Joker Phillips understands there is grumbling and unease in the UK fan base.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The opening of college football should be about how much sharper the quarterback looks. About which freshmen can justify the recruiting hype.
It is not supposed to be about how much love home fans still have for the head coach.
But that is The Question at the University of Kentucky: How much love do fans still have for Joker Phillips?
Phillips knows it. Blocking and tackling have yet to begin, and twice Phillips has asked fans to embrace his team even if they won't embrace him. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that UK football season tickets sales are down 27 percent from last season.
For Phillips, this is Year Three. Bear Bryant once coached at Kentucky. The Great Man finished a dazzling 5-3-2 during his third season, winning one of five Southeastern Conference games – after he had started with 7-3 and 8-3 seasons. He finished ninth in the league.
Start the trend line with Bryant in 1948. Phillips is the 10th UK football coach to make it into his third season. One – Jerry Claiborne – won more than six games in his third year. One – Charlie Bradshaw (1964) – delivered a winning record in the SEC in year three.
History says this Hot Seat talk is premature. Reality says it is also a repeat of 2011 – as well as a repeat of what happened to Steve Kragthorpe at Louisville. It will not subside unless Joker Phillips and his team make it go away.
Here is my Five-Step Plan For Joker Phillips To Turn Down The Heat:
Number One:Beat Louisville. Nobody expects UK to win this game. The Cards won in Lexington last season. They're favored to win by at least 10 on Sept. 2 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
One team's hype is another team's opportunity. The underdog has won three of the last five games in this rivalry.
"We were projected to lose to Louisville (by five) my senior year," said former UK quarterback Andre' Woodson, who now serves as a graduate assistant for Phillips.
"I try to explain to the players what it took back then. It's kind of upsetting that we played that poorly (last season), yet we were only a touchdown away from coming away with a tie or win.
Number Two: Beat U of L and Western Kentucky. Kentucky didn't lose to the Hilltoppers last season. The score was UK 14, WKU 3. But a large knot of UK fans left that game in Nashville thinking the Wildcats lost 14-3.
Phillips cannot survive a stumble to Western. That would be a TKO. But he's also got to do better than huff and puff to 190 yards of total offense and a win that goes down like a loss.Western lost Mr. Everything, halfback Bobby Rainey, and comes to Lexington a week after visiting Alabama.
Number Three: Beat U of L, WKU and Mississippi State. Let's not pretend that the Bulldogs are an SEC heavyweight. They aren't. They have nice seasons, so-so seasons and rotten seasons. So-so looks like the call this year. State returns its top receivers, plus quarterback Tyler Russell but the running game needs work.
Maxwell Smith emerged as the UK quarterback against the Bulldogs last season by completing 26 of 33 passes and leading a fourth-quarter touchdown drive. State has won its last three against UK, but has never beaten the Wildcats four straight.
Number Four: Beat U of L, WKU, MSU and Vanderbilt. The Commodores are the trendy pick to avoid the SEC East basement again because quarterback Jordan Rodgers (Aaron's little brother) returns and coach James Franklin could teach Vince Gill something about sweet-talking. He's good at that. Ask recruits.
This is still a team that ranked 98th in the nation in total offense last season and lost a bowl game to Cincinnati. It's Vandy, not Auburn.
Kentucky always has a chance to beat Vandy – especially in Commonwealth Stadium.
Number Five: Beat U of L, WKU, MSU, Vandy and Tennessee. The last Kentucky coach to beat Tennessee in back-to-back seasons was Fran Curci 35 years ago. Phillips got the first one in Lexington last November.
Some analysts expect Tennessee to be one of the most improved teams in the nation, especially with talented quarterback Tyler Bray. But the coaching turnover from Phil Fulmer to Lane Kiffin to Derek Dooley still affects the Vols' overall talent. And they've lost six games in Knoxville the last two seasons.
Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.
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