Updated on Thursday at 5:15 p.m.
After just one year on the job, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips has resigned from his position with the Florida Gators.
Graduate assistant Chris Leak, a four-year starter at quarterback and national championship-winning signal caller for the Gators in 2006, will take over coaching the position as a full-time staff member.
The second African-American head football coach in Southeastern Conference history, Phillips spent most of his 26-year coaching career with Kentucky before he was fired by the program during the 2012 season, his third as the Wildcats’ head coach.
He joined Gators head coach Will Muschamp’s staff that December, signing a two-year contract that was supposed to keep him at Florida through the 2014 campaign.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity that the University of Florida and Will Muschamp provided to me and my family, but at this time I have decided to step down from my position on the UF coaching staff for personal reasons,” he said in a school release.
Neither Phillips nor UF provided any specific reason for his departure, though ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy, citing a source, noted Phillips “resigned because of possible recruiting violations.” McMurphy retracted prior assertions that Phillips was forced to resign whether by Muschamp or someone else at the school.
FootballScoop.com‘s Scott Roussel cited a separate source which said “the issue at hand is a ‘bump’ [with] a [high school] junior” and that Phillips was “turned in by another program in Florida.” A “bump” in college recruiting is when a coach converses with a high school recruit outside of the allowable time periods at a “chance encounter,” whether the interaction was intended by the coach or not.
A source close to the program confirmed to OnlyGators.com that Phillips was indeed turned into the NCAA for a “bump” violation by a representative of Miami but could not say whether that incident led to his resignation.
Thursday update: Charles Robinson and Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports report that Phillips’s resignation came on the heels of the NCAA receiving “a photo of the coach sitting in a restaurant with a high school recruit during a mandated dead period in recruiting.” Citing three sources, the duo further reports that “the photo was turned over to the NCAA by an individual with ties to the Miami Hurricanes athletics program. Should the NCAA determine Phillips improperly recruited during a mandated dead period, it could be considered a major NCAA violation.”
Read the rest of the original story…after the break!
Though Florida’s offense struggled in 2013, it appeared to have little to do with Phillips. Players and coaches alike praised him for his development of the Gators’ wideouts.
“A huge impact,” said Solomon Patton, UF’s most productive offensive weapon, of how Phillips’s coaching helped him develop. “We’re learning how to run our routes the right way and at the right depth. Just technique-wise and catching the ball, he’s made a huge impact.”
Patton caught 44 passes for 556 yards and six touchdowns during his senior campaign, all career-highs. He registered nearly 70+ yards four times including a six-reception, 124-yard, two-touchdown performance at home against Arkansas.
Redshirt senior Quinton Dunbar also excelled under Phillips’s tutiliege, breaking out with a four-catch, 98-yard game at Miami in the Florida’s second contest of the season and topping 60 yards four times during the campaign.
“I think he’s done an outstanding job,” said a beaming Muschamp of Phillips in September. “I think his production speaks for itself on the tape. Your tape is your resume as a coach. What you put on tape is who you are. I think he’s done a really good job. He’s been a good addition to our staff.”
It is the second time in three years that the Gators have seen a coach step down before the season only to have a graduate assistant take over his job.
Wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill, a former Miami position coach, parted ways with Florida in August 2012 due to his involvement with the Nevin Shaprio scandal, leaving Bush Hamdan to take on the responsibilities as a graduate assistant.
Leak is ready for the chance to succeed at his new profession. A Florida spokesman confirmed to OnlyGators.com that he has been hired to the coaching staff and is not filling in while remaining a graduate assistant.
“I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Muschamp has given me and my family,” Leak said in the same release. “It’s an honor to be coaching at my alma mater where I have so many fond memories both on and off the field. We have a tremendous coaching staff, a great group of players and a support system in place and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Leak rejoined the Florida program as a graduate assistant in 2013, spending most of his time working with the quarterbacks on offense. He is in his second year with the Gators, first as a paid coach, this time under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.
“Chris is a bright young coach,” Muschamp said. “He is one of the all-time Gator greats and being at Florida is very important to him. He has been working with Coach Roper and our offensive staff and is very familiar with our players and new system.”
Leak is the sixth man tasked with overseeing the Gators’ receivers in as many seasons, following Billy Gonzales (2009), Zach Azzanni (2010), Hill (2011), Hamdan (2012) and Phillips (2013). Hill, Hamdan and Phillips all coached under Muschamp.
Redshirt senior WR Andre Debose, entering his sixth year with the program, has never had the same position coach for more than a single season.
There is no word as to who will take over Phillips’s recruiting coordinator responsibilities, though Florida defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson is well-known as the strongest recruiter among the team’s assistants.