Former Nebraska defensive backs coach George Darlington had received a letter from Lawrence Phillips in the last two weeks. The former Husker I-back, found of a suspected suicide in a California prison cell on Wednesday was “extremely disciplined, almost to the day” about writing his friend and former recruiter every other week. Even if Darlington's letters, which he wrote in response, weren't always delivered by Kern Valley State Prison staff in a timely matter. Phillips wrote anyway.
One topic of this most recent letter: Nebraska's 37-29 win over UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl.
“He commented about the UCLA game; he was excited Nebraska won,” Darlington said in an interview. “He'd heard we ran the ball really well and all that. Like fans in Nebraska, he was hoping the football team would improve.”
In all those letters — even after Phillips was suspected of murdering his former cellmate at Kern Valley — Phillips never suggested to Darlington that he was contemplating suicide.
“He wasn't 'woe is me' even with being charged,” Darlington said. “He never said 'I just can't handle it.' He was more thankful for people caring about him. He didn't give any indication that he wasn't sure he could keep going or anything like that.”
So while Darlington had heard on Tuesday Phillips was going to be charged with premeditated murder of that cellmate, he was surprised to learn on Wednesday that Phillips had been found dead of an apparent suicide. Darlington had just finished a meeting and checked his phone to see eight voicemails on it. He checked the first one, and it told of Phillips' death.
“If in fact he took his own life, the only thing I would surmise is maybe that the hearing yesterday was not what he was hoping for and sometimes things push people over the edge," Darlington said.
Darlington in the 1990s recruited Phillips out of Los Angeles and had exchanged letters with Phillips for the last five or six years. He lauded Phillips as a teammate while agreeing that he had significant flaws that held him back.
"Things related to caring about teammates, honesty, teamwork, unselfish, all those things, he was basically the poster boy," Darlington said. “And we see other people who are pretty good people but they have an ego. All of us have failings. He wasn't alone in that area. It's just sad that his relationship with women ultimately was his demise. There were so many other things that were just tremendous about him.”