Joker Phillips was a standout wide receiver for the Kentucky Wildcats from 1981-1984 before going to the NFL. In his senior year, he led Kentucky to a 9-3 record and they finished ranked 19th in the country.
Phillips had a short playing career after college and ended up coming back to Kentucky in 1988 as a graduate assistant. He was eventually promoted to recruiting coordinator and then wide receivers coach. He was the wide receivers coach for Kentucky for six years before leaving to the Univeristy of Cincinnati, followed by stop at the University of Minnesota, Notre Dame and then South Carolina.
In 2002, Rich Brooks was hired as the head coach at Kentucky, and one of his first moves was to bring Phillips back. He hired him back as a recruiting coordinator and a wide receivers Coach. Before the 2005 season, Phillips was finally promoted to offensive coordinator when Ron Hudson left.
In his first two years as the offensive coordinator, Kentucky went 8-5 each season and won the Music City Bowl in both years. It was the first time they won back-to-back bowl games in over 50 years. After these bowl wins, Phillips was named the successor to Brooks and would take over whenever Brooks retired.
On January 4, 2010, Phillips was named the head coach at Kentucky and just the second African-American head coach in the SEC. In his first season, he led Kentucky to a 6-7 record and a loss in the Compass Bowl. The next season, he went 5-7 and then he finished his career at Kentucky with a 2-10 record in 2012.
As soon as the Kentucky season finished, the Florida Gators were quick to hire Phillips as their wide receivers coach. Florida receivers have struggled since the departure of Riley Cooper, Louis Murphy and Percy Harvin to the NFL. They have had young and highly-recruited prospects come in recently, but they were never able to progress.
The Gators hoped with Phillips that these guys would be able to step up and give the team an elite offense again.
Receivers Quinton Dunbar, Trey Burton and Solomon Patton have combined for 48 receptions and 681 and three TDs yards in the first four games of the season. Last year, they combined for 55 catches and 572 yards with five TD for the entire season.
Saturday was the first time Phillips faced Kentucky since he was fired. The Gators had Tyler Murphy making his first start at quarterback after losing Jeff Driskel for the season. The Gators beat Kentucky for the 27th straight time, and those three receivers ended the game with 11 catches for 126 yards and one TD.
So far through four games, it looks as though Kentucky’s loss is Florida’s gain. Anytime you can add a position coach with head coaching experience, it can only benefit your program. Kentucky may have been the first head coaching job for Joker, put if the Gators’ young receivers continue their improvement, it won’t be the last.