As you may have heard, the theme of Kentucky’s 2011 season, as displayed on the cover of their media guide, is "Rise." What precisely that entails, head coach Joker Phillips didn’t elaborate on in great detail — maybe it means a bigger airplane? Steve Spurrier’s gonna have something to say about that, friendo — but apparently it involves broadening the Wildcats’ recruiting reach into Georgia.
"We want to build more recruiting inroads in south Georgia," Phillips said, talking about new running backs coach Steve Pardue, who came to UK following 17 very successful years as the head coach at LaGrange High School. "We feel like we’ve done a good job in Atlanta and central Georgia, and Steve Pardue can help us with that."
"Rise" evidently involves continuing the work of turning the Wildcats into an SEC contender, which is no easy task — since Rich Brooks took over the program in 2003, the ‘Cats have raised their football profile greatly, but they’ve still finished in the top half of the East Division only once. Phillips said becoming an elite SEC team is primarily a matter of discipline. "I think we’re very, very close," he said. "We’ve been competing in this league for the last six or seven years, and we’ve lost a lot of close games, but the thing that’ll get us over the hump is being the most disciplined team in the league . . . and being consistent."
Phillips also talked about the relationship between him and Rick Minter, who was his mentor at Cincinnati in the 1990s and who is now serving under him at Kentucky as a co-defensive coordinator. "Our relationship’s been great. I definitely spoke with him when I left Cincinnati to go to Minnesota . . . and when I left Notre Dame — which wasn’t by choice — Rick’s advice was to go to South Carolina with [Lou] Holtz, whom he’d worked for. I’ve always talked with Rick about the major moves that I’ve made."
Phillips, the only current SEC coach who’s coaching at his alma mater, also explained the difference between his "coach-in-waiting" situation (he’d been tagged as Rich Brooks’ CIW in 2009) and some of the other heirs apparent that have been named over the past few years in college football. "I was a part of building what we had at Kentucky, and then some other guys came in and took over," he explained. "So I understood how much Kentucky football meant to me. Had I come in from the outside, maybe I wouldn’t have understood that quite as well."
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