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Sailors football coach envisions program on the rise

Josh Phillips comes to Sarasota High with a variety of experience in the sport.

New Sarasota High football Coach Josh Phillips was previously the defensive coordinator at Manatee High.
New Sarasota High football Coach Josh Phillips was previously the defensive coordinator at Manatee High.
Courtesy photo
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Josh Phillips did not feel compelled to leave Bradenton at first. 

He was comfortable there, and it kept his commutes to a minimum. Phillips worked as the offensive coordinator for Bradenton Christian School's football program before being named the Manatee High defensive coordinator and strength and conditioning coach in 2022. A move to Sarasota, where Phillips' wife, Traci Ruth Phillips, owns property, would complicate things. But there were certain scenarios that, should they ever arise, would make a move worth it for Phillips. 

A prime example: while walking out the side door of one of Traci’s properties one day, Phillips noticed that he could see the Sarasota High football stadium in the distance. 

“We kind of joked and dreamed about it,” Phillips said. “You know, ‘Wouldn’t it be wild if you coached here someday? Are we going to make this our permanent home?’ But I never expected the job to come open.”

It’s no longer simply a dream. On Monday, Sarasota High announced Phillips, 43, as its next football coach. Phillips will replace Brody Wiseman, who was let go after the 2022 season. Wiseman finished his Sailors tenure with a 16-15 record over three seasons, including a 5-5 mark and a playoff win over Manatee in 2022. Wiseman has since been hired as offensive coordinator at Riverview High. 

Phillips may be coming from Manatee, but the former Yale University football player has a wide variety of experience — in all areas. After graduating from Yale, where he played on both sides of the ball as a wide receiver/defensive back, Phillips played for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe in 2002, then went to training camp with the Houston Texans that fall. In 2003-2004, Phillips played for the Chicago Rush of the Arena Football League. 

Once his playing days were over, Phillips got into coaching. His stops outside of the Sarasota-Bradenton area include stints with the University of California-Berkeley as a strength and conditioning coach, with Wagner College as a defensive backs and special teams coach, and with Granada High in Livermore, California, where he was the defensive and passing game coordinator. 

Josh Phillips went to training camp with the Houston Texans in 2002.
Courtesy photo

X's and O's

Phillips knows what he believes. That includes his faith — Phillips identifies as a Christian and minored in religious philosophy at Yale  — but extends to the football field. While Phillips was hesitant to get too specific, he said a tenet of his offensive playbook is the running game and passing game working in tandem. That doesn’t mean a perfect balance of the two, necessarily, but Phillips emphasized the importance of things like play-action plays that get the defense hesitant or out of position. Play action only works if the running game is a legitimate option. 

“You need to have things that look the same, but they’re not,” Phillips said. “I’m going to use multiple formations, multiple personnel groups and motion to give myself advantages on offense: to see what the defense is doing, to let me outnumber people, to give me angles.” 

Defensively, Phillips said he likes to play in a four linemen, three linebacker scheme if possible, but more than on offense, a defensive scheme relies on the talent available. Last year, Manatee had the defensive line talent and depth to run the 4-3. Phillips said it remains to be seen whether the Sailors will in 2023. If they don't, Phillips said he's also comfortable coaching the 3-4 and other formations.

Making words matter

Phillips said he held a team meeting with the Sailors on Monday and shook everyone’s hand afterwards. On Tuesday, the team worked out, and Phillips started his individual meetings with players to pick their brains and evaluate how they feel about the program and the 2022 season. While it will take a while to get through every player, Phillips said multiple players have noted they believe the team underachieved in 2022, for various reasons, despite the Sailors winning their first playoff game in 18 years. Phillips said he likes that the players’  expectations are that high. It matches what he expects from his first season, which is to best the team’s 5-5 mark from 2022.

It has not been the Sailors doing all the talking. In his first two days as  coach, Phillips has had a message for them as well: if they’re going to be part of the team, they better be all the way in it. 

“Football takes way too much work and is too hard, too physical, to just have your toe in it,” Phillips said. “And if you say you’re all in, you should set goals for yourself. Are you willing to do the things it takes for you to get to those goals? You have got to show me that.”

Phillips said it is easy for players to say they want to get faster or add 10 pounds of muscle, but many players don't have the follow-through to make it happen. What Phillips wants is for his team to do what it takes. To get faster, Phillips said, he might tell a player to join the track and field team or to participate in additional speed workouts. If a players wants that extra muscle? Phillips said he had better see them in the weight room consistently, and they had better be eating right. 

"Do they have the discipline it takes to actually achieve their goals?" Phillips said. "We're going to find out." 

Sarasota's Jaden Judge jukes a Manatee High defender. The Sailors beat the Hurricanes for their first playoff win in 18 years.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Talent on deck

Phillips said he felt like the Sarasota program was the right fit for him not only because of the view from his wife’s property, but because of the Sailors’ talent. Phillips said he views Sarasota as a program on the rise in the Sarasota-Bradenton area. 

He didn’t get the idea from looking at stats or HUDL highlight film. He saw it up close — three times. The Sailors played against Manatee in their spring game, in the regular season (a 42-20 Manatee win) and in the postseason (a 30-20 Sarasota win). 

Phillips said in those games he saw a team with natural ability, but that wasn’t all. 

“I also saw resiliency in the kids,” Phillips said. “When I looked at that and the facilities they have, I thought they had a good foundation in place.”

On paper, the talent Sarasota has matches up with Phillips’ philosophy. Barring offseason transfers, the Sailors are in line to return all three of its main running backs. Joe Ziegler and Jaden Judge will be seniors while Takurian Smith will be a junior. The trio combined for 1,724 yards and 14 touchdowns on 300 carries (5.75 yards per carry). 

On defense, the Sailors are in line to return key players like linebackers Nick Wasowicz and Kyser Bordones and defensive end Bradford Stough. All three players will be seniors. 

The Sailors will lose starting wide receivers/defensive backs Tyler Pack and Caleb Bradley, plus starting offensive/defensive lineman Maddox Marchbank, to graduation, among other players, and quarterback Alex Diaz, who started all eight of the Sailors' regular season games, has already transferred to Booker High, so questions remain about the team's roster. But Phillips is bullish on what the team can accomplish not just this fall, but in the years to come. 

All heart

No matter what happens on the field this fall, Phillips emphasized that just as many important developments will happen off the field. Phillips said he cares more about molding his players into people of character than he does winning games — and he cares about winning quite a bit.

Phillips said he's going to challenge his players to be the best versions of themselves, and he's going to love and support them while they get there. 

"I believe these kids can achieve anything if they set their minds to it," Phillips said. "Football is a game that, for most of them, they can only play for so long. They're not all going to play in college. I want to help them be ready for life. Football teaches the best lessons in the world, I think." 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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