Jason Phillips getting acclimated to SMU

Former Houston standout and coach Jason Phillips is now a part of the Mustangs' staff and is excited to kick things into gear this spring. Though he's been going non-stop since coming to Dallas and hasn't even moved his family here yet, Phillips took some time to discuss his success at UH, the future of SMU, the Big East and recruiting.

The new office is bare, with the exception of a wooden desk, a few chairs, a University of Houston diploma hanging on the wall and an otherwise empty bookshelf containing thick playbooks that read: "Jason Phillips" on the spine.

Jason Phillips, the former UH co-offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator who was announced as SMU's new receivers coach in January, hasn't quite settled into Dallas yet. His family is still in Houston and he's been going back-and-forth between Dallas and Houston (with recruiting trips in between) ever since he was hired.

"I'm living out of a bag," he said with a laugh, as he and his family haven't found a place to move into yet. Right now his house is a hotel.

Phillips, 45, was an All-America wide receiver at Houston in the late 1980s, hauling in passes from Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Andre Ware. He led the nation in receiving yards in '87 (875) and ‘88 (1,444).

After college he was drafted by none other than June Jones, who coached quarterbacks and receivers at Detroit in 1989. He played in the NFL for five years for the Lions and Falcons—both under Jones.

He also played in the CFL for a couple years before hitting myriad coaching stops in the NFL (Houston and Atlanta) and college (Texas State, Baylor and most recently, Houston).

Obviously Phillips and Jones go way back, which is one reason why coming to SMU was appealing.

"One thing a lot of people don't know is that June was responsible for my NFL career," Phillips said. "He drafted me and we played the [Run and Shoot] in Detroit and Atlanta. He's always been a players' coach, he really cares about his players. He cares about you on and off the field."

Phillips said he's always looked up to his former coach.

"Every decision I've ever made in coaching, I've run by June first," Phillips said. "I lean on him. He's been a mentor and confidant."

This past season, Houston's offense churned out some of the most prolific numbers in NCAA history, averaging nearly 600 yards per game in total offense.

One of the main reasons for that, of course, was record-slashing quarterback Case Keenum and his mighty stable of receivers, which included the likes of Patrick Edwards, Tyron Carrier and Justin Johnson.

That wideout trio, which was developed by Phillips, ranked in the nation's Top 20 in receiving yards in 2011-12.

"The numbers that were put up were all due to the guys we had," a humble Phillips said. "Case Keenum plus the 16-17 seniors we had, had been together for four years. They were very committed and dedicated and the results speak for itself. It was nothing we did as coaches to be honest. It was almost as if we were in P.E. It was a spectacular year."

What people might not know about the aforementioned receivers is that they are all under 6-foot-2—Edwards is 5-9, Carrier is 5-8 and Johnson is 6-1.

Phillips was an undersized receiver himself and knows how to make the smaller guy play big.

"There is a secret, but I won't share it," he said, grinning. "But here's the premise: Always look for guys who make things happen with the ball in their hands. Because of what we do offensively [in the Run and Shoot], we're able to attract quarterbacks and wide receivers and even offensive linemen. One of the prerequisites is you obviously have to be a gifted player, and you do want bigger guys, but if [a smaller] guy can take a 5-yard catch and turn it into a 65-yard touchdown, you take that kid."

The receiving corps Phillips inherits at SMU is a smidge bigger—Darius Johnson is 5-10, Der'rikk Thompson is 5-11 and Jeremy Johnson is 6-feet—but the same principles apply.

"The small guy just has to get out of bounds or get down," Phillips said. "[To have success as an undersized player] requires a real understanding of your abilities and understand what we're trying to do offensively and an understanding of the defense. Once they put those three components together, they'll have a real innate ability to maneuver and make plays."

Clearly the shtick works.

Phillips is excited to get to work with his new players. Darius Johnson, one of two rising seniors, will be the leader of a young group that includes juniors like Keenan Holman and Jeremy Johnson, sophomores like Thompson, Arrius Holleman and Darius Joseph and the two freshmen Gehrig Dieter and Daijuan Stewart.

Asked if any of the players have shown initiative to come see him and talk about what they want to accomplish at SMU, Phillips grabbed a stack of hand-written letters he received from every single receiver that had their personal and team goals spelled out.

"At our first meeting, I wanted to know what they wanted to achieve," he said, flipping through the papers. "I'm taking everything into consideration so we can all get on the same page. We're just setting standards at this point right now."

On National Signing Day, Jones said that the 2012 class is the "highest caliber of kid" he's ever been able to get in his time at SMU. Phillips, who is not the recruiting coordinator per se, wants to build upon that when hitting the trails.

Now that SMU can sell the Big East and playing in a BCS conference, which allows them to talk to kids that might not have given them a look before, what will it take to snag prospects away from the Texas's and Oklahoma's?

"The more you win, the better your class gets," Phillips simply stated.

He added: "You sell the advantages of your program—they'll get a great education, you sell that, you sell the academics of the program, you sell the system and how the kid will flourish in the system. You sell what you have to offer and that kid will make a decision.

"I don't think you have to go out of your way and be a used car salesman. I've never been like that. This is what I have to offer and this is what you want or don't want."

As far as the type of player Phillips wants, well it's gotta be one that puts their schoolwork first.

"A serious student-athlete and someone who's serious about life, education and his future can be serious about football and athletics," he said. "Football is only a small window of your life and when you're done playing, you have to fall back on something and what better to fall back on than a SMU degree?"

Phillips has recruited the state of Texas for years and isn't afraid or intimidated to pursue a kid with offers from other more "renowned" programs.

"I have no problem going out and recruiting a kid who has offers from Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma," he said. "It doesn't matter to me. [The kid] can't go everywhere, he can only choose one, so it's important for him to hear our option. Maybe that'll even be the deciding factor. Get in there and present your case."

He may not be fully adjusted to SMU or Dallas yet, but Phillips can already talk about where the future of this program is headed.

"There's a lot of potential, but until you actually do it, it's just potential," he said. "I'm very confident in what has been done so far and it's only going to get better.

"Expectations are rising. Maybe not as fast as people would like, but they are rising. We have a great opportunity to be as good as we want to be on a national level."

Extra Note:

It's tough for anyone to get acclimated to a new environment, but luckily for Phillips, he already knows much of the Mustangs' coaching staff.

Phillips and secondary coach Derrick Odum worked together at Houston, he knows defensive coordinator Tom Mason and quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison through June Jones, defensive line coach Bert Hill was the strength coach while Phillips played for Detroit and he also knows linebackers coach Joe Haering from the NFL, too.

"This profession is a very small community," he said. "I've known these guys my entire life from my playing and coaching days."

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