Kentucky coach Joker Phillips remains publicly upbeat despite a future at his alma mater that looks anything but that.
During his weekly press luncheon on Monday, Phillips joked when asked about the mounting dissension from the UK fan base and almost constant questions about his job security.
"I was coming over here today, and I got in the car, and my seat was hot. I looked up, and I'd hit the seat warmer," said Phillips, whose team is 1-8 this season. His record at UK has slipped to 12-22 overall and 5-17 in SEC play amid his third season as head coach.
The tone turned more serious, however, when the subject turned from Phillips to his players and prospective recruits.
"They're 18 to 22 years old," he said of the current Wilcdats. "Those guys need to be able to have fun, go to school, and play ball. That's what they're here for.
"... Again, I don't think about the media and how you guys, what you think. What I do is think about what the recruits think. We go in, sell who we are, sell what we do, and we've had success in doing that."
To date, none of UK's known 15 verbal commitments have backed out on the Cats. But one player, Florida safety Blake McClain, did take an official visit to Iowa State this past weekend. Others are expected to take a look around in the event they have to form a relationship with a new staff in Lexington.
Kentucky is coming off a mistake-plagued 33-10 loss at Missouri, which was, like the Wildcats, previously winless in SEC play. UK is preparing for a game this week against perennial SEC East cellar-dweller Vanderbilt, who handed the Cats an embarrassing 38-8 loss last year in Nashville and is looking for back-to-back victories over UK for the first time since 1994-95.
Perhaps not coincidentally, those two losses helped contribute to former UK coach Bill Curry being dismissed midway through the 1996.
Kentucky Athletics Director has remained silent on the topic of Phillips' job security, although he's maintained in the past that he'll evaluate the situation when the season has concluded. UK Media Relations spokesman Tony Neely reiterated that point on Monday.
Phillips said he has not had a discussion with Barnhart about the status of his job. The two have talked, he added, but the topic is usually not related to his coaching position.
The Cats will miss a bowl game for the second straight season after making a school-record five-consecutive trips from 2006-10, but Phillips remains optimistic that UK can accomplish some good things in the final three games of the season. He pointed to a competitive game at Georgia last year on the heels of the Vanderbilt loss and a win over Tennessee in the season finale as proof that you can salvage some good memories from an otherwise disappointing campaign.
"I've had a lot of guys, friends come to practice and ex-players, and all of them talk about how upbeat and energetic practice is," Phillips said. "... A lot of it has to do with we're playing with a lot of young kids getting an opportunity to play. Again, I'm so proud of how the veterans have handled this thing also. Those guys have done a really good job, (Collins) Ukwu, and I think Taylor Wyndham was in here today. He's been a good role model to those young kids."
After this week's game against Vanderbilt, UK has an open date prior to playing non-conference opponent Samford on Nov. 17 and a trip to Tennessee and another head coach on the hot seat in Derek Dooley on Nov. 26.
Phillips light-hearted as seat gets hotter
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