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Phillips gives rallying cry to fans at Kickoff Luncheon

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Joker Phillips addressed fans at the Kickoff Luncheon on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Joker Phillips addressed fans at the Kickoff Luncheon on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For sports fans, locker room speeches are shrouded by intrigue. They've been the subject of many a movie scene and television show, but it's difficult to capture exactly what it's like to be in the room for a coach's final words before competition.

Those in attendance at Kentucky's Kickoff Luncheon on Friday got a pretty good idea.

UK head coach Joker Phillips closed the event with a speech of less than three minutes. Instead of addressing his players, he was speaking directly to not only the UK fans in the room, but throughout the Bluegrass. His message: It's time to rally around the Wildcats.

"These players don't need everybody to believe in them, but they damn sure need somebody to," Phillips said. "And I expect you, the Big Blue Nation, to get behind this football team."

Phillips' impassioned words did not come out of self-interest. He is asking fans to support their team for the sake of the young men he leads.

"Don't do it for Joker Phillips," Phillips said. "I don't care how you feel about Joker Phillips or the staff. Do it for these men that have agreed to come here to represent you and represent you the right way."

The relationship between UK and its fans is a symbiotic one. When fans show pride in the team, players take note. When players reciprocate by performing well, fans are rewarded. To take it a step further, the fan base is a reason why many players chose to become Wildcats in the first place.

"We're out there selling the fact that, since the expansion of Commonwealth stadium, we've had 11 top-25 (seasons) in attendance (nationally)," Phillips said. "We're selling the fact that our rabid fans expect to win, so get behind this team. It's your team. We're selling you, the fans."

Phillips knows what he's talking about when he brings up UK fans. The Kentucky native played at UK and had two different stints as an assistant in Lexington before succeeding Rich Brooks. He knows what he's talking about because he'll go right back to being a citizen of the Big Blue Nation when his career is over.

"When I retire, when I'm done with this sport, I'll be one of you," Phillips said. "I'll be one of you that roots for whoever puts on the Blue and White and has Kentucky across his chest."

In the third year of his tenure, Phillips knows from firsthand experience that his players are doing everything they can to make fans proud, both on and off the field.

"We have a lot of kids in this program that have given a lot," Phillips said. "We have a lot of kids in this program that give a lot. That's why we're excited about this football team - a group of young men, when you look in their eyes, you see Wildcats that are willing to do whatever it takes to get this thing right."

Offensive and defensive coordinators Randy Sanders and Rick Minter both acknowledged that UK will be a young team this season. They also know most outside the program expect the Cats to be nothing more than Southeastern Conference also-rans in 2012.

"It's going to be a fun season," Sanders said. "I'm really looking forward to this. Some of the best years I've ever had were when people didn't give us a whole lot of credit."

That kind of quiet optimism is common around the UK program, and Phillips is hoping fans adopt the same attitude, although he doesn't want it to be so quiet come fall Saturday's in Commonwealth.

"Why?" Phillips said. "Because we are UK. Simply said, we are UK."

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