When new Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops told him to keep his options open, Reese Phillips didn't know what to think.
It obviously wasn't what he wanted to hear -- uncertainty as to whether Stoops welcomed the Signal Mountain quarterback's midsummer commitment to then-UK coach Joker Phillips.
Stoops "wasn't saying Kentucky wanted me or didn't want me," Reese Phillips recalled.
At the time of their initial conversation, a week or so after the new coach was hired, Stoops had yet to hire any of his offensive staff and suggested that Phillips be patient. For his offensive coordinator, Stoops brought in former Wildcat Neal Brown, whose Texas Tech quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards.
Phillips, who earned offensive MVP honors in Tennessee's Toyota East-West all-star game, began to feel better and was elated after he and his parents and Signal coach Bill Price had a chance to meet with Brown.
"I told him right off if he didn't think I would fit to tell me, that I was a big boy and could take it and that I could go elsewhere," Phillips said.
Brown told Phillips that he had watched video before he came to meet him, that he had noted a major improvement in Phillips' throwing motion from his junior to his senior season and that he had a big-time arm. The meeting convinced each that they were right for each other.
"I'm taking my official visit January fourth and fifth and will start classes on January ninth," Phillips said. "I'm nervous but I'm also excited. I like Coach Brown, a lot actually, and I like his offense, which is up-tempo."
The time between Joker Phillips' firing and Stoops' hiring of Brown would be hard on any 17-year-old who'd pledged himself only to be faced with the possibility that new coaches might not have the same thoughts as their predecessors.
"I tried not to worry about it. I had a lot of talks with Coach Price. He kept telling me to be patient, which is not my best quality," Reese Phillips said. "It didn't mean a lot to me when they hired Coach Stoops. He was a defensive guy."
Phillips took Stoops' advice and kept his options open. Mississippi State, Marshall, Memphis and William & Mary were among the teams interested. He and Price even made a second pitch to Tennessee, but it was ignored.
"I wasn't just sitting and waiting. I definitely pursued other opportunities," Phillips said.
Brown put his concerns to rest, allowing him to begin thinking about his first college semester and his initial spring practice with the Wildcats.
"I told Coach Brown that I wasn't coming to sit and watch," Phillips said. "I know I'll be at the bottom of the [quarterback] ladder and that I'll still be the freshman earning his way, but I think coming in early will allow me to get to know the older players.
"I don't think I'll be at the bottom of the charts as long as I would be if I had waited to go till next summer. I know I have to keep my nose to the grindstone and work extra hard, but I'm not going to Kentucky to hold a clipboard."
Price felt all along that Phillips would wind up at Kentucky but that his quarterback would enroll in January wherever he went. He's confident in Phillips' skills as a player and as a person despite the three quarterbacks currently on Kentucky's roster: Max Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow.
"He's a high-character kid with a big-time arm," Price said. "He comes from a winning program, and he'll play wherever he goes because he is so competitive."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...