Florida assistant Joker Phillips developing much-needed improvement at wide receiver

By Adam Silverstein
August 8, 2013

It’s not every day that a respected offensive mind and experienced head coach will join a program as an assistant, but the Florida Gators and Will Muschamp certainly lucked out in December when ousted Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips agreed to take over UF’s much-maligned wide receivers.

At 49 years of age and entering his 26th year as a coach, Phillips is a former wideout who played in the NFL and CFL before deciding to get into coaching.

He had been in charge of Kentucky’s offense since 2005 and developed some major NFL-caliber stars while in Lexington, KY, and elsewhere including Randall Cobb, Stevie Johnson, Jacob Tamme and Troy Williamson.

Now at Florida, Phillips gets to take a bit of pressure off the shoulders of offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who had graduate assistant Bush Hamdan coaching up his pass catchers last season after the departure of Aubrey Hill.

“It’s been good. He’s a very experienced person at that position and has good ideas. He knows kind of what we run as far as our system. He fits into that. He’s willing to do it, obviously. I think he’s good in the fact that he’s challenged the kids at the wide receiver position,” Pease said of Phillips on Wednesday.

“You bring in a guy that’s got that much experience and you just look at his reputation and it provides the fact that I think he gives you the authority figure that knows what’s going on.”


Phillips has inherited a unit including returning players that combined for just 64 receptions a year ago, the majority of which (36) came solely from redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar. The Gators’ returning receivers caught just five touchdowns and amassed 603 yards, numbers that include small contributions from senior Trey Burton (listed as a running back), junior Loucheiz Purifoy (primarily a cornerback) and redshirt senior Andre Debose (who is out for the season with a torn ACL).

By all accounts, Florida’s returning receivers and incoming freshmen worked hard over the summer to gel both as a unit and with junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, who is currently sidelined following an appendectomy he underwent two days before the start fall camp but should be returning soon.

“I think our kids did a tremendous job just being together this summer and working out and kind of the bonds they formed. Because that has something to do with it; chemistry has a lot to do with it. They’re all talented, but when you take all that talent you still got to have chemistry amongst everybody,” Pease said.

Yet while Dunbar, Burton, Driskel and redshirt junior back-up QB Tyler Murphy were all singled out by Pease as players that have done a good job stepping up as leaders and teaching some of the younger players, the Gators’ five pass-catching freshmen – including highly-praised four-star wideout Demarcus Robinson – still have a long way to go until they become dependable options.

“The freshmen are very talented kids. Now, the knowledge of just learning their plays consistently and understanding what all the calls are is where the mistakes come from. But as far as running and catching and their abilities, they’re a very talented group,” Pease said.

“I think you got to be smart. I think they all got talent but you know in that position, lining up is sometimes hard to do. And then they got to understand the moving parts in front of them,” he continued. “Being a receiver, you got recognition on who you got to block – are you front side or back side – you got to have a good idea of coverages.

“Sometimes I think maybe in high school ball you don’t have to worry about that as much; in college you do. You got to understand coverages – either how to beat man, how to beat zone, how to beat two-high safety, one-high safety, rotation. Be ready for the hots, the blitzes, who am I responsible for as a receiver. It takes a lot of repetitions to perfect their skill.”

That’s where Phillips comes in. In addition to helping the wide receivers improve their route running and knowledge of how to work against defensive backs – “We’re getting better separation created,” Pease said. “Consequently, the picture for the quarterback is cleaner.” – he has also set a high expectation level for the group.

“He’s done a good job of establishing his standards in the room and what he expects from them and their approach to practice each day,” Pease said of Phillips.

“A lot of that, too, is a credit to the kids with another year in the whole system of Florida football and another year in the offensive system and the confidence that they all developed with each other.”

Pease will not be the only happy member of Gator Nation if Phillips can instill the change in UF’s receivers that the coaching staff believes is possible. Florida fans have been waiting for a 1,000-yard receiver to emerge for the last decade but would certainly settle for one that can catch 50+ balls for the first time since 2009.

7 Comments

  1. Will W says:

    Looking forward to Joker coaching these guys up. If he can turn average talent at Kentucky into NFL receivers, I can only imagine what he will do here.

    On another note – pretty sure Troy Williamson went to South Carolina.

  2. Tractorr says:

    For all the flack we got with our WRs last season it was rarely mentioned that we had a grad assistant as the position. I am sure Hamdan did the best he could but anyone with WR coaching experience, let alone someone as experienced as Joker, will make our WRs a lot better.

    • Joe says:

      I agree 100%, The quote in a previous article about Hamden being laid back really speaks volumes. A laid back coach will typically develop a laid back mentality in his unit. Our receivers need to be pushed hard and there is no doubt Joker is exceptional at that.

  3. Michael Jones says:

    Joker was a brilliant hire. . for so many reasons. . and on so many levels. Another great move by Muschamp and Foley.

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