Kentucky, Tennessee facing coaching transitions

Tennessee interim head coach Jim Chaney speaks during a news conference after NCAA college football practice, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. Chaney, who worked Tennessee's first 11 games from the press box as offensive coordinator, was named interim coach after Derek Dooley was fired Sunday. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, J. Miles Cary)

Tennessee interim head coach Jim Chaney speaks during a news conference after NCAA college football practice, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. Chaney, who worked Tennessee's first 11 games from the press box as offensive coordinator, was named interim coach after Derek Dooley was fired Sunday. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, J. Miles Cary)

Tennessee interim football coach Jim Chaney talks with reporters after practice in Knoxville, Tenn., on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. Chaney, the team's offensive coordinator, was named interim coach after Derek Dooley was fired as coach on Sunday. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, J. Miles Cary)

Tennessee interim football coach Jim Chaney talks with reporters after practice in Knoxville, Tenn., on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. Chaney, the team's offensive coordinator, was named interim coach after Derek Dooley was fired as coach on Sunday. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, J. Miles Cary)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Saturday's Kentucky-Tennessee matchup can be summed up in one word:

Awkward.

On one sideline is Kentucky's Joker Phillips, coaching the Wildcats for the last time after being fired on Nov. 4. His counterpart is Jim Chaney, who is serving as the Volunteers' interim coach after Derek Dooley declined to finish the season following his firing on Sunday.

This adds a new twist to a rivalry game.

But when the teams meet in Saturday's showdown in Knoxville, Tenn., everyone will be playing hard. Both schools are looking for their only Southeastern Conference victory this season.

Asked how emotional it could be for players, Phillips said, "I think they play that way because it's their last game. I expect ours to be (emotional) for the last game.

"I don't think it will be for the coach, I think it will be for them, their emotions surrounding the fact that it will be their last time to play together."

Coaching his last game for Kentucky (2-9, 0-7 SEC) against Tennessee (4-7, 0-7) is significant for Phillips because the Volunteers have been a constant rival in his life.

He was born and raised in Franklin, Ky., on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Phillips' final game as a Wildcats wide receiver was a 17-12 win on Nov. 24, 1984, Kentucky's last victory before losing 26 straight to Tennessee.

He ended that streak as a coach with last year's 10-7 victory in Lexington, Ky. And now, 28 years to the day after his last game as a Kentucky player, he will exit as its coach against that same Tennessee team.

Phillips has downplayed his pending exit and tried to keep the focus on his players. Nonetheless, Kentucky senior wide receiver La'Rod King said he has been motivated to send Phillips out on a positive note.

"It's been a blessing for him to come back to his home state and his home school," King said. "Granted, he's been through (player) injuries, freshmen having to step up and play, battling personal issues, I guess.

"Of course, he's human. He has emotions just like all of us do. He stuck through it. He's a strong guy and an awesome person. I respect him to the highest degree."

Phillips' initial instinct was not to coach the Wildcats' final two games after his firing. He thought he'd be a distraction to the players.

But after players told him they wanted him to coach out the year, he returned. Kentucky followed with Saturday's 34-3 win over Samford, ending an eight-game losing streak.

Dooley chose a different path at Tennessee.

Athletic director Dave Hart gave Dooley the option of coaching the Volunteers' season finale after firing him on Sunday. Dooley declined, not wanting to affect his players' focus as they prepared for their final game.

That thrust Chaney, Tennessee's offensive coordinator, into the interim role.

Dooley's "concern was for the players," Hart said. "Derek was not at all bitter, he was not concerned for himself in that regard. He talked at length about his concern and how difficult that might be for the players and it might take away their focus on the final game of the season and in particular the seniors. His concern was for the players and not himself."

Tennessee offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James said he and the Volunteers would have played hard on Senior Day no matter who was coaching them.

"We're going to go out there and try to win," James said. "That's what everyone on our team wants to do is win. (Dooley) basically told us he thought it would be a distraction. Whatever he feels is best."

Chaney nonetheless has tried to keep things as normal as possible this week.

"That is ultimately our job, to go win a football game," he said. "You want nothing but the best for your football players. When you quit wanting that more than anything else, it is time to get out of the profession. We want to send these seniors out with a victory and let our younger kids taste that and know what it feels like to win a game here in Neyland Stadium and enjoy that victory and move on from there."

Phillips dismissed the idea that Kentucky could pounce on Tennessee because an interim coach is leading it, having seen it from experience.

In Phillips' first season in 2010, Kentucky faced a Pittsburgh team in the BBVA Compass Bowl being led by an interim coach. Dave Wannstedt had resigned and Mike Haywood accepted the head coaching job three weeks before the bowl game.

Haywood was then fired on Jan. 1, 2011 following his arrest on felony domestic violence charges, and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett was named interim coach a week before the game. The Panthers won 27-10.

"It was another game for those guys," Phillips said of Pittsburgh.

___

AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2012, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Comments » 12

snuffysmiff writes:

Yup, UT and KY are facing coaching transitions. Happens when the coach is fired. :)

born2ride writes:

Should be about 45,000 empty seats to see this one.

snuffysmiff writes:

I plan on watching it on the SEC network myself.

WoodbineVOL writes:

What do you think of Jim Chaney being the next head coach?

snuffysmiff writes:

in response to WoodbineVOL:

What do you think of Jim Chaney being the next head coach?

The next head coach? I wouldn't have a big problem with his staying as OC, but head coach, no.

CoverOrange writes:

Dave Wannstedt - another example of a mediocre successful NFL coach and mediocre successful college coach.

Why no drumbeat for Bill Cowher this time around. He was all the rage 3 and 4 years ago.

Prostar writes:

Our offense has been prolific. We're ranked what 22nd nationally and look at the points we put up against S.C. and Georgia and Miss. State. I've blocked out so much but weren't we the first team to score on Alabama in the first quarter? I wouldn't have a problem with retaining our offensive staff, it's our defense that needs a complete overhaul. But Chaney has never been a head coach before and now is not the time to start trying.

jt45 writes:

in response to WoodbineVOL:

What do you think of Jim Chaney being the next head coach?

The Suicide hotline would get more calls.

BeRealistic writes:

Let's break the beer barrel out before the game, let the players drink it dry & play the game. just saying

6972 writes:

in response to born2ride:

Should be about 45,000 empty seats to see this one.

Sorry, but I wouldn't drive from West Tn round trip of 600 miles to see it. My cost $600 to go.

Colliervol writes:

I could care less about this game. Much like I cared less about last week's. CDD was done and everybody (including the players) knew it and I just couldn't find much interest to watch it. In case I got bored Sunday, I set my DVR to record it and it malfunctioned. A fitting way to finish the season for me.

As to more important matters like a new coach, if Gruden decides not to take it, I lean toward Charlie Strong. I think he'd be a good fit in Knoxville, has a defensive mindset and he has an excellent pipeline into Florida for recruiting.

JonGrudensAgent writes:

This team will play it's best game of the year without Dooley on the sidelines.

The apathy levels of the Kentucky players to the Tennessee players with regards to their former coaches speaks volumes.

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features