Cat Scratches
Interactive Twitter Facebook

Football notebook: Two unlikely coaches open up new era of Governor's Cup rivalry; Rumph eligible

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
New Image.JPGThe two head coaches never imagined it would happen like this. And surely most people in Kentucky, at least in the not-too-distant past, could have pictured Wednesday's Governor's  Cup Luncheon with two first-year African-American coaches standing at the podium about to embark on a historic and heated rivalry against each other - as friends.

"This is not how we dreamed it. It's not," UK head coach Joker Phillips said at Wednesday's annual luncheon, held this year at Lake Forest Country Club in Louisville. "We used to talk about that when Charlie got a job, I'd go with him. We talked about that before we even worked together."

But there they were - Phillips as former coach Rich Brooks' successor and Louisville head coach Charlie Strong as Steve Kragthorpe's replacement - unofficially opening the Kentucky football season with the annual rivalry get-together.

Forget the obvious that these two, along with Western Kentucky head coach Willie Taggart, are shattering racial barriers by becoming one of only two states (New Mexico being the other) with minority head coaches at every one of the state's Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Who would have ever thought two colleagues, two friends, who had a mutual agreement at South Carolina to join one another's staff once they landed head coaching gigs, would be starting their head coaching careers against one another as bitter rivals.

You can't make that stuff up.

"I never would have dreamed it would happen this way where we would not only both be head coaches at the same time but head coaches 80 miles away," Phillips said.

Strong admitted that it's going to be bizarre trying to get his first win over the very same guy he would have immediately snatched up for his staff had things not worked out the way they did.

"It's very weird because we coached together at South Carolina and actually we lived with a house in between one another," Strong said. "We had a great relationship that we built over the years, a very special relationship. It is going to be pretty strange.

"He's standing over on the sidelines at his alma mater and I'm standing on the other sideline at the University of Louisville. That first game, you're going to walk out there to the middle of the field to shake hands and then it's going to be time to play, but it is going to be a little different."

Both coaches have managed the learning curve very well in their first months on the job as the programs embark on new eras. With new faces come new identities, and it's been an important process for both coaches to resell the programs to their fans.

Phillips admitted that much when he talked about selling not only the UK football brand this offseason but the Joker Phillips brand as well.

Meanwhile, Strong said he's been surprised by how much the rivalry pits the opposing head coaches against one another. Using a speaking engagement like the Governor's Cup Luncheon as an example, Strong said it can make for a funny friendship.

"For Joker and I, what's amazing is they play one another against each other. Well Joker's going to do it (so) Charlie's going to do it.' We've heard that so much. 'You can't come? Well I'll get Joker (then),' " Strong said. "You get it played so much, so you say, 'OK, we talk a lot, so for you to say that, I already know, so you don't need to make statement to me because we talk about it.' "

Both coaches could agree on one thing: One of the biggest adjustments has been the move to the big office.

"Some of the biggest adjustments going from the assistant's chair to the head coach's chair are making all the tough, hardcore decisions," Phillips said. "I used to sit in on the meetings and I had opinions, I had ideas, but they didn't really mean much at times. You could throw them out there and if they stuck they stuck. If they didn't, they would slide off the wall and you would go on back to business. Now you've got to make those hardcore decisions and then be held responsible for those decisions."

As for the rivalry, both coaches say they understand the importance of it. Phillips has lived through it as a coach, and Strong said he's been able to understand both Kentucky and the rivalry from a distance as a former defensive coordinator for one of UK's league foes, Florida.
"Anytime you have two in-state programs going at it, it's really critical," Strong said.

The next time the two unlikely head coaches will see each other will be Sept. 4 at the newly renovated Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville. History and the fruition of two men's dreams .

"It's a huge game," Phillips said. "People ask me, 'Is this a big game?' 'Yes, it's a big game.' It's a huge game for both involved. The reason why it's huge is because it's an in-state rivalry. It's huge because you have two first-year head coaches that desperately need to get off on a good foot. It's also a huge rivalry because the winner of this game, if you look at the history of it, usually comes out of this thing with momentum."

Rumph ruled eligible:  After a two-year wait, defensive end Donte Rumph - who initially signed with Kentucky in 2008 - has academically qualified for the 2010 season and will report to camp next week.

"Donte Rumph is definitely a qualifier," Phillips said at Wednesday's luncheon. "He will be with us come next Friday."

Rumph, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound native of St. Matthews, S.C., has spent the last two seasons at Fork Union Military Academy trying to qualify for freshman eligibility.

"He's been buried in his academics the last three years," Phillips said.

Phillips received word of the news that Rumph had qualified late Tuesday night and put a call in to Rumph's father, Otis.

"It gives me cold chills that a guy has been persistent in trying to get here," Phillips said. "Listening to his dad go into tears - that means a lot to me, giving a guy like him an opportunity."

Rumph will be a welcome addition to a defensive line in need of some help. The graduation of Corey Peters and the uncertainty of Mister Cobble (he and defensive back Mychal Bailey are still "day-to-day" with their eligibility issues) means the line doesn't have a whole lot of depth.
Phillips is hoping Rumph can come in and contribute right away and doesn't think it's unrealistic to expect him to get some playing time this year after a two-year football hiatus.

"If we don't play him now, he'll be 40 years old before he finishes," Phillips said.

Phillips was of course joking, but not when it came to how much work Rumph needs to do on the football field.

"I expect Rumph to be out of shape badly," Phillips said. "We've got to try to get him in shape as quickly as possible because we need him."

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

Leave a comment

Recent Comments