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Joker Phillips

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After he got the job at Kentucky, coach Mark Stoops called former coach Joker Phillips, who is now the receivers coach at Florida and will make his return to Commonwealth Stadium Saturday.

“I’m not sure how long I was here, but I called Joker just to say hello and touch base with him and talk with him a little bit. I do not know Joker very well. I know him to just to say hi and talk to him a little bit, so we had a good conversation,” Stoops said Tuesday.

And what did they talk about?

“No, no. Keep that between he and I. But it was a good conversation, and he was very good and supportive and had a lot of good things to say about Kentucky,” Stoops said.


It seems like Joker Phillips has always been on the field at Commonwealth Stadium. Whether it was a player, assistant coach, offensive coordinator or head coach, he has been a constant with Kentucky football. Or he was until Kentucky suffered through a 2-10 season in 2012 that cost him his job.

Now he’s coming back to Commonwealth Stadium Saturday as receivers coach for No. 12 Florida and will be in Lexington trying to beat UK instead of trying to figure out ways to help the Wildcats win.

Most of Kentucky’s players were recruited when Phillips was head coach. Many felt partially responsible when he lost his job.  Does that mean there could be some extra emotion from the UK players this week?

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t think that would give any extra motivation for us,” said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops. “We ought to be pretty motivated as it is to prepare to play a very good football team.”

True. Kentucky has lost 26 straight times to the Gators. Phillips was even part of the last UK team to beat Florida.

So isn’t it likely that seeing Phillips Saturday could stir some extra emotion in the Wildcats?

“I wouldn’t think so. I wouldn’t think, no. I think most people around here have good feelings about coach Phillips and the work that he’s done at Kentucky,” Stoops said. “He’s a very good person and a good coach, so I don’t think that’ll have any bearing on the game.”

And it shouldn’t have any bearing on anything said to or about Phillips. No, he was not successful as a head coach. But he was part of some terrific teams as part of Rich Brooks’ staff. He was at UK when the Cats beat Georgia, South Carolina and even eventual national champion LSU back in 2007. He always went out of his way to sell the UK football program to fans and recruits. He was an easy choice for athletics director Mitch Barnhart to promote to head coach when Brooks resigned.

“I think we all loved coach Phillips and loved having him as our coach,” UK senior linebacker Avery Williamson said.

Apparently the Gators feel the same way — and have since Phillips arrived.

Florida coach Will Muschamp raved about the addition of Phillips during the SEC Media Days in July. Quarterback Jeff Driskel, who broke his leg in last week’s win over Tennessee and is now out for the season, was a Phillips backer in  July as well.

“He’s brought in a different mindset. He was a head coach so he’s definitely got a good track record. He brings in a known leadership. He was a huge hire for our staff,” Driskel said.

Nothing has changed about the way Muschamp feels about Phillips and, unlike Stoops, he anticipates his assistant coach will be a bit emotional for Saturday night’s game.

“Any time you spend a lot of time in a place, you have great memories,” Muschamp said Monday. “There’s no question he will be emotional about that. Any time you spend as much time as we spend and working hard for the university, you will be emotional. He has done an outstanding job. Three of our most productive players are receivers. He is developing young players. His production speaks for itself on the tape. The tape is your resume as a coach. He has been a really good addition to our staff.”

And Muschamp says having Phillips on staff is not a big advantage for the Gators against Kentucky.

“He will have a little bit of opinions on personnel, but schematically they are different,” the Florida coach said. “Sometimes that stuff (about knowing a team) can be overrated.”

So can emotion, but somehow I think Phillips will be extremely emotional about his return to the school he’s always professed he loved and the job he said was his “dream job” when he became UK’s head coach.

Vaught’s note: Veteran TV news anchor Barry Peel, a long-time Kentucky fan, offers his perspective on what Saturday’s loss to Western Kentucky means.


Now, at long last, may we please put the “Stoops hype” on hold? It’s still the same old inept “Kentucky.”

WKU gave him a dose of hard reality. Now he knows just what UK football is really all about. This is Joker’s team that won two games last year and isn’t likely to win more than that this year.

UK’s super-hyped coaching staff can’t walk on water after all. Maybe in a couple of years things will be better but NOT this year!


When word got out that former NBA star Mookie Blaylock had been involved in a traffic accident in Georgia Friday that resulted in the death of a woman in another car after his SUV crossed a median and hit another car. Blaylock has been charged with driving under a suspended license, improper lane change, crossing the median and driving on the wrong side of the road.

His sons are Kentucky sophomore football players Daron and Zack Blaylock and even though they have lived with their mother and step-father the last 12 years, that didn’t keep current and former UK coaches from reaching out to the twins after the accident.

John Woods, the twins’ step-dad, said former UK head coach Joker Phillips, now an assistant at Florida, called. “He’s a good man,” Woods said.

So did former UK assistant coach Greg Nord. “The boys loved him,” Woods said.

Current UK secondary coach Bradley Dale Peveto also called along with new UK director of football operations Frank Buffano on behalf of head coach Mark Stoops “to check on the boys and how they were” after their father’s accident.

The twins have become especially fond of Peveto, who called when another UK player, Ashley Lowery, was seriously injured in a car accident in Georgia last month and the twins went to visit him.

“He called to see how their visit with Ashley went. I told my wife to answer because most coaches would rather talk to the moms,” Woods said. “He talked to her about 45 minutes, then asked for me and talked another 15 minutes or so. He’s just a super guy.

“Daron and Zack are lucky to have him as a coach. He loves them and they love him. He treats them like his sons and they think he hung the moon.”

The Blaylock twins are now back at Kentucky and Woods said their time at home was a bit more emotional than they could have ever imagined.

“They went and spent a day with Ashley in ICU and then the day before they left to go back to Kentucky they had to see their dad in ICU,” Woods said. “That’s a tough way to start and end a vacation at home.”


During his days at Boyle County High School and Western Kentucky University, Brandon Smith was a quarterback and set numerous records during his prep career. Now he’s the defensive coordinator at South Warren High School and has two players — defensive tackle Adrian Middleton and linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe.

Middleton has offers from Kentucky, Louisville, Indiana State, Western and Middle Tennessee. Iyiegbuniwe only has an offer from Western so far, but Smith expects more schools to soon offer Iyiegbuniwe.

Smith, the son of former Boyle County and UK linebackers coach Chuck Smith, says South Warren coach Mark Nelson has done an amazing job. “To have only played two years of varsity football and have two Division I players on the team says a lot about what kind of coach he is and what he expects of his players. I’m not sure if another school in the state currently has two D1 players,” Smith said.

The 6-4, 275-pound Middleton got a visit from UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who played for Chuck Smith, and defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh. They recorded video to show head coach Mark Stoops, who extended the offer to Middleton after he returned from the NFL draft.

Florida — and assistant coach Joker Phillips — has also shown interest in Middleton.

“I think he’s an elite player,” Smith said. “He is a big, strong kid that can move like a skilled kid. It is very hard to find players that can do that. He tremendous explosion off the ball and he is very football intelligent. He doesn’t just guess where the ball is going — he reads it.”

Smith offered these other insights on Middleton and Iyiegbuniwe.

Question: What kind of upside does Middleton have in college and what are you looking for him to improve this year?
Smith: “He has a huge upside. He is very young. He will play his entire senior year at 17 years old. He really hasn’t learned how to use what he has yet. Sometimes you see kids that peak out in high school, but that is not the case with him. His best football is ahead of him.”

Question: What kind of summer plans does he have as far as camps/combines to attend?
Smith: “All of this has hit suddenly in the last couple of weeks. He will have to sit down and figure out a plan of where he wants to visit this summer. He will probably do that in the next couple of weeks.”

Question: Do you expect even more schools to get involved in his recruiting?
Smith: “Yes. Defensive linemen are very hard to find. He is very good at what he does. There are several more SEC and Big 10 schools that have expressed a strong interest and are scheduled to visit him in school in the coming weeks.”

Question: What kind of person/student is he?
Smith: “He is a great kid. He has very likable personality. If you only knew him off the field you wouldn’t think he was capable of the things he does on it. He is always smiling and in a good mode.

Question: What makes you feel more offers will be coming for Iyiegbuniwe and what are his strengths/weaknesses?
Smith: “Joel is a solid 6-2, 210 pounds and can run. He is moving from safety to linebacker this year and that is where the majority of the schools are projecting him as. They don’t have film to go by, so he is going to be a camp guy. If they are not an offensive lineman/defensive lineman, most of the time they (college coaches) want to see you run and change direction. He does these things very well. He has only played football two years (basketball player). He has not even tipped the iceberg of what he’s capable of.”

Question: What kind of summer plans does he have?
Smith: “He has several camps he is planning to attend. Once again, he will have to sit down and plan out the stops he is going to make. I think that will come after all the schools come through and he decides which ones he is serious about.”


One reason John Woods was glad his sons, Daron and Zack Blaylock, came to Kentucky was to play for coach Joker Phillips. However, the Georgia twins and their family could not be happier with the way things have worked out since Phillips’ dismissal and the arrival of coach Mark Stoops and his staff.

“Daron and Zack call quite a bit and seem to love the new coaching staff,” Woods said. “They are very excited. They like (defensive coordinator) D.J. Elliot. They like their position coach. They said Stoops is really involved in the defense. Joker was a great man, but he was not involved in the coaching like Stoops is.

“I’ll admit I was very apprehensive when Joker left. I have a lot of friends and family members who have gone through coaching changes and it was not good for them. Kids transfer or get unhappy. You just hope it will turn out to be a positive thing, but this move seems really positive for the players.”

He said the Blaylocks, both safeties, enjoyed the winter workouts to get ready for spring practice and were “extremely happy” with the team’s attitude and performance during the offseason.

“We’ve got some good reports from people on a lot of things,” Woods said. “One (UK assistant) coach talked to their high school coach and said their grades were both good, which is always good to know. They seem to be having fun and they both are in position to get to play a lot.”

He noted that several other Georgia players could also be starting for UK in the fall based on what he’s heard.

“You could maybe have eight to 10 guys from Georgia starting,” Woods said. “In a couple of years, with the way Stoops is recruiting Ohio, you could see that happen there. You want players from states where football is important and it is important in Ohio and Georgia.”

uk footballBy LARRY VAUGHT

He’s still enjoying the recruiting process, but Franklin County receiver Ryan Timmons admits it is “getting tough with all the schools firing out right now” to decide where he will play his college football.

He got a scholarship offer from Florida last week and added one this week from Ohio State. Both are schools he’s had a long-time interest in and had been waiting to receive scholarship offers.

“It’s all starting to get really serious right now and I have to think about getting my list down to three or so schools,” said Timmons. “But right now I am still side open. There is not a favorite school or group of schools.”

He has offers from Arkansas, Purdue, Illinois, California, Cincinnati, Missouri, Western Kentucky, Wisconsin and several other schools along with Kentucky. He plans to make his college choice known Feb. 5 — one day before the national signing period starts — during a 1 p.m. ceremony at the high school.

“Ryan doesn’t want word to get out early, so he’s going to let everyone know his decision before signing day,” Franklin coach Chris Tracy said.

Timmons had  72 rushes for 1,260 yards and 25 scores for 12-1 Franklin last season and caught 29 passes for 970 yards and 17 more scores. He had 45 total touchdowns and scored 260 points. Tracy says Timmons, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds at a Kentucky camp, played last season at about 187 pounds and now weighs around 195 after opting not to play basketball this season to concentrate on recruiting.

“He needs to get stronger and turn that 195 pounds into all muscle, but he’s a legitimate 5-11, 195-pound guy with speed who runs good routes,” Tracy said. “His legs are huge. Ohio State was in here and said he was even bigger than they remembered.”

Timmons said he didn’t mind waiting so long for Ohio State and Florida offers. He understood that Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had to evaluate his current roster and also honor offers that had been made to players before he got the job last year.

“I just had to wait and let it all play out,” Timmons said. “Now coach Meyer decided to pull the trigger and make the offer.”

Former UK head coach Joker Phillips, now the receivers coach at Florida, has been recruiting Timmons for the Gators. The Franklin senior says “I’ve always been a Florida fan” and that former Gators Percy Harvin and Jeff Demps are two of his favorite players.

He admits it is a “little weird” having Phillips now recruiting him for Florida and not Kentucky.

“I have known Joker since I was a sophomore. I have a good relationship with him. He has a good relationship with my mom,” Timmons said. “He’s not a head coach any more, so he can say more now. It’s not awkward or anything with him.”

Timmons likes new UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown and Franklin ran basically the same offense that Brown uses.

“Coach Brown has been pretty good. He has been on me a lot since he got the job,” Timmons said. “The new staff at Kentucky has me a lot more interested in Kentucky now. It’s a new staff, new start with the same offense I have been under for five years. I know every play. The chance to be part of something new is what coach Brown is selling me on. He wants me to come into an offense I know and can play.

“I want to play as a freshman wherever I go and make an impact on the team. I can be a slot receiver, H-back, running back. I can help on special teams returning kickoffs and punts. I enjoy all of that. I just want to be on the field.”

He doesn’t feel any added pressure as one of the state’s marquee recruits and a main recruiting target for new UK coach Mark Stoops.

“It’s nice to have all the attention. It’s not really pressure,” Timmons, who will run track in the spring, said. “It is nice for me and the school to have this attention and I’ve been working to get to this point for a long time. Coach Tracy has been a big help, but he’s never had a player heavily recruited like this before, so it’s new for both of us. My family is going to be happy wherever I go. They just want me to make the best decision for me.”

Timmons plans to take an official visit to Florida and probably another unofficial visit to Ohio State before his Feb. 5 announcement.

“I probably get asked 10 times a day where I am going to school. I get asked at school or at the store or mostly (basketball) games,” Timmons said. “But I really don’t know yet. It will come down to how I get along with the coach, the type of offense the school runs and how comfortable I am with everything. Right now I can’t even tell you all the offers I have. I just have to find time to sit down and rethink everything and then make my decision.”


Franklin County standout Ryan Timmons still is not ready to make his college choice and recently has added scholarship offers from California and Missouri to those he already had and Florida — thanks to receivers coach Joker Phillips — continues to make a push for him.

The versatile Timmons is one of the state’s top players. He had 72 rushes for 1,260 yards and 25 scores for 12-1 Franklin last season and caught 29 passes for 970 yards and 17 more scores. He had 45 total touchdowns and scored 260 points.

Franklin coach Chris Tracy says Timmons, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds at a Kentucky camp, will make his college choice known either Feb. 6 (the first day of the national signing period) or Feb. 7 during a ceremony at the high school.

Tracy says new Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown has “been to see him three or four times” already, including Tuesday night.

“I think he is a priority for Kentucky and this new staff,” Tracy said. “Florida has really jumped back into the picture. They have not offered a scholarship yet, but they are really close. The one thing Florida likes is that he can do it all. They don’t have that type of guy now who can play the slot, play running back, play receiver and just do it all. All through middle school, he was a tailback.”

The coach says Timmons has a “great relationship” with Illinois coaches and that they “have been there from day one” with him.

Kentucky did not seem positioned that strongly with Timmons until the staff changed. However, Tracy says Timmons always liked head coach Joker Phillips and recruiting coordinator Chuck Smith.

“I think his big issue with them had more to do with winning than anything else,” Tracy said. “He really, really likes Joker a lot. He had a great relationship with coach Smith. But it had more to do with winning.

“Being so close to home also plays a role in this. Expectations are different when you stay home to play. That’s something he has to juggle in his mind. Do I want to be that close to home and be the crown jewel as the home state guy? I know he really likes coach Brown a lot. He came in with guns blazing to try and pick him up.

“He will go there and probably know more about the offense than most kids who go through spring practice. That’s our offense. This is my seventh or eighth year running this offense and one of the first clinics I went to about this offense there was a young Neal Brown of Troy University there as a speaker. So Ryan knows plenty about the offense.”

Tracy also always knew plenty about Timmons. Tracy was head coach at Woodford County when Timmons was a freshman and Timmons led Franklin to a win over Woodford.

“They ran the option and he was one of the wingbacks. I remember the quarterback tossing him the ball at the 1 (yard line) and he took it 99 yards in a game against Lafayette,” Tracy said. “That did not have a bearing on me taking the job at Franklin the next year, but there were people there telling me he could be awesome. You could tell he had that special it factor about him.”

He apparently still has it.

“Several college coaches have been telling he has the ability to play in the NFL from what they have seen on film. They say he could put on 10 to 15 pounds and play in the NFL right now,” Tracy said. “I’m so close to him, I don’t see that. But there are coaches telling me that.”

Tracy said at Ohio State’s Friday Night Lights (camp) last summer that Timmons outran everyone he was paired against, including skilled players who have verbally committed to the Buckeyes. “We are not talking by a step or head, but by a yard or more,” Tracy said.

The coach says his star runs “good routes” that make him seem even faster and that Franklin offensive coordinator Eddie James, who has coached Timmons since middle school, designed schemes to take advantage of his versatility. “You just didn’t know where he would be and I would think it would be the same in college for him,” Tracy said.

Tracy isn’t sure exactly what criteria Timmons will use to make his college choice.

“It is a decision him and family will have to make. I try to lay information out to him and let him decide what to do,” Tracy said. “Our defensive coordinator wrote out some questions for him and had him answer about each school and for him to write the pros and cons of each school so he could compare them.

“One thing we have talked about is him making up his mind before Feb. 1 and then telling the program he has committed. But we’ll keep his decision quiet until he can make his announcement to everyone at the same time.”

AJ Legree

AJ Legree


If we know anything about the Kentucky football team this year, it’s that they were young.  A good portion of this year’s freshman class (as well as redshirt freshmen from last year) played a significant amount. Jalen Whitlow, Khalid Henderson, Patrick Towles, Fred Tiller, Landon Foster – the list goes on of how many had their redshirts pulled this season.

AJ Legree could also be added to that list, although he didn’t play as much as anticipated.  Former head coach Joker Phillips pointed to Legree and another freshman, Demarcus Sweat, as two youngsters that could contribute heavily in the receiving game this year. Sweat ended up sitting out the last two games of the season to focus on academics.

Legree, on the other hand, only finished with 12 catches for 113 yards in 2012. If you take out his three catch/47-yard performance against Vanderbilt in a 40-0 loss, he only finished with nine catches for 66 yards – not quite the season you would want to give up your redshirt for. But that lack of playing time only motivates Legree to push forward.

“Of course I wish I could have played more, but learning the offense, having to pick things up on the go, I think I did pretty good with that,” he said after the final game of the season, a 37-17 loss to Tennessee. “I think the coaches started to notice that I was working a lot harder and starting to pick the offense up, so they put me on the field when I was ready.”

Heading into an uncertain future for Kentucky football, Legree’s desire “just to get better, faster, stronger” in the offseason is an important attitude to have. Without a coach being named yet, it’s uncertain what kind of offense Kentucky will have next year. A spread attack? A focus on the running game?

Either way, Kentucky will be losing a good portion of its receiving yardage with the loss of La’Rod King, Aaron Boyd, Gene McCaskill and EJ Fields – the four seniors accounted for 897 of UK’s 2115 receiving yards this season. Another 355 of the 2012 receiving yards came from running backs Jonathan George, Raymond Sanders and CoShik Williams (only Williams graduates from the running back group).

It’s an open field next year for Kentucky’s young receivers. Losing a “go-to” guy like La’Rod King can motivate the younger guys to step into his shoes. It may be Legree that does that, or Sweat, or maybe even a true freshman coming in next year.

A crucial component of who steps up at receiver? Who is tossing the passes? Whether the mobile quarterback, Jalen Whitlow, or the traditional passing quarterbacks, Towles or Max Smith, are chosen by the new coaching staff to lead the offense is a mystery right now. Legree’s second biggest game of the year, however, came thanks to Whitlow.

“(The) South Carolina game, me and Jalen were able to hook up for a couple catches,” Legree said. “Me and Jalen are pretty cool. We hang out a lot. I just hope we can keep that bond going, and hopefully improve in the offseason.”

Whether it’s Whitlow, Towles or Smith throwing passes next year (or a combination of all three), Legree is looking to make more of an impact on offense. For a guy that averaged 9.4 yards a catch this year, that doesn’t seem too out of the realm of possibility.


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