The First Lady of Kentucky Football: an interview with Dr. Leslie Phillips

As Sunday's big UK - U of L game draws near, I'm obsessed with all things college football.  I was so thrilled that Dr. Leslie Phillips agreed to an interview.  Leslie is a busy lady -- in addition to her duties as Coach Phillips' wife, she's a professor of Kinesiology at Georgetown College.  I really enjoyed getting to know Leslie through this interview.  She's smart, gracious, and lovely -- important qualities for the First Lady of Kentucky Football!  -- HCW


Like many of our readers, you're a native Kentuckian. Tell us a little about yourself. 

I was born in Fort Worth, TX but only lived there for about a year. I grew up in Lexington. I graduated from Henry Clay High school and UK (3 times!). 

How did you and Coach Phillips meet? 
 Joker and I met while in school at UK. His roommate was Lexington native, George Adams, who I knew because my father was a volunteer basketball coach at Lafayette High School for a period of time when George was there. George introduced us in a sociology class. Also, I worked part-time at the Rec Center on campus (Seaton Ctr.) at that time and would see Joker there when he would come over to play basketball. 

You earned your PhD while traveling on the coach's wife circuit. How did you choose kinesiology, and how did you make the logistics of your education work while Coach was putting in his time at different schools? 

Well, my PhD is in Educational Psychology with an emphasis on health psychology. It is really an applied psychology degree. My masters degree was in exercise physiology. I took classes part-time at UK for a few years while working with UK’s Employee Wellness Program. Then, when Joker took a job at the University of Minnesota, I moved away and was ABD (all but dissertation). I began my dissertation research study there in Minneapolis but then Joker took another job after 2 years in Minneapolis at Notre Dame. That move really hindered my ability to recruit subjects for my study and the study “went down the tubes.” I was very frustrated and thought many times about quitting – I would joke what I may be going from ABD to NGD (Not Gonna Do!). But, I had begun studying yoga extensively while in Minneapolis so I decided to start over and chose a dissertation topic that related to my interest in yoga. After one year at Notre Dame and then one season at South Carolina we packed up again moving back to Lexington when Rich Brooks hired Joker on his first staff! The move back to Lexington was a huge help to me in being able to meet with my professors and buckle down and complete the PhD program. It was a long road but worth it! 

You are married to one of the most high-profile men in the state and you have a great career of your own. How do you balance the roles of "First Lady of Football" and "Professor"? 

It’s very challenging from a time management standpoint. To me, my college teaching work is my priority but, my “second job” is my role related to football! Although there is no defined role for wives of football coaches I do like to be involved in the recruiting as well as hosting players and staff at various times. All of the wives on this coaching staff are involved to the extent that they can be in recruiting weekends and hosting players at various times. It contributes to the close-knit, family atmosphere that we try to cultivate with the program. 

What is it like watching a game from a coach's wife's perspective? 

Leslie and Joker on a Service Trip to Ethiopia.
 It can be pretty nerve wracking but I love it! I love college football in general. But, when you have gotten to know the players and you know how hard everybody involved has worked you just want so badly for the team to have success. 

I doubt there's much down-time in the Phillips household, but what do y'all do when you "turn football off"? 

Very little down time is right! We might workout or go for a walk. We might watch a movie. We do go out for dinner quite a bit. We love to travel to see concerts when we can get away to do that. 

What advice do you have for women who are aspiring to careers in academia? 

Well, I once read that even a bad job in academia is better than most other jobs. My path into teaching is a bit different in that I entered into the field later after working for a number of years in the health promotion field. I have always enjoyed the work that I have done but I find academia very enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong; it has been a lot of work to transition into academia but I enjoy interacting with young people. I continue to learn as I teach and I find the mentoring aspect of teaching very rewarding. 

Predictions for the U of L game? 

I predict it will be really hot so I will dress appropriately and hydrate! (Haha) No predictions from me - I got out of the football prediction business a long time ago. I’m looking forward to it, though!