Hear from Joker Phillips on his contract and the state of the team tonight on ABC 36 News at 6.
COACH PHILLIPS: All right. Injured, Pancho Thomas dislocated a bone in his wrist and will have surgery tomorrow to put pins in it. He's out for the Vanderbilt game. Depending on how much pain he can tolerate, he could play in the Samford game with a cast.
Jabari Johnson is doubtful with a hamstring. Day to day will be (Donte) Rumph, has a right knee that had an MRI that came up that was a sprain, and his will be how much he can tolerate. Cody Quinn has a hamstring also, day to day. Tyler Robinson is a back (injury), his back. He did not make the trip last week. He's day to day. We'll see how he looks each day that we practice.
Vanderbilt is on a two‑game win streak, has a lot of momentum, a really physical offense. Doing a really good job in the run game. Led by (Zac) Stacy, who's the all‑time leading rusher there at Vanderbilt. Got an accurate passer in (Jordan) Rodgers. (Jordan) Matthews is a really good receiver, second in our league in receiving yardage.
Defensively, solid defense. A really fast defense that blitzes from all over the place. They bring pressures with the linebackers. Their secondary does a good job of playing on defense, only giving up 19 points, which is sixth in our league. Pass defense, they're third in the conference with 150 (yards per game).
Haven't created as many turnovers ‑‑ as many interceptions, I guess. They only have four this year. They haven't created as many as they had last year, but they have returned two of them for touchdowns. So they do a good job of transitioning from defense to offense by scoring touchdowns on defense.
Special forces, they have really good returners. I have watched their punt returns and already see three guys (on video) I think I'm close to being at the last game. If you watched the special forces in sequence and then their punt return, just getting to that. They already used three different returners, and I'm not even at the UMass game. So they have a lot of good returners also. Solid in the punt and kicking departments. I think their punter is fourth in our league in punting.
So they got an overall good football team. Any questions?
Q. Bud (Dupree) said the Vandy game last year was probably the low point of that season and he felt the same after that Missouri game last week …
COACH PHILLIPS: I hope we play as good as we did after that game last year. I thought we played really good, gave ourselves a chance to win against Georgia and actually came back and won the Tennessee game.
Obviously, we're not happy with where our season ‑‑ how our season's been. The way to get it corrected is go back on the practice field and go to work, get some guys healthy and continue to forge ahead.
Q. Can you talk about the tight ends overall? Is Tyler Robinson third on the depth chart because of his back?
COACH PHILLIPS: Yeah, he's had his back (injury) all year. We're playing really inconsistent at the position. Ronnie Shields started most of the season. He had a few mistakes early in the game Saturday, and we went with (Patrick) Ligon a little bit more, got a chance to get (Jordan) Aumiller in the game a little bit. But we've been very inconsistent at the position.
Ronnie is more of a hybrid wide receiver/tight end. Same with Aumiller. Those guys are those type of guys. Ligon is more on the line and same with Tyler Robinson. So we expected that position to really have a big year, especially in the pass game, and once Max (Smith) went out, all of our expectations in the passing game kind of went the other way.
So we've had to change gears, go more of a running game, and it's kind of changed the way we have to play Ronnie Shields. Instead of him being a pass receiver, he's kind of having to become an on the line blocker, which is really not his strong suit, but that's what we had to do.
Q. Have you thought about changing the way you rotate the quarterbacks?
COACH PHILLIPS: Changing them? We'll start off the same way, give Jalen the first two series. Again, only way you can make sure you get the other kid (Patrick Towles) in is have a plan before the game. We had a plan. We put him in on the third series. It would be crazy for us not to play him.
You can get into a game where, if you don't have a plan to play him, you can get into a game where it just doesn't come up. I've seen it happen. I've seen it happen with (Dyshawn) Mobley. We're now starting to have a plan with Mobley also.
Q. At some point do you change the plan if things are going well like with Jalen last week?
COACH PHILLIPS: Again, we wanted to stick with ‑‑ we had moved the ball, but how had we moved the ball? Run game. That's what we thought we'd continue to do. Jalen had thrown four passes. I think the length of them, the longest was five yards. So the way we were moving the football was through the run game.
Q. Do you and Randy (Sanders) disagree on this fundamentally then? Because he said, if he had to do it over again, he might not.
COACH PHILLIPS: We don't disagree. We both agree he's going to go in on the third series. Again, looking back on it, probably shouldn't because it didn't work out. Then we get questions from you guys.
Q. Joker, how do you ‑‑ when people are publicly ‑‑ media are publicly saying it's time for the Joker Phillips era to be over?
COACH PHILLIPS: I'm sure they are. I was coming over here today, and I got in the car, and my seat was hot. And I looked up, and I'd hit the seat warmer.
Q. How do you handle that well with your current players and when you're in living rooms recruiting?
COACH PHILLIPS: Well, I've had to recruit this way most of my career. We went into homes and recruit. Again, I don't think about the media and how you guys, what you think. What I do is think about what the recruits think. We go in, sell who we are, sell what we do, and we've had success in doing that.
Q. Can you walk us through how you got J.D. Harmon here as a walk‑on, a guy that's contributed this early?
COACH PHILLIPS: Well, he was originally offered a scholarship, and because of ‑‑ he didn't take it early enough. We had to offer him a chance to come in next year, sign ‑‑ well, not sign, but come in as a grayshirt in January. We were honest with him, and that's been our policy. Be up front, be honest with him.
And because he was recruited, he decided he wanted to come in and pay his own way. He had some academic scholarship and academic money. So we first decided he would come in and just be a part‑time guy, but once he got going, he wanted to come in and play. So the only option for him was to pay his own way.
For him to do that speaks volumes because he had to give up some academic money to do it. Otherwise, he would count (against UK’s scholarship limits) because he was a recruited walk‑on. He would count on our scholarship numbers. He had to give up some academic money to come in and play. I'm really happy that he did get here. That's the right thing, isn't it, Miss Bell? That he had to give up academic money because, if he'd have taken it, he would be just like a recruited athlete. It would count against our 85. So he's paying his own way without the academic money.
And then he has to be on it for a year. He has to do it for a year. So he'll go on scholarship in the summer.
Q. Question regarding Harmon being named Honorable Mention Defensive Back of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards?
COACH PHILLIPS: And we keep saying that all three of those guys (Harmon, Cody Quinn, Fred Tiller) are very talented. We got in a situation where because they're so young, you got to coach up everything with those guys. He (Quinn) kind of tweaked his hamstring. Instead of him laying on the ground and giving us a chance to sub, he ran off the field. And we're screaming for Tiller. Tiller was on the other end. J.D. runs in.
So instead of Tiller getting all those reps, getting that series, J.D. did well enough. He stayed in. Played 60‑something plays for us, had two interceptions, tackled well, did a really good job for us. So things happen funny. We know he was definitely talented enough.
This summer, we knew we might lose a defensive back. Coach (strength coach Rock Oliver) said this guy was definitely talented enough to play it because he had worked with him all summer. So we decided to move him, and it's worked out well for not only him but us also.
Q. Did you expect him to blossom this quickly?
COACH PHILLIPS: Not this quickly. You never expect. We hope that they do. We needed them do. All three of those guys, they have done an outstanding job. All three of those guys are very talented. The off‑season really helped those guys.
They're not really big guys. J.D. is the guy that probably has the most length, but they're not real big guys. The off‑season will probably help those guys in gaining strength and size.
Q. Joker, can you talk a little bit about the evolution of the treatment of concussions. It's being taken more seriously now. What was it like when you were a player and how have you seen the development?
COACH PHILLIPS: I don't even remember a concussion when I got played. I got dinged. I'm probably suffering from that right now. I got dinged a few times.
Actually, we used to tape Bayer aspirin on the top of our head, and that would cure it. Back then, you never even heard about a concussion. It was always a headache. It's a lot different now, especially with technology now, and some of the cases that we've had. So I think it's a lot different now than it was back in the day.
And the game ‑‑ I hear a lot of guys talk about, well, back in our day, we did this. The game is much more violent now. I'm very aware of that. It is much more violent. Just standing on the sidelines, it's a lot faster. It's a lot bigger. So there's more big-time collisions nowadays.
Q. Do you worry about a guy like Ashely ‑‑ I know he's been cleared. But some of his answers today, he seemed like, yeah, I've had a concussion before. It's not a big deal. My mom wanted to come up here and stay with me and make we sit out another week, but I won't do that. Are you worried that a kid wants to play so bad, that he might overlook his own well‑being?
COACH PHILLIPS: I worry about them all, not just Ashely. I worry about them all. Every time we go out, I worry about guys not being able to be full speed. In his case, it's probably a little bit different because of the head injuries that he's had.
Q. Joker, you say you worry about them all. Do you want them all worried about you now? Are they worried about what's going on?
COACH PHILLIPS: No. They're 18 to 22 years old. Those guys need to be able to have fun, go to school, and play ball. That's what they're here for.
Q. Do you ever talk to them about it?
COACH PHILLIPS: No, I don't ever bring it up.
Q. You were talking about your quarterbacks. Did you guys consider Morgan (Newton) at all during the game?
COACH PHILLIPS: At one point we did. When we were struggling offensively, we talkd about Morgan but decided to stay with Jalen. I think the two‑minute drill came up about that time that we thought we had to go with a two‑minute pace. So we decided to stay with Jalen with about eight minutes left in the game.
Q. Going back to the concussions, do you see guys really ‑‑ I know there's more technology, as you were talking about, but do you think guys really take it as seriously?
COACH PHILLIPS: I think they do. I think they do take it serious now. A lot more serious, again, because of some of the cases that they've seen and heard. I think they do take it a lot more serious.
Q. Looking back at Vandy last year, the way that game played out the way it did. Do you think that will have any bearing this season?
COACH PHILLIPS: I don't know. One of the things, as you continue to study, you got to look at patterns. We haven't played well on the road. The Georgia game last year is one game that we did play well on the road. We hadn't played very well on the road this year.
So the thing we just have to look at is how we have not played well on the road. We played a lot better at home. And I'm talking about in the last two years. Not just this year, the last two years. We're hoping to play better this week.
Q. A new coaching staff and a new style of play (for VU last year), but I know you've studied a lot of video of them. Was that a factor at all last year?
COACH PHILLIPS: I don't think the new coaching staff ‑‑ they still play the same style. Still the downhill running game. They have a lot more experience last year on defense. And then they have it this year. They have a lot of experience.
Just look at their defense and what they do on Sundays (video study), they've got a lot of juniors and seniors. They got a lot of fourth and fifth year juniors and seniors on defense. There's not a sophomore that starts for them on defense. There's a couple of freshmen that's in the two‑deep, but there's a lot of juniors and seniors on their defense.
Q. How do you evaluate offensively what is due to Max Smith going out so early and not having your top couple running backs versus mistakes and issues that shouldn't be made at this point of the season?
COACH PHILLIPS: You're right. How do you evaluate what's due to Max Smith? I think our passing game has a lot to do with Max, and I think our sack total has a lot to do with Max being out. We averaged 320‑something yards passing when Max was here. We'd only given up four sacks while Max was here. And a lot of that has to do with experience and how we played also. We played a little bit different.
Some of the mistakes in the (game) ‑‑ the fumbles, those things can't happen at any point. Those things are happening from experienced guys. So you can't have those.
And we had not been a team that fumbled the ball. We hadn't turned the ball over in a couple of games (actually three games without a turnover). We hadn't fumbled the ball (lost a fumble) since the first game of the season. We were very bad, very bad with the ball, very bad protecting the ball this past week. That's the mistakes that kind of hurt you more than maybe a missed assignment. And there was wasn't a lot of missed assignments in the game.
Q. Do you think Max will play this year?
COACH PHILLIPS: Not at this point in time, no. There's two games left in the season (after this week’s game), and he's really not healthy either. He's not even healthy. He's limping pretty bad. He's out of his boot, but he's not even close to being able to go out there and protect himself.
Q. Talk about the pick play and what you think caused it?
COACH PHILLIPS: The pick play?
COACH PHILLIPS: I think Georgia might have turned us in because we hit them on it and it wasn't as obvious. Marco (Demarco Robinson) really is trying to run his route, and the guy ran into him. It's a play where one guy runs a route to try to get the slant, defensive back ran into him. It happened at Georgia, and I think they were probably aware of that and looking for it a little bit.
But Marco did exactly what we told him to do, and he's looking back for the ball. He's running the slant route. And we can easily see how they caught it.
Q. Looking back at the video, what was the difference in the first two drives you moved the ball and then your offense just shut down?
COACH PHILLIPS: They stacked the box a little bit on us and didn't give us those quick pass gains we'd been getting. We threw a couple of bubble screens out there. Marco made a big play. We threw a couple of hitches out there, and they just didn't give us those after that. Then we really didn't run the ball efficient after that.
Q. And you expect Vandy to stack it as well?
COACH PHILLIPS: I'm sure. We've become more of a running team. We've got to make some plays ‑‑ we haven't been able to make plays down the field, which gets people off of us also. That's been a big issue also.
And I thought that Missouri did a good job of disguising their coverages against the young quarterbacks also. We would get locked in on one side, and then the coverage isn't rolling to that side. So it became tough to complete passes.
Q. You said a few weeks ago that you and Mitch had not talked about your job at all. Has that changed?
COACH PHILLIPS: I shouldn't say. I was going to tell you guys last week after I left, Mitch and I talked. We've been talking about an extension. No, I'm just kidding.
No, it hasn't changed. We have talked. Again, just, hey, how are you doing? I'm doing good. Just small talk. Talking like friends do weekly.
Q. But you haven't talked about next year?
COACH PHILLIPS: No, we have not, and that's been his policy to wait till the end of the year.
Q. Question regarding the players starting to feel more and more pain because of the consecutive losses and how winning can turn things around …
COACH PHILLIPS: No doubt. Winning helps everything. It helps the injury report. It helps everybody involved. It helps a lot of things. Winning does.
Q. A lot of the players, Joker, talk about how they keep going. And they said that they try to help you, the coaches by practicing hard and being attentive and being ready to go. Can you sense that?
COACH PHILLIPS: No doubt. No doubt about that. I've had a lot of guys, friends come to practice and ex‑players, and all of them talk about how upbeat and energetic practice is.
Again, a lot of it has to do with we're playing with a lot of young kids getting an opportunity to play. Again, I'm so proud of how the veterans have handled this thing also. Those guys have done a really good job, (Collins) Ukwu, and I think Taylor Wyndham was in here today. He's been a good role model to those young kids.
Again, those young kids are just excited to play. Not only they came here in hopes of playing, but when you come on campus ‑‑ and that's what it is. It's hopes of playing. You don't expect to. You hope to. A lot of those guys are getting to play stuff for. It's really helped the way they prepare. Again, any time a guy gets a chance, he starts preparing a little bit different, especially when you're a young kid, and these young kids are coming to practice, ready to work.
Again, you think Bud Dupree is an old guy? Bud Dupree has been here a year and a half. He's a young guy. A lot of old quarterbacks ‑‑ if Max was here, he's still a young guy also. Those guys have done a really good job of coming to practice, preparing, and ready to go to work.