Phillips' future as Wildcats coach in jeopardy


Phillips' future as Wildcats coach in jeopardy

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky coach Joker Phillips has tried to maintain a sense of humor during what has been a difficult season and mounting questions about his job status.

``I was coming over here today, and I got in the car, and my seat was hot,'' he said. ``And I looked up, and I had hit the seat warmer.''

Questions regarding Phillips' future and Kentucky's struggles are no laughing matter, though.

The Wildcats (1-8, 0-6 Southeastern Conference) lost their seventh straight game Saturday at Missouri, ensuring a third consecutive losing season and putting them on pace for their worst finish since going 2-9 in 2004.

Injuries have forced Phillips to play 26 freshmen against one of the nation's toughest schedules. That hasn't stopped Wildcats fans from expressing their frustration: Calling for his dismissal on radio talk shows and not showing up for games - attendance has fallen off at 67,942-seat Commonwealth Stadium.

Players say they still support Phillips and will try to finish the season with three wins to help the embattled coach.

``He's still here, he's still our coach, we're still playing for him and I'm going to play hard for him,'' junior right tackle Kevin Mitchell said.

``We don't actually say anything to him (about his situation), but we come out and we practice hard. We're keeping it going, we just continue as a team. We're all pushing each other hard. Practicing hard shows him that we still care, that we still believe and that we're not giving up.''

Phillips, 12-22 and in his third season at Kentucky, is one of several SEC coaches facing uncertain futures - joining Auburn's Gene Chizik, Tennessee's Derek Dooley and Arkansas' John L. Smith.

But Phillips has remained upbeat through the turmoil, saying that he's been too busy focusing on his team to pay attention to what has been or said about him.

When asked again if he has talked to Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart about his status, Phillips came back with his standard response that the two friends have talked without being specific.

It's ``just small talk,'' Phillips said. ``Talking like friends do weekly.''

Kentucky spokesman Tony Neely declined an interview request with Barnhart about Phillips, saying via email, ``As was stated before the season, and as we do with each program, an evaluation will be done at the end of the season.''

As for Wildcats fans, they've had plenty to say on sports talk shows.

``Most fans feel there needs to be a change, and they've felt that way for some time,'' said Larry Glover, who hosts a nightly radio show heard here and in Louisville.

``I think the knock on Joker is that Kentucky was relatively healthy and then they lost to Western Kentucky (32-31 in overtime). Had they beaten Western, I think he'd have a more credible case about the injuries and youth.''

That game marked a turning point for Kentucky in other ways. Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith, who started strong and was expected to lead the Wildcats' offense, suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for a 38-0 loss at Florida.

Smith lasted just two plays in his return against South Carolina, tearing an ankle ligament that has effectively ended his season. That thrust true freshmen Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles into action, with Whitlow playing most of the past three games after Towles sustained a high ankle sprain against Mississippi State.

Most of Kentucky's youngsters have been seen on defense, something the Wildcats believe will pay off down the road. In the meantime, opponents have exploited their inexperience particularly on the road.

The Wildcats are coming off a 33-10 loss at Missouri, which followed a storm-shortened 49-7 rout at Arkansas and the one at Florida.

They've been more competitive at Commonwealth Stadium, playing Georgia close two weeks ago and leading South Carolina at halftime last month before the Gamecocks rallied in the second half.

Nonetheless, attendance has fallen to an average of 51,255 through five games after averaging 60,007 for seven dates last season.

``You see the loss of confidence reflected in the attendance figures this year,'' said Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones, whose show is heard on 18 statewide affiliates. ``This is probably the least interest I've seen in a UK football team in the seven, eight years I've been covering them. There's never been a team that people cared less about than this one.''

Glover said some callers have questioned Barnhart's commitment to having a winning football program, which happened regularly until last season. Despite playing in what is considered the nation's toughest conference, the Wildcats were able to finish .500 or better from 2004-10, going to bowl games each year.

The recent record could deter potential successors from being interested in the Kentucky job for the same reasons mentioned by callers, Glover added.

Still, no one has totally ruled out Phillips' return.

If the Wildcats can close with a winning streak, Phillips might get a reprieve. While none of the opponents are imposing, they could provide a bright spot in having to play so many underclassmen. They eagerly want to see their careers through with the coach that brought them here.

``He's the same encouraging coach,'' sophomore linebacker Alvin Dupree said. ``He's a good dude and I really don't try to look at it that he's leaving. Hopefully, he'll continue to be the same coach and we'll keep moving forward.''

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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

Where: Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Canadiens will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (43-24-7) take on the Canadiens (27-36-12) Saturday, March 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Montreal.


The Capitals-Canadiens game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals at Canadiens
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime


You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—D-line scoop, Alex Smith's big deal

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—D-line scoop, Alex Smith's big deal

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, March 24, 33 days before the NFL draft.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington.

Free agency update: What's next for the Redskins on the D-line? The Redskins have been casting out lines for defensive linemen since before free agency officially started but they haven’t been able to reel one in. Part of the issue might be that they know that Vita Vea and Da’Ron Payne are likely to be available in the draft. They have to balance spending big on a lineman vs. being able to get one pretty cheap for the next five years.

Redskins make a D-line contract change, gain roster flexibility—Speaking of the D-line, the team negotiated the removal of a salary guarantee for one player to give themselves more flexibility when it comes time to cut the roster down to 53 in September. See the post for details.

Redskins guarantee Alex Smith a whopping $71 million in new contract—In the words of Joe Biden, this is a big f-----g deal. It showed that the Redskins aren’t afraid to pay a quarterback big money if they think it’s the right guy. It should be noted that whether or not they chose the right guy is something that remains to be seen. Although the post shows that it’s plausible for the Redskins to terminate the deal after three years, I anticipate Smith playing out at least four if not all five years of the contract.

Redskins add another ex-Cowboy as they sign Scandrick—Orlando Scandrick has struggled with injuries the past few years and Redskins fans did not greet the news of his signing with great enthusiasm, to say the least. To point out the bright side, his contract is not pricey by NFL terms ($2.6 million cap hit this year, no guaranteed money beyond a $1 million signing bonus) and from what I have been able to gather it’s possible that change of scenery might give him a boost for a year or two.

Tweet of the week

Well before free agency started, I wrote that the Redskins’ top priorities in free agency should be to get extensions done for Smith, Brandon Scherff, and Jamison Crowder. They should have about $15 million to work with after a few more free agent signings and that would be plenty to get all of those extensions done. And if they do score a big free agent signing, it would be worth it to restructure the contract of someone like Ryan Kerrigan to get them done.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 23
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 124
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 169

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