Phillips' future as Wildcats coach in jeopardy

Associated Press Modified: October 29, 2012 at 7:18 pm •  Published: October 29, 2012
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach Joker Phillips has tried to maintain a sense of humor during what has been a difficult season and mounting questions about his job status.

"I was coming over here today, and I got in the car, and my seat was hot," he said. "And I looked up, and I had hit the seat warmer."

Questions regarding Phillips' future and Kentucky's struggles are no laughing matter, though.

The Wildcats (1-8, 0-6 Southeastern Conference) lost their seventh straight game Saturday at Missouri, ensuring a third consecutive losing season and putting them on pace for their worst finish since going 2-9 in 2004.

Injuries have forced Phillips to play 26 freshmen against one of the nation's toughest schedules. That hasn't stopped Wildcats fans from expressing their frustration: Calling for his dismissal on radio talk shows and not showing up for games — attendance has fallen off at 67,942-seat Commonwealth Stadium.

Players say they still support Phillips and will try to finish the season with three wins to help the embattled coach.

"He's still here, he's still our coach, we're still playing for him and I'm going to play hard for him," junior right tackle Kevin Mitchell said.

"We don't actually say anything to him (about his situation), but we come out and we practice hard. We're keeping it going, we just continue as a team. We're all pushing each other hard. Practicing hard shows him that we still care, that we still believe and that we're not giving up."

Phillips, 12-22 and in his third season at Kentucky, is one of several SEC coaches facing uncertain futures — joining Auburn's Gene Chizik, Tennessee's Derek Dooley and Arkansas' John L. Smith.

But Phillips has remained upbeat through the turmoil, saying that he's been too busy focusing on his team to pay attention to what has been or said about him.

When asked again if he has talked to Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart about his status, Phillips came back with his standard response that the two friends have talked without being specific.

It's "just small talk," Phillips said. "Talking like friends do weekly."

Kentucky spokesman Tony Neely declined an interview request with Barnhart about Phillips, saying via email, "As was stated before the season, and as we do with each program, an evaluation will be done at the end of the season."

As for Wildcats fans, they've had plenty to say on sports talk shows.

"Most fans feel there needs to be a change, and they've felt that way for some time," said Larry Glover, who hosts a nightly radio show heard here and in Louisville.

"I think the knock on Joker is that Kentucky was relatively healthy and then they lost to Western Kentucky (32-31 in overtime). Had they beaten Western, I think he'd have a more credible case about the injuries and youth."



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