Right man for the job

When Joker Phillips was fired at Kentucky earlier this season, Florida head coach Will Muschamp didn't waste time reaching out to him. He wanted to let Phillips know that he was sorry that it came to him being fired and he was in Muschamp's thoughts. The Florida head coach was unsure if Phillips wanted to take a year off or get back into coaching, but he didn't waste much time asking.

"Would you be interested in coaching the Gators?" Muschamp recalled asking Joker Phillips.

There wasn't much hesitation on the other end of the phone.

"I would absolutely," Will Muschamp recalled Phillips saying back to him.

From that conversation on, there wasn't much else to be done. Muschamp described the process as "pretty easy." He's hoping the transition from graduate assistant Bush Hamdan to Phillips will be easy, too. Hamdan took over for Aubrey Hill, who resigned for personal reason, as the wide receivers coach one day before Florida opened fall camp.

Muschamp thought it would be best to find a long-term solution at wide receiver coach. Getting one with the experience and pedigree of Phillips was a bonus.

"Here's a guy that's also been coaching receivers for over 20 years, but he's also been a play caller," Muschamp said. "I always felt more comfortable as a defensive coordinator when I had guys in the room that had sat in my chair. And a lot of people don't like that. They're insecure about having people in the room that have sat in the chair. I like that.

"I like having guys that have been there and understand how you've got to think and see the big picture offensively, and Brent (Pease) embraced it."

Pease had to approve of the addition to the staff, but he said there wasn't any hesitation on his part. Pease served as the offensive coordinator at Kentucky from 2001-02, and Phillips started his time at Kentucky in 2003 as the wide receivers coach. They didn't work on a staff together, but Pease was plenty familiar with Phillips.

Pease flew to Lexington to meet with Phillips once before the hiring was made official.

"I had to feel comfortable, which I've known Joker for a while," Pease said. "I know he's a good coach. You don't get to where you're at being a great receivers coach, a great reputation as a coordinator and then a head coach without being a good person, without being a good coach, without kind of being well-rounded in recruiting and everything."

The first check on Phillips from Muschamp was to see the kind of person he is off the football field. It's an important prerequisite for any assistant coach that Muschamp wants to bring to Gainesville. As the Florida head coach continued to reach out to other contacts in the industry, there wasn't a negative report on Phillips.

"Joker is a guy I have a lot of respect for, as a person first of all," Muschamp said. "The more research I did, the more pleasing it was to hear about him as a person after not actually knowing him on a day-to-day basis or having worked with him on a day-to-day basis. The more you talk to people, they talk about the integrity and the type of person he is and what he stands for. There's no chink in that armor."

The hardest part of the transition might have been telling Bush Hamdan that a change would be made. Hamdan was thrown into the fire right before the start of the season. He came to Gainesville as a graduate assistant at the recommendation of Pease, who coached Hamdan at Boise State. Before his first season with the Gators, the 26-year-old fell into a job as the wide receivers coach at Florida.

It wasn't the perfect situation for such an inexperienced coach to learn on the job, but Muschamp was happy with the success Hamdan had during the 2012 season. He will stay on the staff through the Sugar Bowl and coach in the game, an honor Muschamp felt like he earned.

"I felt like just from a knowledge standpoint, and he deserves it," Muschamp said. "He's a guy that's been here, he's done an outstanding job. Him not getting hired didn't have anything to do with what he has or has not done. He's done a really good job for us, and he's a really good football coach."

Phillips has been in Gainesville to watch practices. While Hamdan is still the receivers coach during the bowl game, Phillips is starting to see what he has to work with for the 2013 season. The wide receivers are trying to make a positive first impression on Phillips.

"I told the receivers, ‘you've got a month audition. You have 15 practices to go play really well and get a great first impression for your future position coach,'" Muschamp said.

The players have been impressed with having Phillips at practice. He has name recognition with the players that he has been coaching against in recent years. Even though Phillips won't coach Frankie Hammond next season, the senior receiver believes Phillips adds a respected face to the Florida coaching staff.

"He's a great coach. With his resume, he knows his stuff," Hammond said. "With the little time I have with him, it's just picking his brain. He's coming into practice with us and any little thing we do wrong, he can put his two cents in and help us out these past couple of days."

The focus now will be the production of the wide receivers. After back-to-back disappointing years by the Florida wide receivers, Muschamp hired Phillips to change that. The Gators' receivers made just 78 catches in 12 games this year and only three receivers — Quinton Dunbar, Frankie Hammond and Omarius Hines — had more than two catches.

The hope from the coaching staff is that the second year in Pease's offense, combined with an experienced receivers coach like Phillips, will help the passing game take a step forward in 2013.

"We just need to play better," Muschamp said. "You continue to evolve in the second year and you ought to take steps forward in the second year of an offense and the terminology and the different things we've asked our guys to do. They certainly will be more familiar next year."

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