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By LARRY VAUGHT
If not for Joker Phillips, Jacob Tamme might not be playing in the NFL today.
Okay, maybe that’s a stretch but remember that it was Phillips who wisely moved Tamme from receiver to tight end as soon as he took over as offensive coordinator back in 2006 after Ron Hudson was fired late in the season. Tamme responded with his first touchdown catch at Tennessee in UK’s final regular-season game and went on to become an all-Southeastern Conference selection and NFL draft pick.
That’s why Tamme wasn’t quite sure how to react Sunday when former UK teammate Wesley Woodyard told him after they had helped Denver beat the host Cincinnati Bengals that Phillips had been fired. Both Tamme and Woodyard came back to Lexington last month to show support for Phillips and were on the sideline with him — and UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart,
“We always talk about the program and our time there and we keep up with what’s going on so it wasn’t ‘unexpected’ because I’ve seen the fan base deteriorating. But that doesn’t make it easy, especially for those of us who have so many connections to this staff,” said Tamme. “Joker was instrumental in my development as my position coach and later as offensive coordinator.
“Obviously I don’t know the status of the rest of the staff but I know situations like this are always difficult on those guys — and one of those guys, Chuck Smith, taught me what winning football is.”
Smith was Tamme’s coach at Boyle County when he was on four straight state championship teams and was part of a 47-game win streak. No one has been prouder of Tamme’s success with the Indianapolis Colts and now the Broncos than Smith and no one has praised Smith more than Tamme.
It also has hurt Tamme to see the program he helped start winning games and going to bowl games suffer the way it has the last two years.
“It’s hard, when you look at the success that was built over the last six or seven years, to see this current situation. I think Joker said in his statement (after his dismissal) that ‘change is needed’ – I suppose that is true,” Tamme said. “But it’s hard to see because I know how hard he’s worked and how much he wanted to succeed for our state and school.
“One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten is that we’ve seen some great moments in UK football over the past six or seven years. Joker was a big part of all those.”
Those moments included a win over eventual national champion LSU when Tamme was there as well as the goal-post game against Georgia. It includes last year’s win over Tennessee or the 2010 victory over South Carolina and coach Steve Spurrier.
Tamme says it’s not hard to remember what his best memories of Phillips will be.
“I remember how excited and proud he was after some of our memorable victories. I remember how far we came as an offense when he took over as offensive coordinator,” Tamme said. “We became a confident group that knew we could score on anybody in the SEC, and we had one of the best offenses in the country my senior year.”