Kentucky coach Joker Phillips spent a few days in Arizona with his wife earlier this month, even getting a pedicure during a trip to the spa.
Phillips had one request: Don’t mess with his hands. He plans to get them plenty dirty over the next few weeks as the Wildcats begin spring drills.
It wasn’t the smoothest transition for the Wildcats last fall after Phillips took over for Rich Brooks. Kentucky endured another soso 6-7 season that ended with a dispiriting loss to Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Phillips’ vacation rejuvenated him. He’s hoping the last two months have done the same to his team. He wants to keep things uptempo during spring practice. Playing smart would help.
“We have way too many penalties and retaliation penalties,” Phillips said. “We have got to be a much smarter football team this year.”
And the Wildcats will have to do it without do-everything wide receiver Randall Cobb, who is skipping his season to head to the NFL. Cobb’s leadership will be missed, but Phillips believes Cobb’s departure will provide opportunities for others to fill the void.
He pointed to players like wide receiver La’Rod King, linebacker Danny Trevathan and offensive lineman Larry Warford as viable candidates. Yet he doesn’t think the Wildcats need to break camp with a true leader. That can wait until the fall.
For now, he simply wants to see his team, particularly junior quarterback Morgan Newton, is ready to forge a new identity.
While Newton is comfortably entrenched as the starting quarterback following the graduation of Mike Hartline and the transfer of Ryan Mossakowski, Phillips doesn’t want him to become complacent. Newton spent most of the last two seasons waiting in the wings as Hartline’s understudy. Now it’s his team.
“I want to see Morgan lead,” Phillips said. “The thing is, Morgan is a talent. We’ve got to be more efficient in the passing game. No question about that. We also want to see Morgan take control of this offense and lead them in the right direction. The right direction is at the goal line.”
Phillips praised the play of freshman quarterback Max Smith, who enrolled in January. Yet he remains very much a raw talent. The focus will be on refining Newton’s throwing motion and getting him to learn what it takes to hang in the pocket instead of tucking and running when things break down.
“How comfortable is he staying in there and until the last minute?” Phillips said. “I learned this early in my career, a great quarterback is one that extends and then takes one right in the lip before he delivers. Morgan’s done it a few times. The more you see it, the more you’ll start to understand how good of a quarterback he is.”
Newton’s development is one of a series of things Phillips will be monitoring until the Wildcats wrap up the spring with the Blue/White scrimmage on April 23.
He’s curious how a reconsti- where Louisville teams got most of the ratings buzz ( snicker) while county teams Christian and Rockcastle took home bragging rights and the hardware.
Kentucky. I love this place.
How perfect is perfect? Will be if ballots cast make Kerry Stovall Kentucky’s Coach of the Year.
Good Guys Dept.
• Florida coach Billy Donovan said Arkansas will regret firing John Pelphrey. Best scenario for the man from Paintsville? With no financial problems with Arkansas obliged to pay him a seven figure settlement, says here a season as television analyst would be an ideal sabbatical. Then, back to the carousel.
• How could Josh Harrellson’s rise from soft to solid endear himself even more to Kentucky fans? By saying he plays hard these days knowing “any game now could be my last for Kentucky.”
• Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall told reporters he plans to return next season and, flying in the face of one-and-done, his first priority now is “… getting my three seniors graduated, making sure Kenneth Faried is a first-round pick, and getting the other two guys to Europe.”
‘Other’ Dream Teams
• Final Four for Georgetown. Coach Happy Osborne’s Tigers (32-4) making an NAIA title run is more an expectation than surprise. Georgetown is enjoying happy times this week in Kansas City.
• Elite Eight for Bellarmine. Reward for a dream season, coach Scotty Davenport’s troupe earned a trip to the cradle of college basketball this week, a berth in D-II’s Elite Eight in Springfield, Mass. Win or lose, the players will have opportunity to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame.
• Pikeville. Few this side of Pike County remember much from the Bears’ 97- 66 loss to Kentucky at Rupp Arena November 1. What was evident then has come to fruition — a good team has gotten better. Coach Kelly Wells took the Bears to the NAIA Final Four for the first time since 2001.
Last week the unseeded Bears ( 28- 7) eliminated eighth-seed Oklahoma Baptist, beat defending champion Azusa Pacific, then sent a team, Robert Morris (32-2), that had won 20 in a row.
Georgetown, Bellarmine and Pikeville join Kentucky to make an elite Final Four.
Will Morehead’s Donnie Tyndall be on the coaches carousel next month? Probably. “I’m not too important to be at Morehead State,” he said at a post-game news conference last week. “I feel privileged and honored to be here.”
Maybe You Missed This
As the University of Kentucky searches for a new president, the Lexington Herald-Leader presented a first-rate example of journalism March 20. Reporter Linda B. Blackford examined
UK’s academic versus athletic budgets priorities. Included was a passage from civil engineering professor William Maloney and faculty trustee and financial professor Joe Peek.
“The concern is the perception that Dr. (Lee) Todd’s focus has been on athletics and the ( A. B. Chandler) medical center and the regular campus in between them hasn’t gotten much,” Maloney told Blackford. “Joe Peek calls it the valley of the shadow of death. I call it Death Valley, a desert between a jock oasis on one end and a doc oasis on the other.”
And so it goes.
You may reach Bob Watkins at Sprtsinky@aol.com.