The talk couldn’t sway him.
No matter how much chatter filtered through the Bluegrass from media, fans or even players, he stuck to what he knew through the team’s ups and downs.
Simply put, Joker Phillips went out doing it his way.
Before yet another subpar crowd, Phillips entered Commonwealth Stadium, upperclassmen by his side — as they demonstrated Saturday — and continued to go through the motions of such play calling that had detractors calling for his job months ago.
But, as he has repeatedly said, it takes time.
It could’ve been the fact that the Samford Bulldogs are a representative of the FCS, but Phillips’ approach shined in UK’s 34-3 victory.
Freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow continued with his appearance under center, using Phillips’ custom niche short passing plays and predominant run scheme to lead the Cats.
His help, though, unlike past results, came from the UK upperclassmen, who have known Phillips since his days as the Cats’ offensive coordinator and lead recruiter.
Their familiarity with the outgoing blueblood extends to days of Phillips sitting on their couches, discussing future opportunities with countless moms and dads. Two of which were senior wide receivers Aaron Boyd and Gene McCaskill.
Despite mediocre careers, the two made the most of Whitlow and fellow freshman Patrick Towles’ 113-yard passing day, hauling in a combined 68 yards, including McCaskill’s touchdown in the first quarter.
The Cats’ predominantly run oriented offense Saturday found balance with sophomore running back Jonathan George, or Jon-Jon to Phillips, and junior Raymond Sanders. The trenches were cleared by senior names such as Matt Smith and Larry Warford, who provided the two gaps to collect their respective 17 carry, 77-yard and 15 carry, 130-yard performances.
He’s never been one to feed the hunger for trickery, but Phillips’ sendoff from home territory featured a few unexpected surprises. Be it an onside-kick attempt on a post-14 point capturing score, yard chomping direct snaps to the running back or the infrequent reverse, Phillips’ decision to excite came when he wanted it to.
It came on a night when his most devoted 46,749 fans came to watch him go out with a murmur of hope for his own new tomorrow.
And as UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart begins to weed out the candidates that will promote a similar general lack of excitement, Phillips used the Bulldogs as his audition, taking a bow and claiming one last victory before players carried him off to the sound of a song representing his presence: “Home.”
“We done this thing the right way,” Phillips said.
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