behind him. I’ll be rooting like heck for him because if you want to get the thing done — and from what I can see they want to get this thing done, the fans — they must get behind this team. Show up in droves. Do you know how hard it is to recruit when nobody’s in there. I’m talking about in 2006 there was nobody in there then. It was a hard sell to sell the 2006 class, the ’07 class to come here. ‘Coach, nobody’s coming. We’re 8-5, 8-5, but there’s no one coming until we got to the bowl game.’ The Georgia game, there was probably 50,000 people there. The next week. That’s not the way you build a program. Everybody’s involved in building a program, especially building a program here. They have to stay behind this team. They have to come out in droves to support this team. And you’re all (the media) a part of getting kids here also. We all are. I’m a part of it; I’m trying to sell kids to come here today. That’s what this is. It’s a message that ‘Hey, this can be a really good place, but it’s going to take everybody, everybody to be involved in this thing.’”

DO YOU EXPECT TO BE A HEAD COACH NEXT SEASON? “No. No. I’m going to take some time. I don’t have a clue what’s next. You probably don’t know what you’re doing next five minutes, right. I don’t have a clue about being a head coach or coaching period. I have no clue. The thing I think is best is to step back, step away, let all of the emotions die down and then figure things out.”

ON WHAT THE NEXT COACH NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT THIS JOB: “That’s not for me to (say). I’ve heard, actually read a story of one coach that had success elsewhere was telling what needs to happen. This is different than any job you’ve ever worked at; it is. And I’m not just saying this one is; all of them, they’re all different. So what helped you have success at one school is not necessarily what’s going to help you have success at this school or that school. I think we were trying to do it the right way in building it, keeping our players here. There were 46 guys in our last two classes; 82 percent of the guys are still here.

“And you must, must have a quarterback here. Tell me when we’ve won when we didn’t have a quarterback. I don’t know. You must keep upper-level classes; they have to be stockpiled. With Woodson, I think it was hard for people to see, because it was so ugly to Mike Hartline; it was hard for people to see how good the guy was. I mean, the guy was a good quarterback but it was hard to see it because the perception that they had – that we, that we as fans, and I’m one of you guys – had of him. The guy was such a good quarterback. I think there is one here that could take it to the next level here. Max Smith is the guy. He wasn’t available (after the third game this year). I think you have to have a quarterback and have to keep your kids here.

“We put some things in place that will allow it, that helped us keep some of the kids here. Jeremy Jarmon’s position, accountability teams, team chaplains, the big brother program; we did a lot of things to try to keep them here. Again, I was a part of it (previous attrition), but the thing I wanted to do is be a part of the solution. That was the reason why we tried to put some of the things (in place). When we took over, you had to look and see where your players were. We had two fifth-year seniors – two fifth-year seniors: Mike Hartline and Ricky Lumpkin. That opened up my eyes. What’s going on here? We’ve got to keep our classes together. Two fifth-year seniors. That makes it tough.”

ON WHETHER HE FELT LIKE HE GOT EVERYTHING HE NEEDED FROM THE ADMINISTRATION: “I never asked Mitch for anything that he didn’t (give). And all I asked for was things that would help the players: Jeremy Jarmon’s position, everything I asked for as far as recruiting. Anything that would benefit the player, he never once said no.”

ON WHETHER HE WISHES HE’D ASKED FOR MORE: “No. Bells and whistles don’t sell places. They don’t. They just don’t. They help a little bit, but they don’t sell places. I was at Notre Dame, and if you’d have seen the locker rooms and the meeting rooms, they weren’t there. And they’d won a few championships there. I don’t think the bells and whistles help. I think steady recruiting and, again, making sure that you have a guy that can pull the trigger here and then making sure you have your two upper-level classes stockpiled.”

ON WHETHER IT WAS FAIR FOR FANS TO LUMP IN HIS TIME AS HEAD-COACH-IN-WAITING WITH HIS THREE YEARS AS THE ACTUAL COACH: “I don’t want to answer fair or not. I had an opportunity. I had an opportunity and we didn’t get it don’t; we didn’t get the necessary results to continue.”

ON WHETHER THE NEXT COACH IS SET UP WITH THIS TEAM’S YOUNG TALENT TO BE IN A BOWL GAME NEXT YEAR – WHETHER HE THOUGHT HE WOULD’VE GOTTEN UK THERE: “That’s hard to say. Obviously we did. I said earlier: Let’s get to ’13. If we can just get this team to ’13, to be able to coach when Bud Dupree is a junior, when his class is juniors, we thought we’d have a chance to be good. And with Max Smith, we thought we’d have a chance to be good. But again, a lot of things, when new systems come in a lot of things change. These players might not fit the system of the next guy. They might have to get their own players in here. But again, give them time.”


About Jennifer Smith

Jen Smith has been a sports writer at the Herald-Leader since 2000, covering everything from high school sports to auto racing to various University of Kentucky sports. A native of Louisville and a graduate of the University of Kentucky (much to the dismay of her Louisville graduate mother and Indiana graduate father), Jen now resides in downtown Lexington with her husband and two young sons. You can follow her on Twitter @jenheraldleader or send her an email at
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4 Responses to Joker Phillips in his own words

  1. tafugate says:

    holy crap. that’s got to be the most number of times i’ve heard ‘i get it’, when the person actually doesn’t understand, or most importantly, is oblivious to anything he may have done wrong. it’s on joker the damage that was done to the last two classes. so now he thinks if he tucks them in at night, they’re going to stay 4 years and win an sec championship? heck with the dismal showing on the field, or the empty stadium, i’d fire him just based on being delusional.

  2. Gregg says:

    I appreciate the class of Joker Phillips. I am disappointed that KY fans and the administration is so impatient.
    I do not want a head coach who believes that winning is everything! Best of luck Joker and thanks for 26 yrs dedication to Kentucky.

  3. jeff wolfe says:

    to Mr. Phillips, from a Div. 1 coach now moved on to own my own business. You have arrived. You shook hands with victory and defeat and treated those two imposters just the same (Kipling). It is not a question of how much you have to give, it is a question of how long you will delay arranging the environment so that you are rewarded as much as you reward others. It is a big big world. You can now be the best coach any man has ever been by applying just 1% of what you taught to your own personal success and you don’t have to give up on ounce of self-less-ness. God Speed. jw

  4. catherine hall says:

    To the big blue nation. As a football fan we all have been on both side of the ball. We would like to win every game. But we know that is not possible one side must take and l. Coach I wish him the best and continue doing what you do best. May all the injury player have a speedy recovery and be able to continue to play the sports that they loves. Prays goes out to them and there parents.