“You have to get people to follow you, play for you and believe in you. He’s made huge strides in all those areas. He reminds me a little bit of a guy who broke records — Andre Woodson.
“I think Morgan’s improvement has a lot to do with Andre being around (as a student-coach). While we were recruiting Morgan, those were things we talked about with him in regards to Andre and how he developed into a big-time quarterback. Morgan heard all about him.
“But what Morgan went through coming in here thinking maybe it would be easier than it was is typical for all positions, not just quarterbacks. If you listen and read things incoming freshmen talk about and the impact they all think they will make and then you dump a heavy playbook on them, it is just mind boggling to them and they get behind pretty quickly.”
Question: What was your biggest concern coming out of spring practice?
Phillips: “Our ability to put the ball in the end zone. We didn’t score the way we have been scoring points around here for a while. We ditched the running game in the spring because we thought it was so important to be efficient in the throw game. That skewed the outlook on offense and our ability to put the ball in the end zone because we did ditch the running game. We will probably run more in the fall.
“I am pleased with how our defense is coming. We have quality players there and SEC speed at positions now because of the (personnel) moves we made. But my biggest concern is can we score enough points like we have been doing. We’ve always been able to score. Now we have a chance to stop people, but the concern is can we get our offense to the same level of our defense.
“We also didn’t protect the football well in the spring. Our backs put the ball on the ground way too many times. Our receivers were not real consistent in catching the football. Taking care of the football is a concern because we don’t want to put our defense in a short field situation, especially since we did a good job taking away the football for the first time in a long time on defense.”
Question: Is this a critical year for UK¿football to move forward?
Phillips: “I viewed every year as a crucial year for taking the next step. Even when we won eight games I thought it was crucial to get to nine or 10 wins. This is a crucial year just like all the rest.”
Question: What is the biggest thing you learned as a head coach last year?
Phillips: “I tried to do too many things last year. The only advice Rich (Brooks) gave me was he told me not to be afraid to say no. I was afraid to say no last year, especially to outsiders. I was interested in selling our plan not only to our team, but to those outside the program. I tried to do every speaking engagement, every function.
“Now I am comfortable with the staff I¿have put together. The first year I had to sell my staff on the plan. Now when things come across my desk, I¿am not afraid to delegate. If I have a speaking request in Owensboro,¿I can send Steve Pardue. If I have something in Georgetown or Winchester, I can send Tee Martin. That has allowed me to spend more time on football instead of trying to sell my plan.”
Question: Did you have any regrets after the Blue-White game over indicating your team could and should stay in the SEC title chase longer this year?
Phillips: “The question was asked about what direction the program was going. We want to contend for championships. We are not in this to be 6-6. The longer we stay in the title race the more our program is improving. I¿make no bones about wanting to win and compete for a title.”
Question: Do your players believe that can truly happen?