Updates from Thursday, June 12
Charles Robinson and Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports provided the latest insight into Joker Phillips' resignation at Florida:
Former University of Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips resigned this week after the NCAA received a photo of the coach sitting in a restaurant with a high school recruit during a mandated dead period in recruiting, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports.
Three sources told Yahoo Sports the photo was turned over to the NCAA by an individual with ties to the Miami Hurricanes athletics program. Should the NCAA determine Phillips improperly recruited during a mandated dead period, it could be considered a major NCAA violation.
"The NCAA does not comment on current, pending or potential investigations," NCAA spokesperson Emily James said.
A spokesperson at the University of Miami declined to comment. A spokesperson at the University of Florida did not immediately return a message.
Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips abruptly resigned Wednesday afternoon, a move that left many in Gainesville scratching their heads and trying to find a reason.
Phillips, 51, has been with the Gators since 2012. In addition to his assistant-coaching duties, he served as the team's recruiting coordinator. Phillips previously spent a decade at Kentucky, first as a position coach and recruiting coordinator before a three-year stint as head coach. The Wildcats fired him after the 2012 season, having compiled a 13-24 record in his three seasons, including a 4-20 mark in the SEC.
In a statement released by the university early Wednesday, Phillips cited "personal reasons" for his decision to step down.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity that the University of Florida and Will Muschamp provided to me and my family, but at this time I have decided to step down from my position on the UF coaching staff for personal reasons,’’ Phillips said.
ESPN's Brett McMurphy initially reported that possible recruiting violations led head coach Will Muschamp to force Phillips' resignation but later backtracked:
McMurphy did not recant his claim of recruiting violations being at the heart of his departure, but there were not any reports on their severity. Kentucky self-reported incidents involving Phillips in both 2012 and 2013. Both were minor in nature, dealing with text-messaging prospective recruits.
Phillips will be replaced by former Gators quarterback Chris Leak. Leak, who helped lead Florida to its 2006 national championship under Urban Meyer, was an offensive quality control coach as a graduate assistant in 2013. The 29-year-old retired from his playing career in 2012 and has seen his star quickly rise since joining Muschamp's staff.
“Chris is a bright young coach,” Muschamp said. “He is one of the all-time Gator greats and being at Florida is very important to him. He has been working with coach Roper and our offensive staff and is very familiar with our players and new system.”
Whether recruit-related or not, the Phillips fiasco is just the latest controversy for the increasingly embattled Florida program. Muschamp enters 2014 with perhaps the hottest seat in the entire nation. The Gators are coming off a dreadful 4-8 campaign, their first losing campaign since 1979. Many expected Muschamp to be fired after last season, but he was brought back as the Gators instead made major changes to his staff.
Most notably, Florida hired Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator in an effort to fix its dilapidated offense. The Gators averaged only 18.8 points per game in 2013, good for 112th nationally. Roper, who most recently served as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Duke, will attempt to recharge the Gators' batteries with a no-huddle system.
Leak and Roper have worked closely together throughout the spring, so Phillips' resignation might create an even more cohesive staff. From the outside looking in, though, it's just the latest fiasco for a program that already came into the offseason teetering on the edge.
With the Gators home opener against Idaho less than three months away, Muschamp will need to nip the speculation in the bud and move on quickly before what is undoubtedly the most important season of his young coaching career gets underway.