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By LARRY VAUGHT
He knows he’s being counted on not just a defensive leader, but as a team leader by coach Mark Stoops. However, that suits Kentucky senior linebacker Avery Williamson.
“I am used to it now. I have been doing it since last year. I feel like I have tried to be a leader since my sophomore year really,” said Williamson. “I am used to it. If he wants to put that weight on my shoulders, I will take it up.
“The biggest thing is just knowing what I have to do all the time. I have been in the playbook a lot. Going to meetings with coaches, watching film, just knowing what I have to do on the field and leading by example. I also talk to guys and tell them what is right and what is wrong. That’s a big part of leadership.”
Williamson certainly led by example last year even during UK’s dismal 2-10 season. He finished second in the Southeastern Conference with 135 tackles and was seventh nationally in total tackles. He had a career-best 20 tackles against Vanderbilt, a game where the Commodores embarrassed UK. He had a streak of four games with at least 13 or more tackles in each game, the first UK player to do so since Randy Holleran in 1990.
While Williamson won’t criticize former defensive coordinator Rick Minter for last season’s woes, he did admit that the overall positive vibes from Stoops and his staff could make it easier to lead his teammates.
“It is a lot easier when the guys see the coaches respecting you,” Williamson said.
And that says volumes about what went on with Minter last year.
“It takes a little bit of pressure off you when the coaches respect you. Coach Stoops has really helped me out by backing me up a few times. The assistant coaches and strength coaches have done that as well. That makes a big difference,” Williamson said.
Can that attitude make players perform better?
“I feel like it can. Having a fresh start, I feel like guys will be a whole lot looser and play a lot harder this year,” said Williamson, who has played in 37 career games.
By LARRY VAUGHT
All spring Kentucky’s defensive players have talked about how much simpler the scheme is this year, but defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot says it is not that simple.
So who is right? Today I asked coach Mark Stoops, a former defensive coordinator. Enjoy his answer:
“It’s just a mindset. Believe me, we could be as complex as we want to be. It’s getting your players…it’s not what we know. We could sit in there on the board and come up with a lot of good defenses. There are a lot of good ways to do things but it’s up to you to get your team to understand it and teach it and get them to execute it, that’s the bottom line.
“Nobody really cares how much I know or we know on Saturdays, it’s a matter of what the players know and execute and play. I think that’s a big part of our philosophy defensively, to make it simple, make them understand it, know who they are and have tweaks and a lot of changes off of it. We’ll never stop defensively, we’ll always continue to install but that takes time.”
Doubting Rick Minter would have answered the same way last year because he loved complex and confusing.
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.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Could Kentucky really beat Tennessee twice in a row in football? Could it really happen in years when Kentucky football has not been that god?
Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter says for that to happen, UK will have to slow down what he thinks might be the best offensive team that Kentucky has played this season. The Volunteers rank 13th nationally in passing offense,averaging 317.6 yards a game and are 23rd in total offense nationally with 477.6 yards per contest.
However, he says Kentucky’s players continue to prepare well and not be distracted by the firing of coach Joker Phillips two weeks ago.
“Kids are always bounce back, no matter what happens in life,” Minter said. “They are much more resilient than adults because they don’t think about it too much, they just do it. We will wish them well and pull for them always. Kentucky will always have a special place in your heart because whenever you work somewhere for a while you give it everything you have. Therefore when you leave, you leave some of yourself behind.”
Whoever the next Kentucky coach is, Minter said the future is bright with talented underclassmen on defense.
“All the kids on the back end that have played and contributed this year, some in a mighty role, others in a minor role, are all going to be good players,” Minter said. “You just mark it down — the Blaylocks (Daron and Zack) are going to be good players, the young corners all three of them (Cody Quinn, Fred Tiller, J.D. Harmon) are going to be good players, (Khalid) Henderson is going to be a good player, (Pancho) Thomas is going to be a good player. There are three defensive linemen that you have never seen because they are being redshirted but they are going to be good solid guys, whether it be (Patrick) Graffree, (Thomas) Chapman, (Langston) Newton.
“There are others, I don’t want to be remiss (in not mentioning them), but it is a bright future. How bright, who knows? But it is a much brighter future than it was a few years ago looking down the road of guys finally getting into this program.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Two years ago Kentucky coach Joker Phillips and UK ended losing streaks against Steve Spurrier and South Carolina. Last year the Cats ended the nation’s longest single-team losing streak to Tennessee.
Now UK has a chance to do the same at Florida Saturday. The Cats’ last win over Florida was 10-3 in 1986.
Philips said he has not mentioned the losing streak to his team.
“Why bring those things up. They hear enough outside of here. We try to prepare and play as well as we can,” Phillips said. “A lot of those guys have not been part of those (losses). We are such a young team with first and second year players. The only games they realize are the one a couple played in last year and one the true freshmen are about to play in. We do not mention it. Our approach is to stay nothing and prepare to play the best we can.”
Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter said UK’s players also likely have recovered mentally from the overtime loss to Western Kentucky last week better than the coaches have.
“I think coaches drool over the past more than players. I think by midnight, probably the players are moving on. It’s what we try to encourage them to do,” Minter said. “You want them to hurt when you lose because you invest everything you have in the game, but by the same token when the sun comes up the next day, you have to put it behind you, move on and get ready for the next week.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Just as defensive coordinator Rick Minter did Tuesday, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips has denied a Kentucky Sports Radio report that there was a confrontation between him and Minter over UK’s defensive play at Louisville.
When asked if he had strained relationship with Minter, Phillips said, “Strained? For what? Why would it be strained. No.”
He said their “relationship is great” going into Saturday’s game with Western and that both are on the same page.
“Here’s the thing: There’s only one page. There’s only one page and we’re all on the same page. There’s not two pages in this program. It’s one page,” Phillips.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter has not been pleased with the overall play of Kentucky’s defense. Apparently he was even less pleased with a report on Kentucky Sports Radio that there had been a significant confrontation between him and head coach Joker Phillips over changes that needed to be made on defense during the loss at Louisville and for the Kent State game.
“I’m not going to talk about that. It didn’t happen. Now what’s next?” Minter said Tuesday when asked about the confrontation.
Remember, Phillips once worked under Minter when he was the head coach at Cincinnati and he made it clear when Phillips brought him to Kentucky that he knew who was the boss. However, Minter does rule the defense with an iron-hand. Ask any player or coach.
Confrontations also often happen with a staff — and probably should at times when a defense played as poorly as UK did at Louisville.
But rather than just not talk about it, Minter denied it even happened.
So what do you think? Did it happen or not?