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October 29, 2012

Phillips jokes about status as questions, losses mount

He's become so accustomed to questions about his job status that he's now prepared to combat them.

"I was coming over here today and I got in the car and my seat was hot," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "I looked up and I had hit the seat warmer."

Pressure has mounted on Phillips during a 1-8 season. The Wildcats have lost all six of their Southeastern Conference games by an average of more than 23 points. They also lost to both of the other FBS programs in their state, Louisville and Western Kentucky, early in the season.

The only place pressure hasn't come from yet is athletics director Mitch Barnhart, who hasn't spoken on the issue since the season began. Barnhart, through a spokesman, has repeatedly said Phillips' situation will be evaluated at the end of the season.

When asked if he and Barnhart have spoken about his job status, Phillips fired back with another joke.

"I was going to tell you guys last week after I left. Yeah, Mitch and I talked. We talked about an extension," he said, pausing. "No, it hasn't changed. We have talked, it's 'Hey, how are you doing?' Small talk. Talking like friends do weekly."

He also doesn't bring the issue up with his team.

"They're 18, 22 years old," Phillips said. "They need to be able to have fun and go to school, play ball. That's what they're here for."

Even if he doesn't discuss the situation with his players, they're still aware of it. Plenty of factors have contributed to the struggle, but there's no one answer that has contributed to the Wildcats' tailspin.

UK is in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, the worst the program has endured since 2004.

"I don't know what happened," sophomore linebacker Alvin Dupree said. "The effort is still the same in practice. We do what they say. It isn't like we don't want to win. Everyone wants to win, we just can't pull one off."

If Phillips shaky situation hasn't affected the way he's handled his team, it's still had an impact on other areas of the job.

Media members publicly ask about his job status. Players have been unable to ignore the issue as they might have done earlier in the season. It's also become a factor for Phillips in recruiting, though that's nothing new.

"I've had to recruit this way most of my career," Phillips said. "I don't think about the media, what you write, how you think. What I do is think about how the recruits are thinking. We go in, sell who we are, what we do, and we've had success in doing that."

He's been pleased with how his current players have handled the season, though. Young players playing major roles have continued to be upbeat in practice, while older players have set a strong example.

But none of them have been able to escape the questions that Phillips has grown so used to.

"I'm sure it goes through everybody's mind," sophomore safety Ashely Lowery said. "When it's all said and done, it's not all on him. They're coaching us, but we're out there playing. He's doing what he can to put us in position to win the games."

Harmon receives honor
Freshman cornerback J.D. Harmon was named an honorable mention defensive back of the week for his performance against Missouri on Saturday. He also received an honorable mention for SEC player of the week.

Harmon had his first two career interceptions when he picked off Missouri quarterback Corbin Berkstresser on back-to-back plays early in the third quarter of UK's 33-10 loss. He also had a career-high seven tackles.

Harmon is a walk-on, but was recruited and offered a scholarship by Kentucky. The recruiting class had filled up by the time he committed. The staff gave him the opportunity to greyshirt and enroll in January, but he wanted to join the team this summer.

"The only option for him was to pay his own way," Phillips said. "For him to do that speaks volumes because he had to give up some academic money (to UK) to do it."

If Harmon had accepted academic scholarship money from UK, he would have counted as a scholarship athlete because he was recruited as a scholarship athlete. The current plan is for him to get a football scholarship over the summer, the first opportunity he can receive one.

He became the first UK player with multiple interceptions in one game since Winston Guy did it in the 2011 season opener against Western Kentucky. Harmon leads UK with four passes defended this season.

Injury report
Freshman middle linebacker Pancho Thomas dislocated a bone in his wrist and will undergo surgery on Tuesday to insert pins in it. He'll be out for the Vanderbilt game but could potentially return to play against Samford with a cast if he can tolerate the pain. Redshirt freshman linebacker Jabari Johnson is doubtful with a hamstring injury. Sophomore Tyler Brause was listed as the backup middle linebacker on Monday's depth chart.

Junior defensive tackle Donte Rumph is day-to-day with
a right knee injury. An MRI revealed it was a sprain. How much he'll be able to go will be based on how much discomfort he can play with.

Junior tight end Tyler Robinson is day-to-day with a back injury that kept him from traveling to Missouri this weekend. Freshman cornerback Cody Quinn is day-to-day with a hamstring injury suffered on Saturday.

Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith is highly unlikely to return this season, Phillips said. He is no longer on crutches or wearing a boot, but still has a noticeable limp. He hasn't practiced since suffering a high ankle sprain on Sept. 29 against South Carolina.

"He's really not healthy," Phillips said. "He's not even close to being able to go out there and protect himself."


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