LEXINGTON - UK football coach Joker Phillips and his staff made a late surge to largely save the 2012 recruiting class, but whether it saves Phillips’ job long-term is the $64,000 question heading into spring practice.
I listened to Phillips talk enthusiastically here Wednesday about a signing class that includes a franchise quarterback in Patrick Towles of Fort Thomas Highlands, a running back (Justin Taylor of Atlanta) who was once an Alabama commit, a linebacker (Khalid Henderson of Mableton, Ga.) who was once a Tennessee commit, and QB/athlete Jalen Whitlow of Prattville, Ala. (the latest Randall Cobb) and I thought, this is great but if Phillips and the Wildcats don’t start the season Sept. 1 with a win at Louisville, I wonder if another coach, not Phillips, will reap the long-term benefits of this recruiting class.
I’ve heard no one in any official capacity say Kentucky must avoid a losing season and go to a bowl this coming season to save Phillips, but don’t you figure? I mean, you lose the Louisville game and Phillips’ seat heats up more than a few degrees. Attitudes will dip, at least outside the team, and so will ticket sales.
And if the Wildcats are going to save Phillips’ ship, it had better start with an upset of the Cardinals. Because after that Louisville game (at Louisville, by the way), then you have Kent State and Western Kentucky, and then the Wildcats hit the SEC minefield, in order: at Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State, at Arkansas, Georgia, at Missouri and Vanderbilt.
The only sure win after week three is Samford on Nov. 17. The Wildcats finish with Tennessee Nov. 24 in Knoxville.
Question: Will Kentucky be favored in any game other than Kent State, Western and Samford?
So, find the six wins if the Wildcats fail to beat Louisville.
The only way I can see less than 6-6, say, 5-7 or 4-8, being tolerable, is if Kentucky is wildly competitive on a consistent basis, and the games are like, 33-30.
And I’m not suggesting this is fair to Phillips, his staff or his players. It’s not. I hope the school gives Joker a couple more years to see if some of the athletes he has signed, last year and this year, pan out for him, to see if Towles really is the best UK QB signee since Tim Couch, as many predict. I hope Phillips is around to sign Ryan Timmons of Franklin County (speaking of Randall Cobb...) at this time next year.
But this is not the society we live in. And I still say Kentucky is riding the spoiled coat tails of Rich Brooks, who raised expectations so high that at the end of his tenure three years ago, UK fans were tired of those “little bowls.”
Now, all of a sudden, those little bowls don’t look so bad, do they?
I mean, it could be worse.
Can you say, Bill Curry?
Here’s some random thoughts on the signees for 2012 that stand out to me, starting with Towles, who has the size (6-5, 242 pounds), arm strength and accuracy, mobility, and attitude (playing for Dale Mueller at Highlands, who knows how to win and how to develop a quarterback).
“He is the face of this class,” Phillips said of Towles. “He’s a big, big athlete that can throw the football. He’s a film room junkie and a winner ... a high character kid. He’s the type of leader that we need to be the face of this program.”
Then there’s the compact running back Justin Taylor, all 5-10, 200 pounds of him. Taylor committed to Alabama before last season, hurt his knee and missed his senior season, and then balked when Alabama asked him to come as a grayshirt.
Here’s what you need to know about Taylor, AGAIN: Nick Saban offered him a scholarship, pre-knee injury. Phillips said UK’s training staff has checked out Taylor’s knee and feel he’ll be ready to go for summer conditioning in June.
The Wildcats also signed a running back from Powell, Tenn., (just outside Knoxville), 5-11, 205-pound Dyshawn Mobley, who rushed for 3,000 yards AS A SENIOR.
Then there’s the previous Tennessee commit, 6-foot, 213-pound linebacker Khalid Henderson, who’s rated the No. 19 outside linebacker in the country by ESPN, and the No. 17 prospect from Georgia.
“He has the potential to be put in the position for us that Danny Trevathan was in making plays for us,” Phillips said.
And Kentucky picked up a last-minute great athlete in Whitlow, from one of Alabama’s top high school programs, Prattville High. Whitlow is 6-2, 210, and listed as quarterback/athlete.
“He is a Randall Cobb-type athlete,” Phillips says of Whitlow. “It’s hard to compare with Randall Cobb, but that’s what Randall was when we got him. We think he’s that type player.”
Phillips and his coaches also addressed major needs in the back seven on defense, at linebacker and secondary, and signed 11 guys in those areas.
The UK coaches appear genuinely excited with the addition of wide receivers A.J. Legree (Fort White, Fla.) and DeMarcus Sweat (Lithonia, Ga.).
They also signed several linemen, on both sides of the ball, who have more size and speed than in most UK classes.
So, we’ll see.
All we know for sure is that any momentum gained from the stunning upset of Tennessee on Nov. 26 and this recruiting class will be gone like the wind if Kentucky loses at Louisville on Sept. 1.
“We have a lot of momentum right now,” Phillips said. “With that win over Tennessee and with this class, but it means nothing. We have to continue the development of the players that we have on our campus and also with the additions.
“We have added a quality class, the thing we have to do is have some momentum going into not only fall camp, but also going into the football season.”