By LARRY VAUGHT
Just as he has been from the first day he stepped foot on the Kentucky campus as a player, Joker Phillips was gracious today as he talked about the decision Sunday to fire him after three years as UK’s head coach. He didn’t point fingers, make excuses or show any bitterness. Instead, he merely tried to explain his feelings.
Here’s the opening statement he made today after practice with more to come later:
“First, I’d like to say that I came here in 1981 as a freshman from a little small town, Franklin, Ky. 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 (players) 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. (Players) 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 (in the loss to Vanderbilt). I get that. 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. Then the special teams injuries hit because so many of our players are on defense. When Max (Smith) 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 (in the media) s 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.”