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While Kentucky coach Joker Phillips walked away with a smile on his face after his last game at UK, defensive coordinator Rick Minter didn’t exactly do the same and even offered some advice for the next coach — which is now Mark Stoops after the Florida State defensive coordinator was named head coach Tuesday.
Minter — who has been at 13 schools during his 35-year coaching career and was fired as the head coach at Cincinnati — noted that UK showed little loyalty to Phillips.
“I’ve been through what he’s been through, and I know how tough this is, and how challenging this is, particularly being an alumnus,” Minter said after Saturday’s loss at Tennessee. “You know, ‘this is my school,’ so to speak. Those would be his words, ‘this is my school’, and they threw him out. No matter what you say, they threw him out. And he can say he’s numb, but I guarantee you he’ll feel it, if he doesn’t already. It’s real. He’s just done a great job fooling you guys (in the media). It was a quick trigger, in my estimation. But nobody asked me what I thought.”
Minter, who indicated he would like a chance to coach in the NFL, said the administration has “been really good to us” and then noted how expectations rose to high — at Kentucky — because of the success former coach Rich Brooks had with four straight bowl appearances.
“It’s so unfortunate that perhaps over the last five to seven years, expectations maybe rose, and, of course you want to win – we all do – but maybe the perception was higher than the reality wa,” Minter said. “All of a sudden you don’t have a star quarterback like (Mike) Hartline, and you don’t have a Randall Cobb catching balls, and before you know it, you’re not moving the ball as well,. Then you lose a Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, and you don’t quite have the forces to replace those guys just yet into your (defensive) system.”
Minter also had a few shots for Brooks.
“Just because he (Phillips) was the coach-in-waiting doesn’t mean he made the decisions that made the program go,” Minter said. “When I was a head coach, I made all the decisions. He’s made them for two years and 10 games. He didn’t make them for five or six years just because somebody said, ‘Hey, someday you’ll be the coach here.’
“Rich Brooks made all those decisions until that one day when he walked in and said, ‘Hey, guess what, I’m out’. That’s when he (Phillips) started changing the staff a little bit and trying to change the culture to fit the Joker Phillips way. It wasn’t necessarily bad or worse than Rich, just different.
So those are the things that really disappoint us as coaches is that we didn’t have a chance to cultivate and grow our team to get more and more of those kinds of guys to where you start reloading like the other teams do, and not once in a blue moon you get a star and lose him, and all of a sudden you fall off the map.”
He said success at UK is “hard to sustain because stars don’t come around very often.”
“When you have them (stars), your expectations rise, and when you don’t have them, you get rid of the coach because he didn’t have any stars,” Minter said.
Minter called Kentucky a “tough place” to coach and blamed the lack of in-state talent as a major hurdle for any UK coach to overcome.
“You have to go outside your state, and to do that takes time to develop the inroads in recruiting,” Minter said.
He argued why give Phillips a five-year contract and then “pull the cord” after two years and 10 games as UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart did when he fired Phillips after three straight losing seasons and a 2-10 mark this season.
“I feel so bad for Joker, I really do. Because he was a lifer here, and he really was on the right track. I know people don’t want to hear that. And he has a great staff. And none of us wanted to go anywhere else,” Minter said. “And when you hire the next guy, if he’s really good, he won’t stay. And if he’s really bad, you get rid of him, too. But you had a lifer here in Joker. Winning was the goal, and not leaving would have been his goal. So we hope the administration will use sound judgment and hire a great guy, and I hope everybody gets behind him and shows some patience.”