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December 21, 2011

Phillips reflects on disappointing second season




The bottom line is two numbers: five wins and seven losses.

But between Kentucky's season-opening win over Western Kentucky on Sept. 1 and its historic win over Tennessee on Nov. 26, there was for more than can be described so simply by two digits.

"It was a season of ups and downs," Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips said on Wednesday, speaking to the media for the first time since the 2011 season ended. "There was a period where we were banged up, beat up and didn't play as well. Then there was a time when we got back healthy and didn't play as well. Then there was a time when we started to think we were bringing it together, getting everything together. Then there was another period when we didn't play as well. It was a strong finish by this football team."

After starting 2-0 despite struggling offensively, the Wildcats saw a four-year win streak against archrival Louisville end at Commonwealth Stadium.

Things only got worse when they were outscored by a combined margin of 137-20 over a three-game losing streak to Florida, LSU and South Carolina. It was the worst margin of defeat in a three-game stretch in the program's history.

The Wildcats got their first Southeastern Conference win on Nov. 5 when true freshman Maxwell Smith relieved the injured Morgan Newton and started against Ole Miss. Kentucky went 3-3 after its bye week, but a loss at Georgia on Nov. 19 ended the school's run of five-straight bowl games as rumors about Phillips' job security festered.

"The pressure in this business doesn't change on coaches just because we didn't have the type of season we expected to have," Phillips said. "It's that way because of what we put on ourselves."

Phillips has since spoken on several occasions with athletic director Mitch Barnhart, who publicly supported his coach throughout the season.

"None of us, he and I, are happy with the way the season went," Phillips said. "But we did see some improvement, especially the way we finished the last half of the season. We just want to try to move forward and try to get this thing right and start to get on to next year."

Phillips has now finished each of his first two seasons as head coach below .500. But despite the disappointing 2011 campaign, Phillips is optimistic for the future.

"There was a few times when you look out there and see some of the youth that was playing," Phillips said. "I wasn't prepared for it. On offense you would look out there and would be four true freshmen, a redshirt freshman and a walk-on out there making plays."

"Just the idea of seeing all those young guys out there making plays for us gets us excited about next year."

Staff changes likely complete

Phillips said he does not anticipate any more changes on the coaching staff. The only change made thus far in the offseason has been the departure of co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Steve Brown, who was let go on Dec. 2.

Phillips is currently in the process of looking for Brown's replacement, but he said he's not considering moving another assistant on staff to Brown's old job.

"One of the things I was trying to do was get through the recruiting season, which was most important,
Phillips said. "Get through the first half of the recruiting season which ended on Sunday, last Sunday, this past Sunday. Then start focusing on evaluating people for that position."

It's also the time of year when other programs are looking for coaches of their own, Phillips said. That leaves some teams trying to keep their assistants from jumping to another program. But Phillips said he doesn't anticipate any additional changes to the staff beyond the addition of an assistant to coach the secondary.

Wide receivers coach Tee Martin was thought to be a candidate for an assistant coaching job at Tennessee, but Phillips doesn't expect any staff turnover. Martin is one of the assistants Phillips wants to hold on to, he said, but he would like to keep the staff intact every season.

"I think we got a solid staff here," Phillips said. "When you hear recruits talking, they're not just talking about one guy or two guys. They're talking about every one of them."

Injury report

Linebacker Ridge Wilson, who will be a senior in 2012, underwent surgery for a torn labrum on the same day as Newton. He missed the last two games of the season with the injury and won't be able to take contact in spring practice.

"For a linebacker, there's not much you can do (without contact)," Phillips said. "We'll keep him out of the winter (lifting, conditioning) program."

Quarterback Morgan Newton will also miss spring practice. He and Wilson underwent surgery for their torn labrums on the same day. He's expected to be able to throw in May or June.

As of now, there are no more players expected to miss time in spring. Running back Josh Clemons is expected to be healthy in time for spring.

Senior linebacker/safety Winston Guy underwent surgery for a torn labrum after the season ended and played the final two games with a shoulder injury, Phillips said.

Cornerback Dale Trimble, who would have been a redshirt sophomore in 2012, has left the program, Phillips confirmed on Wednesday. He played in two games as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and did not accumulate any stats. A few walk-ons have decided to not return to the team in 2012, but Trimble is the only loss of a scholarship player as of now.

The only other potential loss could be wide receiver Brian Adams, who will likely be selected in the 2012 MLB draft and could forgo his junior and seniors seasons. Phillips said Adams is expected to play baseball in the spring, and he'll discuss his availability for spring football with the redshirt sophomore in the spring.


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