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By LARRY VAUGHT
SIMPSONVILLE — A year ago Kentucky coach Joker Phillips playfully repeated a comment someone else made about “kicking butt” against Louisville — a game the Wildcats later lost to Louisville in Commonwealth Stadium to start a 5-7 season that broke UK’s bowl streak.
Philllips wasn’t about to make that same mistake Thursday at the Governor’s Cup press conference promoting the Sept. 2 UK-Louisville game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
“I am not going to say anything. I got a lot of e-mails telling me how cocky and arrogant I was last year,” said Phillips. “It will be an intense game. They understand that. We understand that.”
It doesn’t worry Phillips that UK goes into the game as a double-digit underdog, or is being picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.
“I have been at Kentucky 30 years. We have always been an underdog,” Phillips, who is 11-14 in two seasons as head coach, said. “It’s exactly where we were five years ago with (quarterback) Andre (Woodson) and all those skilled guys on offense (going into the Louisville game that UK won). It’s the same position we have been in for 30 years. Right Fran?”
Fran is former UK coach Fran Curci, who annually attends this event. He led UK to a 10-1 mark in 1977 — a season UK was on probation and not eligible for a bowl game — and a Peach Bowl win in 1976.
“That is it babe,” Curci responded.
Later, Curci said he felt much like Phillips most seasons in that few gave Kentucky football a chance to succeed.
“It’s not easy at Kentucky. You think you have it going, then something happens. Joker just has to keep recruiting. He’s got good players, but he needs more. Playing in the SEC, it never gets easier. Those are hard teams to try to compete with and beat,” Curci said.
Louisville coach Charlie Strong has the opposite problem. Expectations are soaring for the Cardinals in his third season. After a 2-4 start last year, they won five of their last six games and are being picked to win the Big East Conference.
“What you like to bring up and hope players understand after losing games that we think we should have won is that is what happens when you are not consistent game by game, season by season. That’s hard for guys to understand. When people tell you that you are not very good and then you beat somebody you shouldn’t, you start to think you have arrived. We just try to feed it to them every day not to believe everything,” Strong said.
“People talk about how good you will be and what you have. Remember, we are going into our third season. We are similar to Kentucky. We are still a very young team. We have nine seniors and are short on leadership, so it has got to come from the coaching staff. Two years ago nobody thought we could win any games and somebody said, ‘Coach if you can win one or two games, I will be happy.’ I had never heard that. Last season we were 2-4 and then won five of our last six.”