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SEC Media Days notes: Familiar face joins Joker's staff

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Former star defensive end Jeremy Jarmon will return to UK as assistant director of player personnel. (UK Athletics) Former star defensive end Jeremy Jarmon will return to UK as assistant director of player personnel. (UK Athletics)
Kentucky head football coach Joker Phillips took to the podium at SEC Media Day on Wednesday to give the scribes a preview of the upcoming season. There were several storylines that emerged from Phillips' appearance discussed in stories here and here, but here are some of the smaller tidbits you may have missed from Birmingham.

Jarmon takes on new role with Kentucky football

Joker Phillips announced a brand new addition to his staff Wednesday at SEC Media Days, but it was a familiar face. Jeremy Jarmon, just a few months removed from his playing days in the NFL, has been hired as the assistant director of player personnel. While his role with the team is a new experience, his familiarity with the program and the staff and the program should make him feel right at home.

A role model during his time wearing the Blue and White, Jarmon will now look to be a positive influence on the current players looking to follow in his footsteps on their way to the NFL. It will be his job to help keep them on the right track and show them the way.

Collins Ukwu, a senior defensive lineman, is particularly excited about the idea of seeing his former teammate back in Lexington. 

"When he was here, that was somebody I looked up to and I still wish that he played his senior year because I wanted to pick up a lot more things from him as a redshirt freshman," Ukwu said.

Jarmon, just 24 years old, hung up his spikes due to some nicks and injuries after a few seasons in the NFL. In an effort to stay around the game, he and Phillips engaged in conversations over the last few weeks to help make that happen. Phillips believes Jarmon will be a great addition to the staff, adding yet another player with NFL experience.

"I think it's really huge that we get a young man like Jeremy around our freshmen," said Phillips. "The biggest problem in college football is getting guys from their freshman to their sophomore years. I think it's really huge to have a guy like Jeremy around that's been a part of our program, understands how we do things and also he's just a couple months removed from being an NFL player. Those things are really huge as far as developing young players in our program."

Phillips looking to fill program with long, lean athletes

Football players are football players, no matter what shape or size they come in. If they can produce, it doesn't matter what type of package they come in. But if they have great size and length, it certainly can make a difference. Joker Phillips emphasized Wednesday that he has been and is looking for "long, lean" athletes to fill out his roster. 

This philosophy is one that he has borrowed from other coaches and programs that he has been at in the past like Minnesota and Wisconsin. 

"We're trying to take a similar model to what we did at Minnesota when I was at Minnesota with Glen Mason, is to take long, lean athletes, bring them into our program, see what they grow into being," said Phillips.

And he has done that in his time at Kentucky, starting when he was an assistant under Rich Brooks and now into his second full season at the helm. In fact, some of those long, lean players could have a significant impact for Phillips defense this season.

The idea is to get players with potentially great football frames, but mold them and polish them into SEC-caliber players after a few years in the program.

"You'll see a guy that's walking around here named Collins Ukwu," said Phillips. "He was one of those guys. Now he looks like an SEC defensive lineman."

In the position that Kentucky is in currently in the SEC, Phillips and his staff have to work extra hard to find the diamonds in the rough and rely heavily player development. Two of his newest additions to his coaching staff were hired with that idea in mind, specifically new defensive backs coach and former Kentucky assistant Mike Cassity.

"He has unbelievable experience in recruiting and in developing players to the next level," said Phillips.

Relationship with basketball is a positive for Phillips

While some coaches may feel overshadowed or frustrated with the amount of publicity their men's basketball team receives in comparison, Phillips realizes there are plenty of positives to gain from a national championship team. A Kentuckian and an alumnus himself, Phillips realizes it would be crazy to try and go up against the basketball team in a basketball-hungry market. Instead, he embraces the relationship he has with John Calipari and uses it to his advantage. 

"We want to hitch our wagon to our basketball program," said Phillips. "Who doesn't want to see John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Brandon Knight, who doesn't want to see those guys play? All these football players think they're basketball players. They want to see good basketball. That's a chance for us to sell, 'Hey, come watch these guys play.' "

In fact, the relationship between Phillips and Calipari is so strong that Calipari has gone out of his way to help his colleague even in inconvenient moments. 

"A couple weeks ago I had a kid on campus, a dual-sport athlete on our campus," said Phillips. "Coach (Calipari), he's coaching the Dominican Republican team and Puerto Rico. Five minutes before he goes out on the court, Coach Cal calls me on speakerphone to talk to a recruit. How many coaches would do that five minutes before they're going out on the court?"

Probably not many.

But for Phillips, bringing in a recruit is not about selling the football program itself, but everything Kentucky stands for and is about. He's selling the state, the city of Lexington, the University, and Kentucky basketball is a part of that.

"Again, we're selling. Everything there is to sell about Kentucky, we're selling to our football recruits," said Phillips. "Our basketball program is one of those selling points."

Walk-on Gruenschlaeger soaring up the depth-chart

One player who has made a big - even humongous impression - is 6-foot-11 left tackle John Gruenschlaeger. The walk-on sophomore has made huge strides in the off season and is listed as the team's backup left tackle on the depth chart. Phillips has been impressed with what he's seen so far from the abnormally large lineman.

"He's a guy that continues to get himself better," said Phillips. "If he can continue to improve as much as he did in the first year, he'll have an opportunity to help us in some aspect."

The one they call "Big Jack" and "Sunset" because he "blocks the sun" was even bigger, but his hard work to shed some of the weight has paid dividends and gives him a chance to see some playing time this season.

"If he can continue to improve as much as he did from the first day he walked on campus to now, he is a guy that could help us some day," said Phillips. "He's changed his body. He's lost about 50 pounds. He came in here at about 386 and he's now down under 340."

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