Joker Phillips’ final news conference

OPENING REMARKS: “The reason (quarterback) Patrick Towles did not go in the game: he got dinged when he went out of bounds and got hit. He came over and said he didn’t think he could go back in. So I don’t want anybody to think I took him out or anything. I don’t want to hear that. But it was a hard-fought game. And I’ll tell you this: The one thing that I’m most appreciative of is how these players have handled the last two, three weeks. Originally, I didn’t want to be a distraction. I didn’t want to go through this. I wanted those guys to have their time. One of the reasons why is you start thinking, ‘How can I push these guys? Why are they going to listen to me? I’m not going to be their coach anymore.’ But we’ve got good kids, and that’s one of the reasons I decided to come back. And I’m so appreciative of the way they handled it.

“There were a lot of good teaching moments in these last three weeks. I learned a lot in the last three weeks. One of the things I learned is you’ve got to practice what you preach. Everybody’s going around here talking about how I handled this thing. The reason why I handled it this way: How can I go in there and tell those guys how I want them to handle themselves and I’m not handling it the same way. So I learned a lot during these last three weeks. But it’s time to go. I understand that. It’s definitely time to go. Anybody that gets 10 years at a place – and there’s plenty of guys on the (Tennessee) staff that got three years. Some guys on our staff got three; some got one. I got 10 years at the place I grew up. And this is the second time. I got nine the first time, got 10 this time, and it’s time to go. I get that.

“But there’s been a lot of things accomplished in the last 10 years. There’s nobody who can – in 10 years, we were able to go to five straight bowl games. We had GameDay, College GameDay, at Kentucky. Not for basketball; Kentucky football. College GameDay. You remember that? And nobody would’ve thought that. That was one of the goals. When I left and came back, that was one of the goals I had set for this program. Because I’d been at a program that that was their goal. I’d just come from (South) Carolina and that was one of the goals when Coach Holtz on those guys took over. And that was one of the goals I had set for the place, and we accomplished that.

“We had a number of big wins. We were able to beat No. 1. We got about 15 guys on the wall in there that’s playing in the NFL. Most of them have their degrees. So we’ve accomplished a lot. We would’ve like to have accomplished beating Tennessee for a second year in a row. (We) didn’t, but I thought it was a really hard-fought game. Offensively, one of the better performances that we’ve had this year, and it was a lot of good young players making plays out there. Jalen Whitlow threw the ball well and executing. The thing we couldn’t do is get the ball in the end zone. Had two missed opportunities in the red zone that we came away with just three points and had two fourth-down conversions that we couldn’t convert. Fourth down has been a thorn for us. I’m not sure exactly how many, what the percentage is for us, but it hasn’t been good. It’s like turning the ball over two times.

“But again, it’s been fun. I’m excited to be able to watch this young football team compete. The one thing I’ll tell you guys – not you guys, because you guys have been great – is for Kentucky: Give the guy a chance. This is Kentucky football. We’re not getting guys that can go to the NFL every two years. Give the next guy a chance. And I’m not up here trying to say I didn’t get a chance, because I did. I did. I got a chance. But I just think that given a chance, this thing can be good.”

ON HIS PARTING THOUGHTS TO THE PLAYERS: “I wanted to tell our players that one thing I will do is come back and haunt them if they do not take care of business in the class room. I don’t want people to say there’s no talent here. I don’t want people to say this team doesn’t know how to work. And I don’t want people to say this team’s not tough, because they are. And I left them with that. I will come back and haunt them if they don’t get their degree, if they don’t carry themselves like Kentucky football players are supposed to, which was set a long time ago, even before I came to Kentucky. Those were the standards early. Hopefully I carried it on.”

ON WHETHER HE HAD ANY TAKE-IT-IN MOMENTS TODAY: “No, it was not that. I thought our guys have done a good job of responding to and allowing our coaches to push them.”

WERE THE LONG DRIVES THAT CAME UP EMPTY DEFLATING AT ALL? “No because we came back in the second half and had the same type of drive and got three out of it. We held the ball for seven and a half minutes, so I don’t think that took a lot out of our guys. I thought they came back and competed in the second half and then we got the ball back. We missed the field goal right before the half, but we knew we’d get the ball back and we did hold the ball for seven and a half minutes and we got three out of it. That was big and those guys responded from the way we had finished in the first half.”

WHAT ARE THE LOGISTICS NOW FOR YOU? “My office is emptied out. I’ve got keys I’ve got to turn into John Cropp and we’re gone. Why are you guys (the Courier-Journal) hiring again?”

DIDN’T KNOW IF YOU’D HAVE ANYMORE MEETINGS WITH THE TEAM? “There are some things. … They’ll have a couple meetings on Monday, make sure all their academics are in order and then it’s time to go.”

TOLD PLAYERS TO GIVE NEW GUYS A CHANCE? “Definitely. Definitely and I think that’s important, too. And they will. There are some good kids in there. You don’t have to say that often to those guys. Those guys came here to compete and compete at a high level. They would move mountains for you (tells reporter). They would. That’s the kind of kids they are. We’ve done this thing the right way and doing things the right way takes a little bit longer. We’ve seen it happen here fast and it usually has an asterisk beside it at the end of the day, OK? It has an asterisk beside it. I’ve never been a part of it, but things happen here. They happened here in a hurry.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JOKER PHILLIPS? “What time is it? What’s next? We’ll get on the bus and watch some college football on the way home. I’m going to relax a little bit, start fielding some of the calls I’ve had, fielding some of the texts that I’ve had, emails, all those things. They came in hundreds in this last three weeks and you can’t field them all, but I plan to, some of the notes also. I’m going to relax and get back to people. And now if I get a call I don’t recognize, I’m answering it. Might be a potential employer.”

YOUNG CORNERBACKS OVERMATCHED? “Those guys are NFL guys they’re playing. I told you guys that during the week. They’re potential first-round guys and they could be this year if they decide. It’s between them and their parents. Those guys are big-time players. The thing about playing defensive back is you’ve just got to win your share. Win your share of plays. They won some and they missed some. They got behind us a couple times. They’re going to be good players. J.D. Harmon, Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn: Those guys are going to be good players for a long time. Those guys have got three years left; they’re just babies. They’re not red-shirt freshmen. I got a call from a friend of mine and he said, ‘Wow. We’re playing five red-shirt freshmen.’ He wants me to feel sorry for him? Those guys are true freshmen playing Middletown and getting ready for (another HS) last year. Then these guys are coming in and playing Tennessee.”


WITH YOUTH IN LOCKER ROOM AND WITHOUT INJURIES, IS NEXT GUY SET UP FOR SUCCESS? “There’s a lot of things that have to go in to winning games here in the SEC. Two new systems are going to come in, really three with special teams. I’m not trying to put that kind of pressure (trails off). I said time. It would be crazy for me to say, ‘Yes, he’s set up to win next year’ when earlier I said, ‘Give him time.’ He deserves time. We are in the best conference in America. We’re probably going to be play for a seventh straight national title this year and there could be to of them.”

ALL OF THEIR SCORES CAME QUICKLY. DID THAT SURPRISE YOU? “That’s a big-play offense. They’ve done it to everybody. They’ve done it to every team. They’ve got a potential first-round quarterback; they’ve got two (star receivers). Their offensive line has been together for three years. They’ll lose one of those guys this year. They played as babies up front and now they gave up. We got one I know, one sack today. They’ve given up 12 sacks the whole year and they’ve probably thrown the ball over 500 times. They’ve got some weapons on offense. I looked up at the scoreboard one time and it said it was the third highest scoring offense in the history of the school. They’ve got some pretty good weapons out there in the best conference in America.”

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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