If you heard the radio show this morning, in addition to hearing a sweet 80 year old Joanne rip me a new one, you also heard me say that Joker Phillips has to do something to try and reach out and win over fans. Well on cue, Joker Phillips made his most impassioned plea to UK fans yet of his tenure in Lexington. This afternoon he spoke at the Kickoff Luncheon and addressed what he needed to have addressed months prior. He acknowledged that fans are restless but he implored them to please support the team and get behind the UK football program. He suggested what is true. There is very little to sell to recruits about UK football apart from its loyal fans and if you lose that, trying to compete becomes even harder. And he made it clear that even if people have problems with the staff or the issues in the coaches box, supporting the players should be of a priority to the fans. It was probably his best attempt at addressing the elephant in the program and from all that I have read, it seems that he handled it well.
The reality is that Joker has given the perception that he is tone deaf when it comes to the criticism of UK football. He rarely addresses any of the substantive critiques people have with where the program is headed and when pressed, he gives the most generic, unresponsive answers to questions about its future. When the news came out yesterday that season ticket sales were down 27%, I expected Phillips to go on the offensive. I wanted Joker to come to every possible place he could go and let the world know that he had a plan for bringing UK football back. I thought he would do media interviews, talk to radio shows and go on television, all to say, “I get it…you are upset and we are turning this around!” If Calipari had similar bad news, don’t you think he would have been addressing it within 30 minutes of its release? I wanted that from Joker as well.
The reality is that we didn’t quite get that sense of urgency. I still wish Joker would do more to reach out to the fans and make a statement that things will be different and the program is headed in the right direction. But his comments today were a good first step towards that goal. The UK football program is at a crossroads with its fans and its future. This year is crucial, not only for Joker Phillips, but for the program in general. Fans feel that urgency and it is why there is so much displeasure and corresponding pleas for support. All we want is for Joker to show that he feels it too and gets where fans are coming from. It wasn’t perfect, but at the UK Football Luncheon today, he started taking steps down that road.