UK Football: Joker’s train looks to be heading out

By Brian Rickerd Published:

LEXINGTON – An unusually high number of media members turned out for UK Coach Joker Phillips’ weekly in-season press conference Monday, presumably to see a train wreck.

At least that would be my impression. It sure wasn’t because Phillips’ football Wildcats are off to a good start.

We all know they are not, coming into Saturday’s home game with South Carolina (7 p.m. on ESPN2) at 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the SEC, off a 38-0 loss at Florida.

Coach Steve Spurrier’s USC Gamecocks are ranked No. 6 in the country, standing 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the SEC, off a 31-10 win over a decent Missouri team.

But the assembled media did not get a train wreck out of Phillips’ session here Monday, maybe figuring that wreck happened a week earlier in the 32-31 home loss to Western Kentucky.

The mood Monday was like the inevitable had already happened – that Joker’s last remaining shot to save his job left with the Western loss – and so now we’re all just going through the motions.

It was akin to coach John L. Smith’s press deal last week at Arkansas where Smith interrupted all the news about losing and his own financial troubles with a reminder that the media there should all smile ... life goes on.

“This week we got Rutgers,” Smith had said, pleasantly.

Joker Phillips’ message here Monday: This week we got South Carolina.

It was a strange vibe.

NO TALK OF JOKER'S FUTURE

With, again, an unusually high media count, including several guys who have asked much harder questions of sources, nobody said anything about Phillips’ job future.

I would suggest that was probably for a couple of reasons.

We knew that Phillips, short of flat out resigning, would deflect the question, saying he was worried only about getting his Wildcats ready for the Gamecocks.

That was his reply a week earlier after the WKU loss.

And, really, what else can he say?

Two UK players, senior offensive lineman Matt Smith and sophomore offensive lineman Darrian Miller, were on hand Monday.

UK media relations usually has four players attend these Monday press conferences, but Smith and Miller were all they could muster this time.

And bless the hearts of those two guys. I’m sure both Smith and Miller both would have preferred to get a root canal rather than talk UK football with the media on this particular Monday afternoon.

I made it a point to thank Smith for coming, and the former St. Xavier High star looked surprised, which tells you plenty about what a nice guy Matt Smith is.

PLAYERS KNOW FANS UNHAPPY

Smith said the players are not thinking about Phillips’ job future, though they are keenly aware of fan unrest.

“We love Joker,” Smith said when asked about Phillips’ job future. “But right now we are not thinking about that. It’s the middle of the season, and we’ve just got to focus on getting out there and playing like we know how to play, and all that will be worked out after the season.”

Well, we’ll see about that ... whether Phillips gets to “after” the season, though I’d be surprised if the UK administration pulls the plug before the last game at Tennessee Nov. 24.

Smith insists the bond within the ranks of the players and coaches remains solid.

“We play for him (Phillips), and we play for everybody out there,” Smith said. “We’re all in this together, the coaches and players, as a whole. Not many people believe in us outside this locker room, so being on the same page and having confidence in each other is key right now.”

Smith said the Wildcats’ shortcomings are not the fault of Phillips or his assistant coaches.

“We understand that it’s about what you put up on the scoreboard,” Smith said. “And we understand that’s his (Phillips’) job. But, I mean, it’s up to us. It’s up to us to not make those mistakes.

“The coaches prepare us so well. When we watch film, it’s hard for us to swallow some of the things that we see that we know we could have done, things that the coaches have told us about and shown us during the week, and then we just don’t do them.

“We all know how much passion Joker has for this school and this game, and we all see that. But (again) it’s up to us not to make those mistakes.”

But Smith says he does not blame the increasing number of fans who are choosing to stay away from Commonwealth Stadium.

Asked if he wishes the fans would have more patience, Smith replied: “You always want to wish that. But, at the same time, look at it from the fans’ point of view. We’ve started 1-3, and our schedule is not going to get any easier. So we can see where they are coming from.

“But it’s up to us not to listen to that. We just have to focus on what’s within our locker room, and just be able to pick up each other and keep moving forward as a team.”

Notes: Phillips said Monday that he does not know if sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith will be able to play Saturday against South Carolina. Smith aggravated a shoulder injury (a sprain) in the Western Kentucky game and was not able to go at Florida...Senior Morgan Newton went most of the way at QB against the Gators, to largely disastrous results, given his lack of game action this past year...Phillips said freshman Jalen Whitlow would be the likely starter against USC if Smith can’t go...Game time for the Oct. 6 home contest against Mississippi State has been set for 12:21 p.m. ... just what Kentucky football needs, going up against the opening weekend of the fall meet at Keeneland....That game will be televised on the SEC TV Network...Keep in mind that UK has no say in the start time of that game. Most of the Kentucky football games, and all of them in conference, are dictated by regional and national television.

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  • Oh, and as for all of this talk about the demise of Joker Phillips, it really does not matter who the coach is at UK. If UK had Nick Saban as coach, they still would not be able to recruit the quality of athlete necessary to compete in the SEC...which is why Saban would never come to UK for ANY amount of money. It is the same reason that Coach Cal would never go to Alabama.

  • In all of UKs losses, the key factor was that UK did not have an adequate QB1, and all of those other teams did. The contrast was dramatic. Max Smith has some promise, but he isn't there yet and certainly is not durable. Senior Morgan Newton has proven over the years that he should have been converted to a redshirt receiver like E. J. Fields. To compete in the SEC, and apparently the state of KY, a school MUST have a top flight QB1. UK hasn't had one of those is a while, and it shows.