This is part one of a two-part series describing my experiences at the UK Football Women’s Clinic this past Saturday.
It’s hard to tell who enjoyed the UK Football Women’s Clinic more: the ladies, the coaches, or the players.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I drove to Lexington Saturday morning; would I be surrounded by casual fans eager to learn the rules of the game or passionate, dyed-in-the-wool football fans, anxious to meet their idols and desperate for a fix before September 1st? Well, after spending seven hours in the company of over 200 female football fans, I can safely say it was the latter–these women not only love their football, they know their football.
Instead of taking you through each part of the clinic, I thought I’d go through my “headlines.”
History of the Ladies Clinic
First, some history. The UK Football Women’s Clinic began in 1979 under Coach Fran Curci, with the support of then Lieutenant Governor Martha Layne Collins, who was herself a big football fan. The camp ran off and on through the years/coaches, but it was Guy Morris who revamped the camp and made it what it was today. Last year, the camp had its highest number of attendees, at 350…a number which I’m sure was bolstered by Randall Cobb’s golden eyes. Final numbers still aren’t in on this year’s numbers, but I’d wager around 250 women attended.
Everyone loves the ladies
One of the things that surprised me about the camp was how excited the coaches and players were for it. Don’t get me wrong, I expected them to be nice and “ham it up” for the ladies, but I really got the feeling that this was an event that they genuinely look forward to. Joker told me that the women’s clinic was “the real kickoff to the season,” as opposed to the Governor’s Cup Luncheon, and I know that’s what he tells all the preseason events, but after spending a muggy day in Commonwealth, I can see some truth in it. When I asked Defensive Coordinator Rick Minter about the event (after admiring his straw hat), he told me that he likes the ladies clinic (which Lou Holtz used to have at South Carolina when he coached under him) because it was less “obtrusive” than the men’s camp: “The ladies are passionate, but not as likely to tell you what you should be doing, like men.” Every coach I talked to echoed his sentiment in some way, even arguing that women fans are more passionate about the game than their male counterparts because they form connections and loyalties to the teams and players. Believe me, the coaches know the value of the female fan; we are loyal, loud, and yes, sometimes more forgiving.
With that in mind, everyone from the UK staff brought their “A game” to the camp. The coaches really hammed it up, playing to the crowd and tossing out one-liners about Louisville left and right. During his introduction, Joker managed to get a dig in on Steve Spurrier, including beating “that ole ball coach” in a list of accomplishments from the past few seasons.
I know that many of you like to razz Larry Vaught. As someone who used to work for him at the Advocate Messenger and VaughtsViews.com, you will never hear me utter a bad word about the man; he’s very good at his job and even better to the people he works with. Sure, he may not deliver news in the fastest way possible, but whatever. He’s a class act. So much so that he’s developed a fan club: Vaught’s Vixens. One of the first things I saw when I arrived at CWS was a large posterboard reading “Vaught’s Vixens,” surrounded by several women, who were all wearing “V” shaped ribbons on their shirts. Say what you want about him, but Larry is a rockstar with these ladies.
Ladies love to shop/raffle
I’m not big on stereotypes (I’m a woman with a guy’s name who loves sports for goodness’ sake). But, sometimes they ring true. In the concourse where the camp was held (west endzone), UKAA set up a small shop with t-shirts, hats, coolers, dresses (yes, UK “tailgating” dresses), etc. Needless to say, it was busy all day. Women love to shop. Know what they love even more than shopping? A raffle. After lunch, the staff raffled off about 50 items, including a collapsible UK tailgating cooler (which I really wanted), autographed pictures, game balls, regulation jerseys (also wanted), a helmet, tailgating kits, and yes, even UK cutting boards. A few of the players modeled the items off to the crowd with enthusiasm that would make Barker’s Beauties from Price is Right proud. And trust me, the women loved it. I thought the lady who won one of the regulation jerseys might have a heart attack. I sat with the coaches in the back, who were, surprisingly, probably as excited as the ladies who won.
Rick Minter is the Defensive Coordinator
One of the things I was most excited for at the camp was learning more about Rick Minter, the new defensive coordinator. Or is it co-defensive coordinator? Joker put all questions to rest when he introduced the defense: “Rick Minter will be in charge of the defense.” Believe me, Minter acted the part. He is downright charming– he is Coach Taylor from “Friday Night Lights” in Buddy Garrity’s body. During his introduction, he said Kentuckians had three things to be proud of: Bourbon, horse racing, and Big Blue athletics. He added “which should start with Big Blue football,” drawing lots of hoots and hollers from the ladies. Rick then sealed it with the line of the camp: “I’ve never seen 70,000 at Rupp.” This was a football crowd, and Minter clearly knew how to work it.
Minter then taught us his defense. Not with a white board and marker…by actually putting 11 volunteers through the motions. Minter will run a variety of schemes, the majority being a 4-3 and 3-4 base; he even mentioned running a 4-2-5 defense, using Winston Guy as a “built-in nickel.” The strength of Minter’s defense will come in its adaptability; he wants his unit to be able to defend any offense in the country, something that has been lacking in seasons past. Minter mentioned the 3-4 defense is run by about 50% of NFL teams, and he hopes that getting his guys used to it will improve their draft stock.
There is no better way to learn a defense than seeing it in motion. Minter put the eleven women who volunteered through a series of formations, with assistant coaches playing offense and helping out. There was no dumbing down here…when Minter said the women could go home and know even more about the defenses than their husbands/significant others (a popular line all day), he was absolutely right.
Most interesting to me during the defensive presentation was how in charge Minter was. When Steve Brown took his turn to speak, along with the other position coaches, it was clear he was more of an “assistant defensive coordinator,” mostly in charge of the secondary. And he seemed totally fine with that, telling us how happy he and his family were in Lexington (his son plays at Dunbar). I got the impression that when Joker made the decision to bring in Rick Minter, he gave Steve Brown two options: leave, or take a demotion that doesn’t really sound like a demotion. “Brownie,” who got a rousing ovation from the ladies, seems just fine with his decision.
LaRod King is a ham
The player I was most anxious to meet going into the camp was freshman quarterback Theltus “Bookie” Cobbins, of Twitter fame. Predictably, Bookie is “not ready” for events like this (Andre Woodson’s words, not mine). In fact, Andre said that even the coaches have a hard time understanding Bookie’s heavy Creole accent (and slang). Alas, I surveyed the crowd for anyone who would give me something other than a textbook interview. Then I saw LaRod King. LaRod King is a clown. I wish I could put him in my pocket and bring him out whenever I’m feeling down. When I told him I wanted to ask him a few questions for KSR, he was genuinely excited. First off, he wants to give a shoutout to his barber, Will, who recently shaved stars into his hair, which LaRod says represent his motto–shoot for the stars. Plus, it gives him that “swag.” King also preached a theme I heard from many players–team before individual. Oh yeah, and winning the SEC Championship. When I was interviewing Joker, LaRod jogged by and slapped the coach on the butt, to which Joker swung around and raised his hand to smack him in jest. Little known fact: Joker actually broke his hand doing the same thing to a player once. Ten bucks says it was Dicky Lyons, Jr.
Morgan Newton is confident
The biggest question of the camp had to be: how is Morgan Newton coming along? I spoke to Tee Martin and Andre Woodson and they both said he’s put in tremendous work in the off-season, and looks like a completely different quarterback, both mentally and physically. To his credit, Morgan played the part, speaking confidently in front of the crowd, preaching team unity and challenging himself and his teammates to work even harder in practice.
Part Two tomorrow night, including news on the video boards, Aaron Boyd, the RISE campaign, and my interviews with Joker and Tee Martin.