The purpose is to give back to the players who gave so much to the program and give them an opportunity to begin their coaching careers. In turn, it gives the coaching staff some youth and makes relating to current players perhaps a little easier.
It is a very important development that should help get the coaches' point across in a more efficient way. Former Kentucky quarterback Andre' Woodson was brought on to the staff to do just that last season to work with the offense and quarterbacks.
"I think it's huge because a lot of times younger guys have a harder time relating to coaches or sometimes even communicating," said Woodson. "Now that you have younger guys on the staff, graduate assistants, student coaches, volunteers, or whatever it may be, now these guys are able to communicate and say, you know, what is coach trying to tell me or what should I do to get better?"
Woodson, now a Graduate Assistant, has the experience to give out the proper advice and guidance to the current players. He put up huge numbers as a Wildcat, won some of the biggest games in program history, and had a short stint in the NFL. Those credentials earn respect amongst his pupils.
"The quarterbacks will always listen because they know I've been there," said Woodson. "Everything I've accomplished here at UK, they know, and because of that, they're more willing to listen to everything I have to tell them. To the same point, they know I've been in the NFL, I've played the position, I had a chance to be in there for three years. Because of that, they kind of look up to you because you've been in the place they're trying to get."
Braxton Kelley, Jeremy Jarmon, and Glenn Holt also join Woodson on the staff as former players with NFL experience. Tyler Sargent and Sam Simpson have also made their way back to Kentucky after their playing days to start a new career in the coaching world.
Kelley enters his first season on staff with Kentucky while trying to finish his degree in kinesiology. When his NFL career came to an end after suffering a right knee injury while with the Denver Broncos in 2010, Kelley already had an idea what he would like to do next. He put in a call to one of his former coaches and told him his plan.
"Coach Phillips, when I gave him a call and told him what I wanted to do, he welcomed me with open arms," said Kelley. "He really wanted me to come back and work with the guys as it is. So it just means a lot to come back here, my alma mater, and come and try to finish my degree knowing that I played here and help the guys on the team."
In his short time on staff, Kelley is already taking a liking to his new role as coach instead of player. He is not only looking to give back to his university, but helping individual players get better every day.
"The on-the-field time is like no other," said Kelley. "I love being on the field. I love coming out here, helping those guys, correcting little mistakes they may make while they're playing. Correct those mistakes and seeing them make plays, there's no better feeling in the world besides doing it yourself."
While the young coaches certainly are beneficial to the staff, the game planning and true leadership undoubtedly comes from the top. In his seventh year at Kentucky, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, understands that while he and the other coordinators and older assistants may have the most knowledge of the game, the younger coaches who have played for them and been in the system may be better at relating to 18 and 19 year olds.
Sanders and Woodson now work closely every day, as they once did during Woodson's playing days. Having someone who has been in the program and who knows what is expected is invaluable.
"It's valuable to me," said Sanders, "Because I've got a couple of guys that sat in the meeting room with me for three years or five years and know how I like things and what I need to see. It provides an extra set of eyes out there not only on the practice field but on the game field."
But for Sanders, he especially takes pride in the fact that some of his former players have come back to work in the coaching profession.
"It's nice to have guys that you've coached that want to get into coaching," said Sanders. "The eagerness to be football coaches and keep this profession going the right way because it's always nice to have good people get into it. They bring a lot of perspective."
The feeling is mutual.
For Woodson, it was the opportunity to come back and work with his former his quarterback coach in Sanders and offensive coordinator in Phillips that led him back to his alma mater. Woodson gained much of his football knowledge under the tutelage of those two men. Now he hopes to learn how to coach like them as well.
"Guys like Coach Sanders and Joker Phillips, having that opportunity to really build that bond with them when I was here at UK," said Woodson. "Then when I got to the NFL, I always knew at some point I'd like to come back and coach. I didn't think it would be so soon, but those guys openly offered me to come back and asked me if I'd join the staff. It's been a blessing for me because now I get to work with guys like Coach Sanders who's been in the SEC for 20 years now."
What seems to be happening is a realization of tradition at Kentucky and keeping it in the family. It's a place where players want to come and play, but once they are finished they don't want to leave. They want to come back and give back. Kelley believes that having former players on staff could help lure more players to Kentucky in the future, knowing that potential opportunities down the road may open up in their favor.
"I think it's a good look," said Kelley. "When recruits come in and see that once they're done playing, if they want to come back and coach, they can actually come back here and do that. The University of Kentucky is giving them a real good opportunity to do that."
And coming back always feels like home. Kelley says he felt like he never left. After his senior season and trying to get into the NFL, Kelley was always back in Lexington working out or talking to his coaches, trying to get ready for his next season.
Now, he's back in a new role with new goals in mind. He is clearly happy to be back in the place where he grew up and got his education. The place where he starred on the field and made some of his best friends. A place where he just felt welcome.
"You've got to love it because there are plenty of other places we could have gone, or we could have chose not to come back here," said Kelley. "But we felt welcome here. All the fans always treated us well and this organization has always treated us well. So we felt welcome to come back, and we're just happy they allowed us back.
"Working with the guys that you played with basically for a whole four years of your life and being able to come back and be with them is just like you never missed a beat. The same old conversations you used to have, they start right back up just like that. It's a blessing to be able to come back here and start coaching."