Vaught's Views: Phillips will give UK offense more flexibility

December 06, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

It was no surprise that Kentucky finally named Joker Phillips its new offensive coordinator Sunday.

Phillips, UK's recruiting coordinator and receivers coach, was the front-runner as soon as Ron Hudson resigned five days before the Cats closed the season with a 37-31 loss at Tennessee. Phillips is a Kentucky graduate, he's a proven recruiter and athletics director Mitch Barnhart believes in him.

That had to make it easy for coach Rich Brooks, who brought Phillips back to Kentucky when he came here two years ago, to elevate Phillips.

However, what was surprising in Sunday's announcement was the sudden flexibility the Cats apparently will now have offensively. Hudson came to UK from Kansas State and was hell-bent on running the same system that had worked there. He either refused to adapt his system to the available talent or didn't know how. Either way, it made for two mainly unproductive seasons at Kentucky.


But that inflexibility seems to be gone now.

"We will revisit things based on what our quarterback will be," Brooks said in a statement released by Kentucky. "Given his playing time this season, Andre (Woodson) is the leading candidate. It doesn't mean the job is his, but it is his job to lose. If Andre is the quarterback, we would emphasize the passing game more because that is his strength."

Say amen, UK fans.

Brooks had promised to do the same when he got the job to take advantage of then-quarterback Jared Lorenzen's arm. Instead, UK was never able to fully utilize Lorenzen's passing skills.

UK offense left in limbo

Last season, Hudson had no confidence in quarterback Shane Boyd's ability to throw deep, but he also seemed reluctant to take advantage of Boyd's strength - running the football. It left the UK offense in limbo with no identity.

When Phillips helped call the offense at Tennessee, the Cats were more daring and not nearly as predictable. He showed more confidence in the players, and they rewarded him with their best overall offensive game of the year.

So what will happen now that Phillips, a former UK receiver, is running the offense?

"The biggest change I'd like to see is our attitude in regards to how we feel about ourselves," Phillips said in UK's statement. "We have to have a base, and if Andre is our quarterback, our base will be to spread the field and let Andre do what he does best."

Again, say amen UK fans. Imagine a coach wanting to let his quarterback do what he does best. What a novel idea!

"We would like to spread the field more for him, get him in the shotgun more and let him see things develop," Phillips said.

Brooks is also going to let recruiting continue to "develop" the next two months before he names a new recruiting coordinator. Phillips has done a splendid job the last two years considering the adversity he's faced with NCAA sanctions and UK's losing record.

Two more players commit to Cats

It was no coincidence that on the same day Phillips' promotion was announced, two more players verbally committed to the Wildcats. Receiver-defensive back Earl Bennett of Birmingham had been leaning to Kentucky for weeks before making his official visit last weekend. That convinced Bennett, rated the 15th best overall player in Alabama by, to tell Phillips he was ready to sign with the Cats in February.

Waggener running back-defensive back Alfonso Smith, who played against Boyle County in the Class AAA playoffs, also gave his verbal commitment within hours of UK officially announcing Phillips' promotion. He was slowed by an ankle injury when he played the Rebels, but Boyle coach Chuck Smith raved about what he saw of him on film before the game.

While Phillips is not the only reason Bennett, Smith or 13 other players have verbally committed to UK this year despite Kentucky's 2-9 finish, he's a big part of it.

That charisma also will be needed as he tries to revive UK's offense, which ranked among the worst in the nation last year.

If that's not enough, Phillips needs to have immediate results because if Kentucky's offense is not better, the Cats likely will not win enough games to assure Brooks of a fourth season. Many other college coaches have learned in recent weeks that schools now have far less patience before firing a head coach. Less than five wins next year could mean UK will do the same.

Phillips has no experience as an offensive coordinator. He has extensive coaching experience, but none as the coach held responsible for designing and implementing a game plan.

Still, not only was he the obvious choice, he's the right choice. Kentucky needs some stability, but it also needs an offensive coordinator who believes in players and will give them a chance to use their ability. Phillips will do both and that alone is a step forward.

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