Phillips to Florida: UK fans should support ex-coach



By Alex Forkner | @AlexFork3

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After firing former head coach Joker Phillips, the UK football program has moved forward, announcing Mark Stoops as new head coach to much fanfare in a Sunday news conference. Now it looks as if the man with the pink slip is ready to move on as well — and at a familiar conference foe.

Phillips will join University of Florida head coach Will Muschamp’s staff as wide receivers’ coach and recruiting coordinator, the website reported Monday. Florida made the announcement official later that afternoon.

Thursday is expected to be Phillips’ first day at the Gators’ office, and he will likely be part of the Gators’ game-planning for their Sugar Bowl matchup against the Louisville Cardinals — a team he is somewhat familiar with, you could say.

The hire is an interesting one, to say the least. Phillips will now be tasked with helping defeat his former team, both on the field and in recruits’ living rooms.

Cats fans will still see him on the sidelines during SEC games, decked out in blue and white — only now there will be a dash of orange thrown in.

A lot of the initial fan reaction could very well be anger toward Phillips. A turncoat, they’ll call him. How can a UK guy take a position with a team that has routinely made a mockery of his alma mater, they’ll ask.

But that isn’t fair. Don’t be they guy who broke up with his girlfriend, then has something to say about her new flame. That guy is awful.

The only reasonable reaction is to be happy for Phillips. Joker, it is universally agreed, is one of the good guys in college football. He doesn’t cheat. He cares about his players.

Wishing he’d wind up in football oblivion, coordinating some offense unheard of by most of the civilized world, is spiteful and ridiculous. He is not the sole reason for UK football’s struggles, and he put his heart and soul into a program he had been apart of for decades.

I hope that UK football fans have more sense than wishing ill on a native son trying to move on from what is undoubtedly as tough a time as he’s ever faced. The grace and integrity Joker displayed during the exit process has earned him some measure of understanding.

I hope that when Florida visits Commonwealth Stadium on Sept. 28, 2013, fans will welcome Joker home with a standing ovation, a greeting well deserved considering all he invested during his time as a player and coach here in Lexington.

It seems Phillips wasn’t cut out to be a head coach, especially at a historically football-challenged school. His new position suits him better; he can focus on his strengths rather than trying to manage an entire team’s weaknesses.

Plus, recruiting players in a region fertile with football talent to a school with a prestigious history will be a lot less stressful than the tough sell of getting star players to Kentucky.

Phillips told fans during his last season at UK that once he was no longer coaching the Cats, he’d be one of them — a fan. Joker’s potential success at Florida won’t necessarily prevent UK from achieving its goals. I’m sure he is still rooting for the team he’s loved his whole life. It won’t hurt to root for him, as well.

After all, the split has proved beneficial for both parties. UK has a new coach who is injecting life into a program thought to be dead in the water. Stoops’ plan for success has season ticket sales surging and optimism at a record high.

Now that the Joker Phillips era at UK is over, both the man and the team are in position for success, something neither has seen in some time.