That's why as he prepares to test East Carolina's talented defense in Friday's Liberty Bowl, he has plenty of compliments for his opponent.
"East Carolina is fun to watch play defense because I always like to see teams that play hard and play physical. You want to see well coached teams and this team is a well coached team. I know everybody on their staff and have worked with half of them," Phillips said.
"All their guys are fundamentally sound. They are physical and play fast. They are a team that tries to keep everything in front of them and come up and separate you from the football. That is how they have won a lot of games."
Phillips says East Carolina's defensive philosophy is different from what UK saw from most SEC opponents.
"They are different from teams that we have played. They are not really an attacking defense. They rely on good fundamentals and everybody stays in their gap and they just try to keep everybody in front of them," Phillips said. "They don't play a lot of man to man pass coverage. They prefer to come up to try and separate you from football."
Considering the trouble UK's young receivers had getting free against man to man coverage in the SEC, East Carolina's style would seem to be a blessing for the Cats.
"It could set up better for our guys, but they watch film, too," Phillips said. "You have to anticipate some man to man from them. We are still getting work on man, but we have to practice a lot of zone coverage, too. But you have to anticipate them doing what has given us problems against other teams all year.
"I really like the progress we have made. The thing about getting in a bowl game is getting basically an extra spring practice. We have inexperience at receiver with four true freshmen and two other guys — Kyrus Lanxter who didn't get a lot of reps last year and E.J. Adams who was on defense — that need all the work they can get. This position is still foreign to a lot of them. These practices for them have been very beneficial and I hope that will make a difference against a very good defense that we are going to face."