“Everybody said we would be lucky to win four games, and we won six and then won a bowl game,” Phillips said before UK’s basketball game against Auburn Monday night. “We’ve been here before. Last year we lost our bowl game and there were some negative things said.
“We are going to continue to recruit and sell our program. Some guys are leaving, but they did in 2007, too. We were able to recruit Randall that year and we are putting more of an emphasis on getting more of those type guys. Recruits can see we will give them an opportunity.
“But we have to be more consistent. We have to be a hard-core, disciplined team all the time. That’s what the offseason will be geared for.”
Phillips noted that national champion Auburn needed a field goal on the final play to beat his team 34-31, the same three-point margin Auburn beat Oregon by Monday in the national title game.
“We are not that far away. A couple of bounces, and we could have had another big win or two,” Phillips said. “We’ve got good enough players.
“When you look at the guys we redshirted and guys that are coming back, I feel good with where we are at. In 2007, we were in the same position. Nobody in the state is more passionate about this program than me.”
Phillips said he believes his staff is in place for next season and that his intention is for Steve Brown, the defensive coordinator who now shares that title in name only with new coordinator Rick Minter, to stay at Kentucky.
He also noted that there will be a three-way quarterback battle in the spring between Morgan Newton, Ryan Mossakowski and Maxwell Smith. Newton started eight games in 2009 when Mike Hartline was hurt and started the bowl game when Hartline was suspended.
“That’s very critical. The difference in winning and losing a lot of games is the quarterback position,” Phillips said.
He’s not worried about Mossakowski, a redshirt freshman, falling behind because he also plans to play baseball.
“Baseball will not take away from what he does with us. We’ve got to make sure he fulfills his obligations to us first,” Phillips said.
He feels freshman running back Raymond Sanders and sophomore receiver LaRod King are ready to become big-time offensive players next season. He noted that UK’s top 11 tacklers return — unless leading tackler Danny Trevathan also leaves early for the NFL.
“We’ve got players in the program and it would not have mattered if we had won or lost (the bowl game). We are not that far away. We have guys that can win here. We just have to get it out of them,” Phillips said.