Jeff Piecoro is the color analyst on the UK football radio network. He played wide receiver for the Cats from 1980-84. Piecoro also works for FOX Sports Ohio and hosts pre and post game shows on the Cincinnati Reds television network.
Kent Taylor: What do you think of all the heat around Joker Phillips heading into this season?
Jeff Piecoro: I think fans around the state are all about “what have you done for me lately.” They have forgotten all about the “Coach in Waiting” thing and that he was the Second Coming, so to speak. It took Coach Brooks a couple of years to get things going and I hope they give Joker the same leeway. I really think from a fan standpoint they have to get to a bowl game this year for him to have a secure job.
K.T.: What is your sense for the direction that the program is headed, with wins over Steve Spurrier and over Tennessee in his first two years as the head man?
J.P.: This is a very young team, the two deep depth chart is like 24 young kids, freshmen and redshirt freshmen, so I think that they have a great nucleus to build on. If they get through this year, I think they’re really set up to explode the next couple of seasons.
K.T.: Has Max Smith shown you enough to make you think he can be a QB who can win in the SEC?
J.P.: From what they have, yeah. A lot of people want to see Patrick Towles, but he’s not ready yet. I’ve been to practice, it’s a very complex offense, much different than high school. There aren’t a lot of freshman quarterbacks that start in the SEC. Tim Tebow didn’t start as a freshman. Give Patrick Towles some time, he’s going to be there. There are a lot of young kids here who are going to make an impact. Max, he has really come on. What the fans don’t see is him at practice, him in the weight room, him this summer, really comfortable with these guys and becoming a leader. The light went on for him last year and he’s one of those guys the kids like to follow. I think he’ll be just fine.
K.T.: As many coaches as you have seen at UK, what do you like about Joker?
J.P.: I like the fact that this isn’t a steppingstone for him. This is where he wants to be. His heart is here, he’s from Kentucky, he played here, this was his dream job. A lot of people aspire to go other places – not him, this is where he wants to be.
K.T.: With football season starting and the Reds so hot, how excited are you?
J.P.: The best part for me is this time of year. The baseball team is doing great, so it’s great being with those guys everyday, but there is just something special about Saturdays in the fall, and being able to travel to the great stadiums around the country. It’s a dream job.
K.T.: How long have you been on the UK radio network?
J.P.: This is my 11th year.
K.T.: How long have you been on the Reds network?
J.P.: 15 years.
K.T.: Is this the first legitimate chance you feel like they’ve had a shot to win the World Series?
J.P.: There have been 3 winning seasons since I’ve been doing this for them. I think that they were blessed this year, not a real tough division, some injuries within the division, especially to the Cardinals. Losing Chris Carpenter was a huge blow to them. They’ve taken care of the teams that are below .500, they’ve played right around .500 ball against the good teams. That puts them 20-something games over .500.
Are they built to go the long haul? I don’t know about the World Series, but I think they can win the division. Can they win the Championship? Possibly, all you need are some really good pitchers and they have two good ones in Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos, and of course the back end with (Aroldis) Chapman is unbelievable.
K.T.: Is Chapman the National League Cy Young Award winner?
J.P.: This may sound crazy for me to say, but I think he has a better chance of winning the M.V.P., than he does the Cy Young Award.
K.T.: Who is the one guy on the Reds who you want to hit the winning home run, you want to get the winning hit, because you know he’ll be a great interview?
J.P.: Todd Frazier. What a joy, he’s still like that Little Leaguer for Toms River, New Jersey, who won the Little League World Series. Everyday to him he pinches himself, ‘I’m in the Major Leagues, I’m getting paid to play this game.’ He’s so much fun to watch, he’s so much fun to be around. He’s the one guy that keeps it a game to these guys, who all think it’s work.
Kent Taylor is a sports anchor for WAVE 3. See more of his work at www.wave3.com or by tuning in to the NBC affiliate.