Vaught's Views: Phillips says Hartline is the player UK misses most
That’s right. Not Cobb, perhaps the nation’s best all-purpose player in 2009 and 2010, but Hartline, the quarterback who often was criticized but seldom praised by Kentucky fans.
“Everybody talks about Randall. We've been studying this thing. The guy who made the huge difference, Mike Hartline,” said Phillips. “People won't like to hear that.”
He’s right. Many fans won’t because Cobb and running back Derrick Locke were the home run hitters for UK the last two years and made the flashy plays that kept the UK¿offense productive.
So why is Hartline being missed more this year than Cobb or Locke?
“He made a great difference in getting our protection set, getting the ball out of his hands, getting the ball to those guys who made plays for us. Hartline is a huge, huge loss,” Phillips said. “We had three really good players in Randall, Locke and Mike. Locke ran around the edge when we didn't have the edge. We don't have that ability right now. But Mike Hartline was the guy I think that was probably the biggest loss that we have.”
Yet at this time a year ago many UK fans were wondering why Morgan Newton, who won five games as a true freshman quarterback in 2009 when Hartline was injured, was not the starting quarterback. Many of those same fans now are wondering why Phillips doesn’t bench Newton for true freshman Maxwell Smith because of UK’s inept offense — Kentucky ranks 118th out of 120 teams nationally in total offense.
Did Phillips perhaps even underestimate how much Hartline, who was on the Indianapolis practice squad until being waived last week, would be missed?
“It's hard to see 3,000 (passing) yards walk out the door. The guy made some huge plays, 25, 26 touchdowns. The backup quarterback is always going to be the more popular guy in any organization. Morgan was popular. Mike Hartline was popular at one time. Max Smith is getting pretty popular around here,”¿Phillips said.
“But we're making decisions. Made the decision last year who we thought gave us the best chance to win. We thought he did a good job at that and we made the decision this year also. There's always a competition at every position. Morgan still gives us our best chance to win, though.”
This year, though, it is not working nearly so well. Of course, maybe Newton would look better if he had Cobb or Locke — or even receiver Chris Matthews — back in the offense because the Cats are short on playmakers, a fact Phillips finally has started to acknowledge.
“We lost a pretty good one (Cobb) that we expected to be here also (rather than leaving for the NFL after his junior season). So we've lost some guys. Graduation got us. We feel like there's some young ones here, but they haven't done it yet,” Phillips said.
One playmaker many UK fans continue to wonder about is quarterback Ryan Mossakowski, who transferred to a junior college after last season.¿He came to UK the same year as Newton and was a four-star recruit out of Texas who barely played.
Phillips quickly avoided any speculation about what Ryan Mossakowski might have contributed this season.
“I won’t talk about guys who left us. Why would I? We talk about Randall probably too much. He left us, too. I¿am not going to answer that question,” Phillips said Monday.
The Kentucky coach also said that his team’s 2-3 mark, including three straight losses, has not left him in desperation mode.
“I am fine. I know what I signed up for. I have been in this business for 20-some years. I¿understand it. I¿have been around good coaches that prepare you for this,” Phillips said. “I have not been at traditional powers. I have a good staff. We are staying positive. There is a lot of football still to be played.”
Phillips said he is not worried about his job status 18 games into his head coaching career.
“I don’t (have any worries). I¿have a good job. No question about that. I don’t worry about it,” Phillips said.
He says it’s not different facing the pressure as a head coach than it was an assistant coach.
“I don’t think there is much different at all,” Phillips said. “Coaches I have been around, I¿have watched and followed how those guys handled the situation.”
Hopefully he learned a lot because life without Hartline, Cobb and Locke has not been fun for Kentucky so far and really doesn’t figure to get a lot better unless unexpected playmakers suddenly emerge — and even Phillips didn’t sound like that was going to happen.