This Saturday Kentucky will host the Florida Gators at Commonwealth Stadium with a variety of intriguing storylines in play. The Wildcats haven’t defeated Florida since 1986, the longest active losing streak in the country. The Gators will be breaking in a new quarterback with backup Tyler Murphy replacing injured starter Jeff Driskell. A smattering of recruits will likely be at the game. The injury status of starters Maxwell Smith and Donte Rumph is still very much up in the air for the rest of the season. This is Mark Stoops’ first SEC tilt.
By now you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned former head coach Joker Phillips, now coaching wide receivers for the Gators. The reason being that it doesn’t matter. There is a portion of the Kentucky fanbase that will always harbor ill will toward Phillips for whatever reason. It’s a shame for a man who grew up a Kentucky fan, played for the Cats and spent much of his coaching career at UK in one position or another. It hurt Phillips deeply that things didn’t work at Kentucky and the fan backlash had to sting even more.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade Mark Stoops for Joker Phillips for anything. But that’s the point. Like a bad relationship that ended at just the right time or taught you something about yourself that you needed the next time around, Phillips tenure paved the way for Stoops. If the team hadn’t struggled last season Kentucky may not have a new coach and surely wouldn’t have a top recruiting class. The low expectations that the current staff is currently enjoying are directly attributable to the former coaches. The former staff serves as an example that allows fans to appreciate what great coaches we have this time around.
So there is no reason to hate Joker. Yes, he failed as a head coach. His teams always looked unprepared and Kentucky’s talent level was left below par for the SEC. Yes, he took a job with a rival team and has tried to recruit Kentucky targets. But it’s not like he was a losing coach who got fired on purpose. He didn’t tank the UK program deliberately and go to Gainesville because he had always dreamed of being a position coach with the Gators. You can’t expect him to just give up coaching after losing the Kentucky job. And part of his job at Florida is identifying and signing talented football players, regardless of who else is seeking them.
So, as fans let’s focus on the important things. The team needs fans to support them this week. The future is bright for the Cats and there is no reason to focus on the past any further. Don’t be that guy that the TV camera’s find holding up an anti-Joker sign and make us all look bad. Be the one decked out in blue and cheering your team until you are hoarse.