Just like the Kentucky fan base, Mark Stoops has reflected on the 2017 season and came away with mixed emotions.
“That’s hard for me me,” Stoops said. “You know I’m not going to define that because there’s no right answer for that. I’ll let the experts dictate that and give opinions on that. But I really just want to always make progress, that’s the big thing. Like I told you many times, I’m human. There’s always parts of you that would like to do things over and have different plays back, different calls, different series, whatever it is; that’s human nature. I do think about that, but I can’t dwell on that and I don’t dwell on that.”
Speaking for the first time since Kentucky accepted an invitation to the Music City Bowl, it was also the first time Kentucky’s head coach had spoken publicly since he had a candid, private conversation with Matt Jones. While discussing the regular season that was, he stopped himself after the previous statement to show a side of him we rarely see.
“You know part of that’s true and part of it’s not,” he laughed.
“I try not to give you guys coach-speak, you know that, but I mean, I’m human. There’s parts of it that do hurt and I understand that. You always beat yourself up because you try to do the very best you can.”
Stoops doesn’t want the bad things that happened to overshadow the positive takeaways from the season.
“We all have a tendency to hang on to the ‘what ifs’ and how close things were, but again, it’s an exciting time. We definitely are proud of going to a bowl game back-to-back. Like I said, it’s human nature to want more and to push for more and we’re going to continue to do that, but we’re also going to enjoy this. Our team needs to understand that they need to feel good about some of the things that we’ve done and to put ourselves in a position to go play this game and how important it would be to win an eighth game for us. It hasn’t been done a whole lot and our players have enjoyed knocking down some doors the past couple years. We really embrace the fact that we need to go get this eighth victory.”
You can play the “could of, would of, should have” game every year. This year’s losses to Florida and Ole Miss were more painful than most, but Stoops will not let that define this team.
“I can tell you this, this staff has worked unbelievably hard. Our players have worked exceptionally hard to put us into the position we’ve been in this year: to win seven games again and to be .500 or above two years in a row in the SEC. We’ve never done that. That’s not just nothing. Our players need to understand that, our coaches need to understand that and I appreciate the work that they’ve done to put us into position to do that.”
Stoops wants his players to appreciate how far they’ve come, and to use the painful ‘what ifs’ to motivate them to take another step in the right direction.
“We all want more. We all expect to win more and do more and we want to do that, but I greatly appreciate the work that they’ve done and we’re going to continue to push forward.”