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WBN Roundtable: How much pressure is on Joker Phillips this season?


Here we are on the verge of Joker Phillips second season as head coach of the Kenetucky Wildcats and there are some big expectations by some fans.  Five straight bowl games will do that and some fans want bigger and better.  So here is the question for this week’s roundtable:

I know that it is just Joker Phillip’s second season at the helm of the Kentucky Wildcat’s but how much pressure do you feel he is under to have a winning season, to go 8-4, or to beat Florida or Tennessee?  Rank these in order of pressure and give a reason (or two) why you feel that way. 

Kyle, WBN Football Editor:  I would say that the real pressure still lies on winning seasons at this point. Kentucky fans’ expectations are on the rise and should be considering the progress the program has made in the last decade. That being said, the majority of the fan base is still satisfied with a 7-5 season with the inherited challenges the SEC brings.

A win over Tennessee is probably next in line. The streak is about two decades past absurd and is almost more of a fluke than a representation of Tennessee’s talent level. The truth is that a lot of fans would take a 5-7 season if one of those wins was beating the Vols. Florida on the other hand, is a different story. The Gators are usually one of the top 5-10 teams in the country and most Kentucky fans understand that opportunities to challenge Florida come few and far between. A win over the Gators is actually possible this year and would energize the fan base, but is far from expected.

An 8-4 season is definitely possible, and would be the next step in climbing the SEC ladder. As awesome as it would be, I do think that there’s some  pressure on Joker to go 8-4, but most realistic fans would consider 7-5 an acceptable season, and 6-6 would probably still not put him on the hot seat just yet.

Glenn Logan, A Sea of BlueJoker needs to have a 6-6 season.  I don’t think he needs to go 8-4, or even 7-5, but he does need to keep the post-season streak alive.  A losing season, even in year two, will start some grumbling around the Big Blue Nation.  There are a fair number of fans who were dissatisfied with the whole “Coach in waiting” thing and thought that UK should have gone out and tried to buy a better football program.  Whether they are right or wrong is irrelevant — the fact is that unless Phillips begins to produce more than two wins in the SEC, the grumbles from that group will get louder, much as they did for Tubby Smith starting about 2001.

Joker’s job is not in jeopardy no matter what he does, barring a scandal.  But the beginnings of a grassroots “replace the coach” movement could start if he doesn’t go at least 6-6.

Tyler Adkins, WBNFirst off, people need to stop with the 8-4 stuff. The SEC is an unbelievably difficult conference every year, and even though this past recruiting class was really good relative to the past, UK will need to pull in this type of class or better every year to achieve that 8-4 consistently. Can they go 8-4? Absolutely. Should it be expected? Absolutely not.

I think Joker does have a tremendous amount of pressure to have a winning record this year. First off, there are three cupcake games on the schedule. Then UL at home should be a win, especially given everything UL lost last year from an average team. All of this talk about how much “talent” UL has is a joke, in football no one knows what prospects will do what as they do in football and UK is much more experienced.  That is 4 wins, he has to be able to get 3 more wins in conference play or a bowl game which should be expected now from UK.

Joker does have an immense amount of pressure to win the Tennessee game, but if he can beat Florida at home this year in Florida’s “rebuilding year” and in Will Muschamp’s first road game as a head coach then I think people will accept not beating Tennessee.  However, if they do lose to Florida and to Tennessee, most fans won’t be pleased no matter how they end up wins wise.   Having said that,  I think Joker has the most pressure to finally beat UT.  It has been way too long and UT will simply not be that great this year, it has to come soon. 

I see UK going 7-5 with a win over Tennessee.

Greg Edwards, WBN Asst Editor:  Well, if anyone is putting pressure on Joker to go 8-4 they need to have their heads examined. That makes the question a moot point. This program does not go 8-4. At least not while they have to play the likes of the competition they do in the SEC. Should they push for that goal? Certainly. But pressure to do something that hasn’t been done in decades is not pressure, it’s insanity.

What Joker IS under pressure to do is to maintain the momentum that Rich Brooks started in recruiting. And so far he has not only done that, he seems to be exceeding it. We have opportunities for true freshmen to line up and start this year. That is a good sign.

While beating Florida may be a ways off, Tennessee right now may be possible, although I think last year’s chance was as good as it is ever going to get. Dooley is going to make that program better, it is just a question of time. The chances though are no better than 50-50 so I do not get overly excited.

In years past, I too have gotten caught up in the hype of early season expectations. My age or my sanity one has now kicked in and I assume that history has proven this to be folly. If the Cats get back to 7-5 it will be extremely impressive. 8-4 would be the stuff of legend. IMHO Joker is at least 2 years removed from those kinds of expectations, and even then, it’s a crapshoot.

James Streble, WBN:  Joker has felt the heat ever since Rich Brooks left him the job. Going into year two, I think the most important thing he has to do is go 8-4. I feel like most UK football fans are growing tired of 7-5 and 6-6 year in and year out. When will the football team finally break out? We have all been waiting and we have been close before, but unless Joker does it, then I think UK fans will want to move on to greener pastures more sooner than later.

Beating Tennessee is next. We hate the Vols, it’s in our blood. Plus, it’s been like 100 years since we have beaten them. The Cats h
ave been extremely close over the years, it’s time to get over the hump.

Beating Florida is not a pressing issue. Would we like to do it? Sure. But the fact is the gap between talent is still more like a chasm. If the Cats go 8-4 and beat Tennessee, then we can talk about beating the Gators. Until then, it’s the game I least look forward to every year.

Jason Marcus, WBN:  1. Just win baby. A winning season will keep enough of the fan base happy for now with more focus on basketball. That’s just how it is at UK sadly. With Joker coming out and setting the bar high though, he’s setting himself up for serious backlash if they can’t even accomplish a
winning season.

2. END ANOTHER STREAK. The losing streaks the Cats are on are ridiculous, but they’ve
managed to end one or two each year. Last year it was the Spurrier streak. The year prior it was
winning at Auburn and Georgia for the first time in almost 40 years. Hopefully they end another
streak this year. I personally don’t think Joker will survive if these streaks do, as teams like UT
are falling into the lower echelon of SEC teams, and will soon be a must win game just to be

3. Win 8 games. If the Cats can accomplish the above two goals, this goal will fall into place.

Paul Jordan, WBN Founder and EditorFirst, I like the fact that UK fans want an 8-4 season this year.  It means that the football contingent is finally waking up and demanding better for the program.  The UK fanbase wants a successful football program  just like the basketball fans demanded a change after the NIT season.  There is nothing wrong with that?  Kentucky basketball fans expect a national title every year.  Is it bad that UK fans expect a 8-4 season, which is middle of the road in the tough SEC?  If we expect 6-6. we will settle for 5-7.  If we expect 8-4, I can still be happy with 6-6, depending certain teams are defeated. Rich Brooks built a good foundation and if Joker Phillips lets it slide back in the murky gray areas of 5-7 and 4-8, well, UK should not stand for that either. 

That said, I like Joker Phillips and hope he succeeds at Kentucky.  And while he is not on the “hot seat”, he had better deliver at least three things this season:  at least a 6-6 season, a win over Louisville, and a win over Tennessee.  If he can deliver the later two and go 7-5 or even 8-4, he will enjoy Calipari like love from the fans.   

The “coach in waiting” thing was a double edged sword for Joker in that he was expected to take the mantle and bring UK to the next level.  A brand new coach and system would have gotten a two year honeymoon period.  And as James alluded, last year’s 6-7 was the bare minimum of carrying that mantle.  Kentucky has a very favorable season this year with six wins almost pencilled in.  The four out of conference games (yes, beating Louisville) and Vanderbilt are almost five wins giftwrapped.  I would just hope that after five straight bowl games, we can compete enough in the SEC to eek out a win in two of the remaining seven games.  At this point, we should expect at least a 3-5 record in the SEC rather than pray for it. 

In all reality, I will be content with win over Louisville and a 6-6 record.  And to a certain degree, I expect a win over Tennessee.  Is that asking too much? 

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