Locking up Phillips benefits Cats now and in the future

Whoever came up with the expression that you can’t have your cake and eat it too must not have told UK’s athletics director. Either that or Mitch Barnhart just wasn’t listening.

Instead of taking the risk of losing one of the nation’s top offensive coordinators, he decided to keep Joker Phillips right where he is, and in the same breath, offer a dream job.

It was a good call with little risk of a backwards step for UK’s football program.

In each of Phillips’ three years as UK’s offensive coordinator, the Cats have seen a dramatic change in offensive production from year-to-year. In the season prior to Phillips taking over the offense, UK only produced 15.7 points per game. In just his first year as coordinator he raised the points production to 21.7 and 26.7 in his second. This season the Cats produced a staggering near-two touchdown difference in scoring, averaging 36.5 points per game en route to their second consecutive bowl win.

With the success the Cats have seen on the offensive side of the ball, Phillips would have once again been the focal point of other schools looking for a boost on offense. But with Barnhart’s offer to Phillips to one day be the head coach, it keeps the Cats’ offensive mastermind at bay.

It was a job call.

Joker works

The move by UK’s athletics department was an easy choice based on what they knew of Phillips. The former UK wide out from 1981-84 — the team that captured the last bowl victory before a 22-year drought — still produces wins for the Cats today with his offensive genius. There is no dollar sign that can be placed on that. Phillips took an offense that was a joke and made it one deserving of a standing ovation.

Offensive teams have the luxury of running up the scoreboards occasionally, which in return, puts butts in the seats of stadiums. Teams that have a great offense always draw larger crowds because they are fun for fans to watch, hence the record number of sellouts and crowds at UK football games this past season. Simply put, Phillips — under Rich Brooks’ leadership — gave reason for UK’s football program to smile again.

So with Phillips, UK doesn’t just get more wins on the field, it brings in money. In building a program, money is just as necessary as wins. It gives funds to build new facilities to better the current players as well as attract more prospects. It’s those funds that allow Brooks to surround himself with a top-tier coaching staff.

When it was time to bring in key assistant coaches like Phillips, the price for UK tickets went up. But the UK fan base kept coming because the team began winning. Now, the effect of a successful coaching staff, moving off probation and a common goal has UK on a collision course with football supremacy, if the school keeps its current course.

The illusion of risk

Like all coaching changes — even those set for a future date — there are always risks and doubts. It’s easy to look at UK’s current football program and say, “All hail Woodson.” It’s simple to say the man who was a contender for the Heisman is the reason why UK had such a potent offense that won back-to-back bowl games, and there’s room to argue that.

It could also be argued that the final snap in the Cats’ Music City Bowl win last month marked the decline of a nice run with the football program because 10 of the 16 graduating seniors were starters, and those playmakers carried the team the last two years.

A coach can urge players to make plays and draw up game plans on the board until he’s blue in the face with cramping hands, but it’s up to athletes to execute. Still, some credit has to go to the man who brought those players into the program.

From 2003-04, Phillips was UK’s recruiting coordinator and was responsible for bringing in not only senior quarterback Andre Woodson but seniors Keenan Burton, Jacob Tamme, Wesley Woodyard and a good portion of the rest of those seniors who have received national attention while becoming household names.

So much of college athletics is based on the ability to recruit. It can take a team from being a cellar-dweller to a national contender in two years flat. By Phillips showing that he has an eye for recruiting and landing talent, he has proven he can, and will, sustain the UK program and take it to the next level when he gets his chance.

And as for the UK fan base, you can now have your cake and eat it too.

J.D. Williams is a journalism senior. E-mail [email protected].