No Joking With Kentucky Football, Joker Is Coach In Waiting

BabyTateSenior Writer IMay 8, 2009

Add another limb to the great Bear Bryant/Frank Thomas/Knute Rockne coaching tree, Joker Phillips has been named the "coach in waiting" at Kentucky. 

Phillips is currently the offensive coordinator in Lexington, an alumnus of the school, and joins the newest fraternity in college football—those assistants designated coaches in waiting.

Before we hear the first chant of "the Joker is wild", let's examine the background of this individual.

Brought to UK out of high school as a sensational athlete by then-Wildcat head coach Fran Curci, Phillips played offensive end in the early 1980s.

Curci was a tremendous quarterback for the University of Miami in the 1950s and had led Kentucky to a 10-1 record in 1977. By Joker's sophomore season, Coach Curci had left, replaced by Jerry Claiborne.

Ah, Jerry Claiborne, the Wildcat alumnus who played at Kentucky for Bear Bryant and is known as one of the most respected minds to ever walk the sidelines.

It was under Claiborne that Joker Phillips blossomed as a player, and earned himself a position in the National Football league.

Kentucky fans will be asking themselves, why now and why the sudden rush to increase the nationwide number of coaches in waiting?

One reason is because Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks was the head coach at Oregon from 1977 to 1994. That means Brooks is no spring chicken, especially when you recognize that the 1977 National Championship was won by a team with a junior quarterback named Joe Montana.

A second reason is Phillips has done a great job as an assistant to Brooks and before that, Lou Holtz at South Carolina. Phillips is known as an extraordinary recruiter with a keen eye for talent.

Another reason is he is a "Kentucky man", and that should mean more to schools than has been demonstrated over the past generation of head coaching vacancies.

With the removal of another former Bear Bryant coaching tree disciple in Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom, the Southeastern Conference was left with no African-American head coaches. The hiring of Joker Phillips at Kentucky will alter that situation.

While the Wildcats are not projected to contend for this year's SEC title, it will not be due to a lack of offense.

Consider the designation of Joker Phillips as "coach in waiting" simply a positive acknowledgement for a job well done by a person who deserves all the credit he is receiving.