After three very frustrating years as the head coach at Kentucky, Joker Phillips is enjoying being part of the supporting cast. That was evident as he spoke to Gator fans at the Palm Beach Count Gator Gathering last Tuesday.
Phillips took the stage and quickly shed his suit jacket, saying he felt like a basketball coach who had just received a technical foul. He was entertaining and energetic as he led the crowd through cadence drills (let’s hope the team is better with the cadence than the crowd was) and he even shared one of his fears with us when he was presented with the opportunity to hold a live alligator for a photo op.
“Oh, Sh–!” Phillips yelled. “You got the wrong guy. When was the last time he ate something?” I guess Will the alligator won’t #ComePlayWRForTheJoker anytime soon.
In college football, winning is everything. It allows coaches to a certain leeway with a fan base and let’s them be more personable with the fans and media. But when you go 13-24 (4-20 SEC), the fans don’t really want to hear your jokes.
“I met a man in the back,” Phillips said. “He said to me ‘hey, we love you, go Gators!’ I said, ‘they loved me at the last place when we were 0-0.’ I hope Franck still loves me after the season.”
To some, making the move from a head coach at an SEC school to a position coach in the same conference would be a step down, but for Phillips, he only had three criteria choosing his next job opportunity and Florida met all of the criteria.
“There are three things that I decided [about coming to coach at Florida],” Phillips said. “I wanted to stay in the south and drink sweet tea. I wanted to be able to recruit some of the elite athletes across the country. And third, I wanted to win a damn championship. Coach Muschamp gave me an opportunity to do all of those things.”
As a former head coach, Phillips has as much, if not more, experience as any position coach in the country. He has coached elite player who have gone on to have successful careers in the NFL like Stevie Johnson. That experience is something that will help him train and develop the wide receivers.
The receivers at Florida have severely underachieved the past four-to-five years and have become a scapegoat for why Florida’s offense haven’t had big play potential. Phillips knows the deficiencies that the position has had in the past but he believes they can become a vital part of what the offense does and he has an idea of how to get the receivers into more advantageous positions.
“We saw so much man-to-man coverage last year. How do you beat man coverage? You beat man-to-man coverage by running away and then picking. Well I shouldn’t say ‘picking’ because that’s illegal. Rubbing. Rubbing people,” Phillips explained.
When you watch what Phillips did at Kentucky you can see this philosophy play out. At a school like Kentucky, it is hard to get the most elite athletes in the country, so the coaching staff has to find ways to put their players in positions where they can be successful. Kentucky would regularly have two receivers run crossing routes, congesting the middle of the field. This can cause receiver, linebackers and defensive backs to collide, or “rub” and get a receiver open.
“If we see a lot of man-to-man this year, which we will because we run the ball so well, we have Solomon Patton and Andre Debose [who can] run away from man-to-man coverage. We have to do more rubbing and those kinds of things.” Phillips said.
While Phillips is teaching his receivers how to “rub” defenders on the football field, he’s also rubbing elbows with high school coaches and recruits as Florida’s recruiting coordinator.
While Florida sells itself in a lot of ways, that hasn’t stopped Phillips from being creative in trying to reach out to potential recruits.
Phillips and the coaching staff have started a Twitter and Instagram phenomenon with their Photoshop images. Images have included, but are not limited to, Heath Ledger as “The Joker” with an orange and blue tint, Jeff Driskel in the Kentucky Derby, Players depicted as clowns with the Joker and even Brent Pease as a character in the movie Top Gun.
The coaching staff’s new approach has created a buzz throughout the country and Phillips said the players he has spoken to love it. Whether the tactic actually brings more players to Gainesville remains to be seen but as a recruiting coordinator you have to appreciate Phillips taking a unique approach to recruiting.
“He’s really recruited the southeast from his time at Kentucky and the different places he’s been.” Muschamp said. That was part of the evaluation process for me, the recruiting part, and he does a great job.”
When pressed about the being the MVP of the coaching staff on Twitter, Phillips laughed and insisted it was a team effort. Will Muschamp was a little more candid saying that “He [Phillips] was definitely in the starting five” when it comes to Twitter but that he [Muschamp] was still “coming off the bench and battling for reps.”
There haven’t been any games played and he’s only been on the job for six months, but Phillips has already made his mark on the university, the team and the coaching staff.
“You meet Joker, he’s very personable, and he’s an outstanding football coach. Really the experience in the room is what I needed, what we needed at the University of Florida for that position group,” Muschamp continued. “He’s been a great addition for our program and he represents us in a first class manner. I’m glad he’s here.”