Jason Phillips had good reason to want to return to coaching in 2016.
“You can only play so much golf,” Phillips, the Kansas receivers coach, said with a laugh. “My handicap got as low as it was going to get.”
After spending three years as SMU’s co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach during 2012-14, Phillips took last year off. He read often, golfed even more and made sure that dinner was prepared for his wife, Kimberly, every night she returned to their Houston home.
He still had a longing for more professionally.
“I missed the locker room,” Phillips said. “I missed the camaraderie with the guys. I missed being in staff meetings. I missed collaborating ideas, putting together game plans.”
Phillips visited KU last year before an opportunity arose. After playing football in the late 1980s with KU cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry (Phillips was an All-America receiver, Perry a defensive back and safety), Phillips flew to Lawrence for a week in the spring of 2015 to watch practices and talk with his old buddy during coach David Beaty’s first year.
After Klint Kubiak left in the offseason to join his father on the Denver Broncos coaching staff, Phillips accepted an offer to become KU’s receivers coach.
“It’s been good for our guys. It’s been good for him and I,” Perry said. “I really never thought we’d coach together.”
Phillips has embraced the challenge. At 5 feet 7, he was often told he was unlikely to play in the NFL before spending six seasons with Detroit and Atlanta.
He’s using this opportunity to try to prove he can still coach.
“I’m not going to sit here and admit that I don’t have a chip on my shoulder. I do,” Phillips said. “I’ve had that chip on my shoulder as a player, and that chip’s worked very well for me. I think now I’m gonna put two chips on my shoulder and see how that works.”
KU’s receivers have produced thus far. That includes sophomore Steven Sims, who is pacing toward a 1,000-yard season after no Jayhawk has exceeded the 600-yard mark since 2009. His four receiving touchdowns also is more than any KU receiver had a year ago.
“I feel like Coach Phillips sees way more in me than I do myself, and that’s why I really like Coach Phillips,” Sims said. “He’s always going to push you. He’s going to keep pushing you, no matter what.”
Phillips also has overseen Texas A&M transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez, who has 18 catches for 167 yards. The coach sees reason for optimism through the Jayhawks’ first three games.
“Obviously, it’s been a little disappointing in the results, but the thing that’s encouraging is to watch these guys come back every day,” Phillips said. “They come back every day — they want the best from you every day because they want to get better. And that’s the encouraging thing about this.”
Phillips admits he’s been re-energized by his return to the sideline, especially with the staff KU has in place.
“I can tell you I’ve been some places where we’ve won a lot of football games, and it hasn’t been this type of environment. It hasn’t been this gratifying,” Phillips said. “So I’m excited to be here.”