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September 19, 2011Joker Phillips is angry.
The Kentucky head coach isn't angry with his players, and he's not even particularly concerned about the Wildcats' 2-1 record. But just 16 games into his tenure as head coach, he's already feeling the pressure from fans who expected more than his 8-8 record.
"I feel the same way as everybody," Phillips said. "Understand this: I care more about this program than anybody in here. There's not one person in here who cares more about it. I'm angry. I've been a part of an 0-10-1 (in 1982) season and was angry then and battled ourselves to get to a 9-3 season (in 1984) as a player. As a coach I've been part of a 1-10 season (in 1994) and battled to where we won 8 games. I'm angry also. I'm not satisfied with what we're doing. I'm not. It starts with me and we'll get it corrected."
He's not the only one who's getting fired up. Phillips said on his Sunday teleconference with reporters he felt the players were down in a team meeting one day after his team's 24-17 loss to rival Louisville, but sophomore defensive tackle Donte Rumph said he could feel some anger among the team.
"It was an emotional meeting coming off an emotional loss," Rumph said. "A lot of anger, still from the game. Once practice came, there was a lot of intensity. Everybody was out there ready for Florida. We have something to prove and we're going to prove it."
That's just the way Phillips wants it.
"This is an emotional game," he said. "You have to wear your emotions on your sleeve. We want our guys playing angry."
Even though he's not even halfway through his second season as head coach, Phillips has plenty of experience watching coaches handle pressure from fans and the media. He was an assistant coach when the Bill Curry era ended in 1996.
More recently, he saw Rich Brooks take criticism from fans before leading the program to four consecutive bowl games. Phillips said Brooks taught him to listen to the criticism, but not to respond.
"I think it's fair," he said. "I know what I signed up for. I really do. I'm not one who takes this position for granted. I understand what I signed up for, I understand the concerns that everybody has. I have the same concerns. We're trying to get them fixed."
The last Kentucky coach to have a record of .500 or better was Blanton Collier, who left Kentucky in 1961. Phillips said he understands the scrutiny in today's society, but is more worried about trying to fix the problems he's encountered this season.
"We are 2-1. We're not 0-3. We're 2-1," Phillips said. "We've got a long season ahead of us. At the end of the season, if we're 2-10, you guys come talk to me. But we're 2-1 and we shouldn't allow these kids to think they're defeated."
If there's one player that jumps off the film as the UK coaches reviewed film of last year's 48-14 loss to the Gators (3-0), it's Florida's Trey Burton.
Burton, a sophomore utility player, had five carries for 40 yards and five touchdowns last year as a freshman. For good measure, he added five receptions and a receiving touchdown.
But he has just scored just seven touchdowns in 12 games since then, and he's seen his role change this year under new head coach Will Muschamp.
"They're not asking him to do as much this year," Phillips said. "It's more of a conventional offense. There's not as many shotgun-read option things that they're doing with him like they were doing last year, so he's not showing up as much. He's all over the place. He'll line up at tight end, slot receiver, in the backfield, he's just not getting as many touches as he did last year."
Muschamp hired former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator. Weis, a former offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, installed a pro-style system to replace Urban Meyer's spread offense.
That's helped lighten the load off Burton, but won't make things any easier on the Kentucky defense.
"Charlie likes to run the football," Phillips said. "He'll have a play action off every run he has, he'll have a screen off every run he has, so we just have to make sure we recognize the things they're trying to do."
Junior guard Larry Warford will likely miss practice Tuesday and is considered day-to-day, but should play Saturday. He suffered an ankle injury in Saturday's game. Junior wide receiver Gene McCaskill, who hurt his back Saturday, is expected to play.
Senior right tackle Billy Joe Murphy, who sprained his ACL in the season opener, ran on Sunday and will be evaluated going forward. Senior safety Taiedo Smith, who has not played this season, ran as well and could be ready for Saturday's game.