Prior to last night’s tip with Auburn, UK football coach Joker Phillips acquiesced to the requests of the media and briefly met with the best-dressed group of professionals in the state. And the talk was all about the future. As Will mentioned, Phillips said that Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski are both further along in their development right now than Andre Woodson was at this point. That optimism, or, depending on how you’re looking at it, that dished out moral victories, was a consistent theme of the discussion dictated by a coach who is dealing with more than a few disappointed fans – next year starts now.
Joker did not want to dwell much on the past (he did mention the Cats were “a few bounces” away from winning eight games), talking more about the future of the program and how he is confident that he has the players in place to help Kentucky reach the next level. But, he did justify that optimism for the future by briefly offering up this line:
“We’re not that far away. We just played the national championship team to the same score the won (the title) by and in the same way, really. We had some good accomplishments in the 2010 season, but obviously the season didn’t end the way we would have liked or anyone else would have liked. We feel good about the program.”
But, outside of that, it was all about the future. He spoke often about Raymond Sanders and LaRod “The Rod” King and cited them as players ready to make an impact next season. On the defensive side of the ball, Joker said that “pretty much everyone is coming back”, to which you can make your own assessment. Through these little nuggets, though, one thing was clear. To him, the season is over. Time to move on. And, with rumors that some of the older players had tuned him out late in the season and a divide between the Phillips and Brooks guys quietly emerged, the stance isn’t surprising.
You aren’t crazy to be disappointed in this season. There were bad losses, stupid penalties and questionable play calls. More importantly, the optimism sparked through the past few seasons seemed to die a slow death down the stretch as players appeared to be disinterested and the Cats missed opportunity after opportunity to take the next step on the SEC ladder. And while Phillips acknowledged he made some tough calls, he said that he won’t be looking back. He’ll only be looking forward with the group that he has now. And while dwelling in the past is never good for moving forward, the inability to say that last year wasn’t what he wanted is frustrating.
Just as you aren’t crazy to call the year a disappointment, Phillips wouldn’t be either. I understand the need to publicly move forward and deflect the negativity to build for the future, but if he and the staff believe privately that this year was anything but that, that’s an issue. Where’s the harm in calling it what it is? Even something as simple as “I do not expect my teams to lose more than we win” and then adding that he expects that to happen. Mitch Barnhart said it after the Compass Bowl. Why can’t the staff? I’m still in full support of Phillips as head coach, but let’s hope the optimism for the future is truly deserved and not just an indignant way to deflect the criticism.
Go Cats. Operation: Do The Damn Thing starts now.