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July 2014
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Should Joker Consider Changing His Message – For His Sake?

In October and November when those of us in the media flock to John Calipari’s press conferences, we all know what is coming.

You can see each of us sneak glances back and forth at each other and roll our eyes as Calipari spends his twenty minutes embelishing explaining all the shortcomings that his team will have to overcome in the first few months of the season as they learn and mature. Certainly, there’s plenty of truth in what Calipari preaches. Nearly all teams – especially young or inexperienced ones, which his are often both – fail to play up to their potential early in the season.

But Calipari of course knows his team is good, no matter how much he downplays it. He also knows it will get better. Along the way, there’s likely to be a few rough spots. As with everything he says, his message has a purpose, it buys his team time. It lowers expectations and pressure for the first part of the season as his players come together, learn his system, and their individual roles within it.

Maybe Joker Phillips, for his own sake, should take a page out of Calipari’s book.

Phillips’ message to the media seems to differ very little if at all from what he tells his team. It’s impossible to imagine him lamenting to us about how little experience his team has at the skill positions [which is true] and how difficult it will be to replace the likes of Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke and Mike Hartline [also true.]

Calipari on the other hand, does it every year. It seems it is his central message win or lose for the first three months of the season at a minimum. Even though you know there was no way he ever spent one nanosecond coddling Brandon Knight while explaining to him he understood the difficulty of taking over for John Wall, you hear it enough times from him in post or pregame press conferences and you start to believe it, too.

An ugly win in December against an inferior opponent is often easily explained by Calipari by saying, “I told you so.”

The vultures are already beginning to circle this year’s Kentucky football team despite that they’ve only played one game, which was a win. Granted it was an ugly one, but would the reaction to it be different if Joker spent more time publically in the days and weeks before it expressing his concern with the lack of proven playmakers, or the injuries on the offensive line, or the new scheme on defense?

Offensive line coach Mike Summers admitted Tuesday that the team knew they had a lack of playmakers before the WKU game happened. Should Joker have admitted the same thing publically? It may have made the ugly performance last Thursday a lot easier to swallow.

To be fair, college football is a different beast than college basketball. The games are fewer and a team must be ready to go from the get-go of their season to achieve success. Also, the UK basketball program and Calipari have earned some early season leeway with their successes. It would be unfair to expect fans to extend the same good faith to the football team.

And of course the biggest difference is that Phillips does not have the job security or trust of the Commonwealth that Calipari has earned. If Joker conceded that it was possible his team was going to struggle early, fans wouldn’t want to hear it. Calipari can admit those things because he knows everyone trusts he’ll eventually right the ship. The best thing Phillips can do is prove that goes for him, too. That certainly will be easier said than done.

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