May 30, 2012

Phillips discusses recruiting class, strategy at SEC meetings

DESTIN, Fla. -- Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips's 2013 recruiting class is lagging far behind the rest of the conference, but he's not overly worried.

In an exclusive interview with Cats Illustrated at the Southeastern Conference meetings, Phillips expressed confidence in the Wildcats' next recruiting class, which currently has only one player committed.

"No, we're right where we need to be," Phillips said. "Right where we need to be. Here's my thinking on all this recruiting business. It's building relationships with the guys that we're recruiting and that's what we're doing. If a commitment happens, our relationship is so strong, how many times have you seen us have three or four commitments now and of those three or four guys, only one sticks with us?

"I'm pleased with where we are. We've got a strong commitment in the one commitment that we have. The next guys that go down will be because of the relationships that we have built with those guys, which means there will be more staying power with that commitment."

Kentucky's lone commitment for the class of 2013 so far is Clay County defensive tackle Jacob Hyde. The Manchester, Ky. Native is a three-star recruit who tips the scales at 313 pounds.

Part of the reason why the class has been slow to develop is because the staff has been more selective in the players who have received offers at this point, Phillips said.

"We have to start trying to get better than we have," Phillips said. "We want to get guys that look like SEC players. When you start doing that, you start being more selective. We've got a lot of offers out there like everybody else, but in our offers we've been really selective in who we want."

Georgia leads the SEC with 17 commitments, followed by Texas A&M and Florida, which both have 16. Ten teams in the conference have at least 10 commitments. The thirteen schools other than Kentucky in the conference have an average of 11 players committed.

Phillips and co. have also been forced to be more selective because they might not have a full complement of scholarships available for the class. The Wildcats signed 24 players from the 2012 class this spring, but only have 16 scholarships available as of now for the next class. Many of those spots have opened up because the Wildcats have lost nine players since the end of the 2011 season for various reasons.

Opposing schools may also be using questions about Phillips' job security against him. That was the case in 2012, he said.

"Maybe that does come up," Phillips said. "I'm sure that will come up once other coaches are able to get in front of them. It's something that coaches use more than players and right now a lot of the coaches haven't had a chance to get in front of the players. We had that last year and we were able to get a couple guys who had been told that a lot. Justin Taylor and Khalid Henderson, who believe in us and believe in what we're doing. I think that's what we have to do is get guys who believe in what we're doing."

Phillips also pointed out that turnover among coaches isn't limited to staffs who have struggled.

"How many coaches are there that win, then leave?" Phillips said. "How many guys retire? How many guys decide it's too much and quit? Coaching changes happen to everybody, it happens to guys that are winning also. We were getting beat up by coaches who had only been at the place one year and left. That's not being there, too. They say 'Hey, he's not going to be there.' Well, you're not going to be there. You just left the program after one year."

Recent changes on Phillips' staff have led the program to recruit in new areas. Wide receivers coach Pat Washington, who coached at Baylor and TCU early in his career, has started recruiting the Houston area. Special teams coordinator Greg Nord, thanks to a connection to former UK tailback, has begun recruiting around Dallas.

New defensive backs coach Mike Cassity, who has recruited Ohio heavily throughout his career, is using his relationships there for the Wildcats along with defensive coordinator Rick Minter.

"The relationship part is not just with the coach," Phillips said. "It's being in a relationship with the school, the players, the conference, the AD, those are the things we talk about when we talk about building relationships with the players."

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