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Mark Stoops adds name to Kentucky football history books with victory over Florida


I think back to the South Carolina game in 2016 and all of the whispers surrounding the program at the time. Kentucky had just lost in devastating fashion to Southern Miss, followed by an absolute beatdown in The Swamp. After an underwhelming 5-7 season the year before, the Big Blue Nation wanted answers from head coach Mark Stoops right then, not professional coach-speak.

Not everyone wanted him fired, but absolutely no one was satisfied. With a loss at home to the Gamecocks, who knows what would have happened, and more specifically, who would be roaming the Kentucky sidelines each week going forward.

ESPN’s Marty Smith said on the Paul Finebaum Show back in July that Stoops himself told him he would be fired with a loss to Mississippi State later that season.

“Either I’m winning, or I’m fired,” Smith said. “He knew it. I’m winning or I’m fired.”

Luckily for him, Austin MacGinnis drilled the 51-yard field goal as time expired to win the game, ultimately saving Stoops’ job. It wasn’t his first major win as Kentucky’s head coach, as he managed to top South Carolina in the Grove St. Party game in 2014, a ranked Missouri team in 2015, and South Carolina again that same year. But at the time, the victory over the Bulldogs was easily the biggest and most crucial of Stoops’ tenure.

And then he followed it up with the Louisville victory against Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson on his own field, a win fans will hold close to their hearts forever. It swung momentum back to the football program when no one expected it from both a rivalry standpoint and a pure talent standpoint. They killed two birds with one stone.

Just one season later, they knocked off South Carolina on the road, followed by Tennessee at home. You go down the list, and Stoops has had some darn impressive victories and overall moments since he got to Lexington in 2013.

But he always had the monkey on his back with Florida. He beat all of Kentucky’s biggest rivals and defeated all of the juggernaut coaches, but he just couldn’t top the Gators. It was the ultimate elephant in the room that just wouldn’t go away.

Until last night.

By knocking off Florida 27-16, Stoops cemented himself in Kentucky football history. It truly was a program-defining moment, and Stoops deserves every ounce of the praise coming his way.

When Stoops arrived in 2013, he told recruits to ignore the team’s final record in his first season. He knew he had arguably the worst roster top-to-bottom in all of college football, and instead, he wanted recruits to look at the overall slow, but steady progress of the program. Fan optimism, individual player improvements, facility upgrades, etc. were key points. In reality, he had nothing of substance to show recruits other than what-ifs and why-nots. Why not Kentucky? Why can’t we turn what has been deemed a basketball-only program into one with an upper-level football program?

He built this football program on nothing more than a dream, and those dreams turned into reality last night. Say what you want about past play calls and coaching mistakes, and he’ll admit there are plenty of them, all of that was forgiven when that clock struck zero in Gainesville. He won games against Louisville and Tennessee, built a streak of its own against South Carolina, and knocked off several ranked opponents along the way, but none of it mattered in the long run until they took down the Gators. Kentucky was never going to earn respect nationally until they ended the 31-game losing streak.

And after several close calls and heartbreaks, Mark Stoops has finally lifted the weight off of his and the entire program’s shoulders.

It was the fourth-longest losing streak in NCAA history.  Boston’s “Amanda” was the No. 1 pop song in America. Crocodile Dundee was the top movie in the box-office. Gas was 94 cents a gallon. Mark Stoops was a sophomore defensive back at Iowa. Dan Mullen was 14 years old. Florida went through seven head coaches in the span of 31 years, and every single one of them went undefeated against the Cats. Steve Spurrier once ran up the scoreboard in 1994 with a final of 73-7.

And we never have to hear about those meaningless facts again.

Stoops has done what Joker Phillips, Rich Brooks, Guy Morriss, Hal Mumme, and Bill Curry could not do. Stanley Boles, Fred Murphy, Harry Gamage, Bear Bryant, Blanton Collier, Fran Curci, and Jerry Claiborne are the only coaches in UK history to beat Florida, and Stoops just added his name to that list. Dating back to 1917, just 17 teams in school history have beaten Florida, and this 2018 group just made it 18.  Out of 21 total Kentucky coaches to face the Gators, Stoops is one of nine to take them down.

Recent history and 31-game losing streak aside, and that’s saying a lot, this victory put Stoops’ name among the all-time Kentucky greats. Not necessarily from a pure coaching skill perspective, as he’s just six years into his head coaching career and there is a lot to be learned. He only has a 42 percent record as a head coach thus far, after all. But with what he has built thus far and how close the team has come to taking that next step from above-average to good and beyond, he knocked down the one opponent that will allow him to make the jump. From where this program was when he got here to where it is now, and where it could be going forward, that stands for something.

No matter what happens in the future, Stoops’ name will always be attached to the historic streak coming to an end. And with the rollercoaster history of this program, that absolutely shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Now, analysts can focus on the fact that Stoops has led the program to back-to-back bowl appearances and raked in stellar recruiting classes top-to-bottom, not the streak. Fans now have nothing holding them back from believing in the program and jumping on the bandwagon. The entire coaching staff has gotten plenty of recruits to buy in already, but those that have been hesitant in the past now have nothing holding them back. The staff finally has that tangible sign of progress they didn’t have when they first arrived six years ago.

Stoops always wanted to take this program to heights it has never seen before, and he took that next major step forward last night.

It’s a long season, and the program as a whole can’t use this game as the benchmark for the season, but words can’t explain how massive this victory was on several levels.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

31 responses to “Mark Stoops adds name to Kentucky football history books with victory over Florida”

  1. Ridge Runner

    Great perspective on Coach, Jack. Where he’s been & where he is now.

  2. Logic_Prevails

    He has always been the right coach for this Program. The problem has been the University has not devoted the same resources that top programs have over the years. We are now and are seeing the fruits of doing that.

  3. Mathlete

    Can we start throwing out the first season of the Stoops era when we talk about his record? I know it counts in the official stats but the roster wasn’t even a good FCS caliber team

    1. BlueDew

      I might have missed it, and I’ll apologize if necessary, but I haven’t seen a congratulations from a certain coach on this historic win.

    2. CPACAT

      Cal? Rich Brooks? I’ve seen both. Cal sent a tweet at about 11 pm Sat. night.

    3. chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door

      Right Mathlete. Freddie Maggard said the talent level was of a lower level Sun Belt program back then. Ouch.

  4. bailey000

    Can’t wait to get to work to talk shit to all these guys. WOW excited to go to work tomorrow because of Kentucky football. See boys look what you done did!!!!

  5. plumloopy

    “The staff finally has that tangible sign of progress they didn’t have when they first arrived six years ago.”

    Well, of course they didn’t have it when they first arrived six years ago.

  6. mashburnfan1

    STOOOOOOOOOOPS. Not to mention he seems to be a class guy as do the assistants. Living up here in Urban Liar land that means alot. Also they seem to be getting great young men, anytime you deal with that many people there will be bad apples, but for the most part we have great young men repping UK and BBN. So proud of the entire group, see ya Saturday.

  7. Batsell

    Damn Jack, that’s a GREAT article!

  8. runningunnin.454

    Nice historical perspective, Jack; when you think that so many of our fans have never witnessed a win over Florida.
    I have now seen 6 wins over the Gators, 2 in person. Unfortunately, couldn’t be at this game; it may have been the most satisfying of them all.

  9. UK Fan In Nashville

    Proud of this, but he still has one SEC East monkey left, Georgia. 0-6 against them I believe.

    1. Mathlete

      Yep, but we’ve mostly been right on the edge against Georgia lately. Stoops hasn’t beaten them but we’ve won against them this century at least

    2. chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door

      That’s going to be a tough nut as good as they are now.

  10. kykid16

    Looking back at that game, UK teams in the past would have been celebrating and a Florida player would have scooped up that ball and ran for touchdown! Stoops is our man, let’s make sure he stays here!

  11. henderblue

    The win at Florida had the feel of winning the national championship for me. I found myself yelling in all the big moments of the game like there was something bigger on the line. Congratulations to Coach Stoops. I think if we can keep people healthy, we can build on this win,a special season in Kentucky football

    1. 4everUKblue

      same ^^^

  12. Wade

    Ya already special just want to compete that’s #1 against ga a&m and miss st.

  13. CKTermy23

    Well I think we can take stoops off the hot seat. He is the only Coach in the last 3 decades that has won a game against Flordia, Tennessee,and Louisville during his time asUK HC. He has done everything he said he would do it just taking so long because of the strength of the SEC and because of how bad of shape the team was in because of Joker. Joker lucked out because he had Cobb.

    1. Skooms

      Joker was lucky he followed Brooks whom left him a loaded team. He then slowly dismantled that team and replaced it with D-2/FCS level players. I REALLY wish Brooks could have somehow seen the writing on the wall and NOT recommended Joker for the job. Obviously he had no idea the failure Joker would become. Still love Joker as a person, just can’t stand his head coaching ability, or lack thereof.

    2. shelby

      Skooms, i’ve never believed brooks wanted joker to get the job. He didn’t seem to enthusiastic about the move. I’ll always believe the biggest reason joker was named head coach in waiting had more to do with Tubby’s departure than anything football related. Joker was a mediocre WR coach who fell ass-backwards into the OC job when brooks was “forced” to make a change at that position. I don’t know how many plays brooks called himself but how hard is it to succeed with little, tamme, woodson, johnson, burton, etc.. on the roster? Joker never deserved that job.

    3. BlueDew

      Joker was named “head coach in waiting” by the AD. Joker was threatening to leave for a Big 12 OC job. Our AD and Joker was best buds. Rumor at the time was that coach Brooks was encouraged to retire. A group of former players was pushing for Joker very hard. Our AD would have been fired by a lot of power five schools for hiring Gillespie and Joker within a year or two of each other. Then creating the ticket debacle by redistributing and reassigning seats in CWS, Kroger field. AD screwed lifelong football fans. Now, look at all the empty seats. People are pissed and are not, and will not renew tickets. In my midfield section there re only three people around our seats that have been there since I first bought my tickets in 1986. People were disgusted and feed up.

  14. zoupman

    Great job to Coach all the coaches and players.

  15. JohnnyCheeseSticks

    2013 2–10 (0–8)
    2014 5–7 (2–6)
    2015 5–7 (2–6)
    2016 7–6 (4–4)
    2017 7–6 (4–4)
    2018 ?–? (?–?)

    There have been some tough losses to watch, but Stoops has done nothing but improve the program here. Jack, this article was timely and needed. Thanks.

  16. shelby

    When stoops was hired i said this was a minimum 5-yr rebuild thanks to joker destroying everything rich brooks did. Coach stoops now has us at the “next level” which is to say we have a decent football team that can actually compete. This is a level where we will consistently win 6 or 7 games with 8 being a possibility. Now, ppl need to understand that the next step is just as difficult: building the depth to a point where we consistently win 8 or 9 will take another 5 yrs. it is a long journey, but i truly believe coach stoops is the man for the job.

  17. CKTermy23

    I think Joker got thrown into a HC job he simply was not ready to handle.

  18. RackEmWillie

    Stoops is the only coach in UK history to beat Florida, Tennessee and UofL. Considering where the program was when he took the job, I wouldn’t have expected that, ever.

  19. az1006

    It isn’t just that Stoops has been able to beat Tennessee and Florida…We’ve been the better team and the better program for 2 years now. We were so close last year, and there were some really tough losses that should have been wins…But I think it was all a step in the process of growth for both Mark Stoops as a head coach, and for UK as a football program. They said it post-game Saturday night…Part of being a quality program is learning how to finish and win games like these. Kentucky of old would have found a way to lose that game 9 out of 10 times. But, I truly believe we are over the hump now. I called 9-3 this year, and I am sticking by it.

  20. rickwhitetx

    I want Coach Stoops to retire at UK. He has shows improvement every single season and I don’t think that trend will stop. Yeah, we have Miss St., Georgia, and A&M to battle this year, but 8 wins seems doable right now.

    Thanks Coach!

  21. chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door

    Not a huge deal, but one of those TV spots or another post here said “Top Gun” was the top movie the last time we beat the Gators. Maybe it depends on which site you’re looking at.

  22. BBNBRIAN

    It was a huge win for us, no doubt about it! I am still looking for consistency from our coaches before I will rest comfortably. There is still a lot of football left to be played. I have all of the confidence in the world in our players and I would love to see us go to a significant bowl game outside of Nashville for a change.