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Joker’s Spin on “Players First”



We’ve heard the “players first” mantra over and over since Calipari and company moved into Lexington. In the context of our basketball program- a profitable, high-exposure, year-round behemoth filled with crazed fans and ritual couch-burnings- a players first program means no promises about playing time, teaching players to work as a team at the risk of sacrificing individual success, and most significantly with Cal, helping players make the right decisions about their future professional careers. In short, putting the players’ best interests at heart. But could this mindset also apply to UK’s football program- a vastly different situation?


The first two pillars of “players first”- working for playing time and learning to achieve as a team- still apply. When you’re consistently projected to be at the bottom of the SEC totem pole, there’s no room for egos, and working together smoothly on and off the field is even more crucial to the team’s success.


The third is a little trickier. Kentucky football doesn’t have the elite reputation or proven results needed to assure recruits that we can send them on as first day NFL draft picks. We don’t need to sell our school based on how well we can prepare you for the next level of professional play (although that would be a helpful bonus). Instead, like Joker said a couple weeks ago, we need to sell our school on the fans. Fans are the best recruiting tool we have right now, and for the football program to succeed, the fans need to put the players first-  meaning that no matter how we may feel about the coaching staff or athletic department, we support the players.


In this sense, “players first” should be a motto all our fans adopt as we gaze into the upcoming fall and wonder what we can expect from this year’s team. We may end up with a record under .500. We may lose to Louisville. Hell, we may lose to Western Kentucky. But through it all, the fans need to put the players first and support them through the inevitable ups and downs. Joker said it best at the football kickoff luncheon: “Get behind this team. It’s your team… These players don’t need everybody to believe in them but they damn sure need someone to. They need you. I expect you to get behind this team.” If that’s not putting players first, I don’t know what is.


The players first model has been wildly successful for UK basketball as of late, and with a little bit of a twist, it can work for football too. All we need are the fans.



Article written by Kristen Geil

17 Comments for Joker’s Spin on “Players First”

  1. Hope and Change
    10:11 pm August 4, 2012 Permalink

    Joker can say and do whatever he wants… he sucks as a coach and will continue to drag the UK football program down as far as he can until the Board of Directors do their job and fire Joker (cause God knows Mitch wont do his job).

  2. BPsycho
    10:15 pm August 4, 2012 Permalink

    Sanya Richards Ross is so pretty, and has a great smile.

  3. BleedingBlue79
    10:40 pm August 4, 2012 Permalink

    Hey #1, this isn’t about Joker, it’s about supporting the players. Good grief, do people even read the posts before commenting? And regardless, no matter what anyone thinks of Joker as a coach, he’s exactly right on this point.

    When these kids suit up on game day, neither the front nor the back of their jersey says “Joker Phillips.” The back says their own name, and the front says KENTUCKY. So, when I go to these games – which, personally, I fully intend to continue to do – THAT’s who I’m going to support, regardless of who the coach is.

  4. Explorer
    10:46 pm August 4, 2012 Permalink

    #1 in the spirit of your name, I hope that you change teams to cheer for.

  5. JBR
    11:07 pm August 4, 2012 Permalink

    What you said 1…and #3 it just is not that simple. This is actually a very complex issue, and one that is very difficult to deal with for a disgruntled fan. #1 is correct…Joker is not, nor will he be, an SEC level coach, period. This will be his last year unless our administration is just retarded or he miraculously completely changes his coaching style and demeanor. Now, I also agree that the players should be supported. There is no reason to punish those guys. But what does a fan base do about that? Unfortunately, there is not really a cure to fit both dilemmas. If we continue to support the program, we are stuck with a horrible coach for longer, as in today’s cruel world, money talks and $%^# walks. Only a huge financial hit to the athletic department will make things change. That is simply the real world. I think a perfect storm hit…the economy, we tasted a little success under Brooks, and now have a coach that has zero personality, fire, strategy, etc. A fanbase that has been loyal to a losing program for decades, really longer than it should have, suddenly mailed it in in only two seasons under Joker. Is that a coincidence? Absolutely not. Everyone bashes fans that are making a stand here…and that is unfortunate. Because what I will tell you, as a former player…if I were on this UK team, I would rather be winning than losing. And if that means a new coach, then so be it. In all reality, those of us that have had season tix for decades and have decided to give them up…well, we have pumped more money into a losing program that we should have. We are the real UK fans because we want a WINNING PROGRAM…we are not emotionally attached to an individual. We are UK…not Joker.

  6. BleedingBlue79
    12:50 am August 5, 2012 Permalink

    No offense JBR, and I’m not “bashing” anyone, but I attended every game I could physically make it to as a student at UK, and have been a season ticket holder as an alumnus ever since, so I don’t need anyone telling me who the “real fans” are, especially when that person is openly advocating NOT continuing to support this team, regardless of their rationalization.

    And as far as my initial comments, it makes zero difference if #1 is right, I never disputed any of that. The point was that this post isn’t about bashing Joker, it’s about supporting this team and this program, which, as I said, I’ll continue to do, because I’m a UK fan…not a UK fan when they’re expected to go to a bowl, not a UK fan when I like the kind of offense they run, not a UK fan when the weather’s nice on game day, and not a UK fan when I like who the coach is. A UK fan, period. My support of the guys who wear that uniform isn’t conditional based on any of those kinds of things.

    And make no mistake, I understand the attempts at rationalization by those “making a stand,” and that’s their choice, but personally, I’m choosing not to cut off my nose to spite my face, which, like it or not, is exactly what many people are doing by “making a stand” in this way.

  7. Rich Brooks' tomato
    1:03 am August 5, 2012 Permalink

    When will the administration at UK SUPPORT our football team? When will Mitch open up the check book for better facilities for our players? I LOVE UK football and want to see it supported by the administration A LOT better than it has been! Why haven’t we seen Mitch offer to give more to our players?

  8. gjb
    5:10 am August 5, 2012 Permalink

    I Believe, get that obama’s a liar

  9. gjb
    5:35 am August 5, 2012 Permalink

    The dirty birds r gonna choke. It’s all talk. They aren’t good, they just talk shit. Hopefully Clemons makes plays and we get some playmakers at wide out . Hope Interior D-Line takes their shit seriously, cause if they do ,over. Get em

  10. Big Blue Fan
    9:43 am August 5, 2012 Permalink

    I’m glad you are spending your money and going to the games. Like JBR said nothing will EVER change with UK football unless you hit them in the pocket book. Why would Mitch who has shown he is not even trying to upgrade UK football even in the Brooks era when we are top 25 in attendance and money coming in. If fans like JBR and myself doesn’t cancel season tickets Mitch would just sit back and watch the money come in and we would watch a losing team and make no changes. He is right money talks and if the fans don’t hit them in the pocket book we will watch Joker struggle for 3-4 more year’s before he is finally let go because thats the UK football way the cheap way.

  11. UK>UL
    11:05 am August 5, 2012 Permalink

    When will people realize that wins and losses will decide jokers fate, NOT a bunch of pouting fans saying they aren’t going to support the program until joker is fired. I got news for you all, UK hasn’t had a winning SEC record in over 30 years. So don’t act like Joker is the reason we aren’t winning in the SEC, no one has been. Being a UK fan is about supporting the program in the good and bad. You sound like a bunch of UL fans when we have a down season and start jumping off the ship. Support the program for the players and the ones that wore the jerseys before them

  12. The problem I have had with the UK football team, since Joker has been head coach is the team has played most of the games like they did not care. UK football fans have dealt with losing games and seasons, but at least you felt like they cared. The last 2 games of last year the effort by the team was much better. I hope that will continue.

  13. JayCee
    12:24 pm August 5, 2012 Permalink

    #11 couldn’t be more wrong if he tried.

    Hey, dude… I supported “the players” all through the 80’s and 90’s… where did that get me? Where did that lead this program?

    Same place you and your narrow thinking will end up, that’s where.

  14. UK>UL
    2:46 pm August 5, 2012 Permalink

    #13 who do you think they can hire that will meet your expectations, please say Mike Leach, cuz he had decent success at Texas Tech and now is employed by the power house Washington state. If not, then who do you suggest they hire, Nick Saban, Urban Meyar, Les Miles, ect… NONE of those names nor ones near that caliber are walking through that door. So your plan is fire Joker then…

  15. JayCee
    3:34 pm August 5, 2012 Permalink

    14- I never made such a claim, so, why do you ask who my coaching choice would be? I have no say in that matter, however, to answer your misdirected question since you asked, I have no doubt that MB will hire another patsy equal in experience, skill and wage to Joker Phillips. Kinda in the same way we got here now.

    For the record, I simply stated that you are dead wrong if you really think attendance alone won’t get Joker fired.

    Attendance is down 27% this year and 39% overall in the 3 years Joker has been coach. Retaining him after those numbers continue to decrease this year would be foolhardy and stubborn at best, business suicide at worst.

    Don’t worry, Homer. Everything will start to make more sense come September 2nd. I promise. Seen it a hundred times before.

  16. Tonia Voncannon
    8:46 pm August 5, 2012 Permalink

    Excellent, Natalie! Last year, I spent six months in China traveling from city to city! As a vegan, I was similarly challenged to find meals that catered to my dietary preferences, so I developed a line of recipes and strategies, and compiled it into….wait for it…..The Coffeepot Cookbook: A Fun, yet Functional and Feasible Traveler’s Guide to Preparing Healthy, Happy Meals on the Go Using Nothing but a Hotel Coffeepot…. and a Little Ingenuity!

  17. Bowdie
    7:39 am August 6, 2012 Permalink

    16- wut?