Mark Stoops made his KSR debut this morning to review his first 45 days as the head coach of the football team, a period which he called “wild, but a lot of fun.” Here are some notes from his appearance:
— Stoops said that he knew from the minute he stepped into the Nutter Field House for his introductory press conference that he had made the right decision. He said the presser showed him the new attitude around the program and the confidence the administration has in him: “Wow, that’s how we’re doing things here.”
— With the staggering number of college football jobs open this off-season, why did Stoops pick Kentucky, a job many analysts ranked near the bottom of desirable openings?? He called UK “a program that you feel like has been underachieving and you feel like you can improve and recruit to,” and said the fact that it’s in the SEC presented a challenge that sparked his competitive nature.
— How do you win at Kentucky? Stoops said the first step is getting support from the administration and fan base, something that he’s seen in spades since stepping on campus. Once you have a strong fan base and a great atmosphere, you can create an appealing environment for recruits. That brings Stoops to what he calls the base of the program: “recruit, recruit, recruit.” Stoops vowed to develop the players that are here and bring in higher level recruits, something which we’ve already seen in Za’Darius Smith, Nate Willis, and Javess Blue.
— How do you sell Kentucky to those higher level recruits? “You sell them with who you are, first and foremost. kids have seen that I’ve been successful, and my staff has been successful. …Some of us have big fancy buildings, but we have adequate facilities to get started.”
— The primary area that Stoops will be recruiting? Ohio. Stoops grew up in Northern Ohio and still has several ties there, including his brother who coaches high school football. Kentucky’s proximity to Southern Ohio makes it a natural “home base” for the Cats, and its presence there is growing, evidenced by the commitments by Kyle Meadows and Jaleel Hytchye.
— Stoops sees your fan support, and he’s “pleasantly surprised”: “I believed in them before I got here, I knew they had good support. I can’t be more excited.” Stoops was particularly impressed with the support from the students at Saturday’s Texas A&M game, who made signs for all the recruits in attendance. Keep it up, guys.
— When asked about Neal Brown, Stoops said he really wanted an offensive coordinator that was creative and used the space on the field: “People who put you in a run/pass conflict are successful.” Stoops felt that the air raid would work with the personnel that the Cats have now and the personnel they hope to bring on board. Brown’s connections to Kentucky were simply the cherry on top: “It’s a great fit, all the way around.”
— And yes, Stoops is #TeamSiren: “Why not? We’ll look into it.”
— Kentucky will return three quarterbacks with game experience next season, along with Reese Phillips, who will also take part in spring practice. Stoops said he was “very encouraged” with the QBs so far and that in this case, “competition is your friend.”
— The team will need more than a good QB to be successful next season. Stoops singled out the offensive and defensive lines as areas the staff is targeting right now: “You have to be good on the lines. We need to be more physical, we need bigger bodies. We’re trying to address that. It also takes a little longer for those guys to develop.” Next on the list? Skill players: “We need to be more explosive, we need guys who can put points on the board, need guys on the outside on the corners. We’re trying to bring in some guys who can contribute right away.”
— Predictably, Stoops called the $110 million renovation to Commonwealth Stadium and the Nutter Training Facility “very big,” and proof of the commitment by the administration and the fan base. He’d also like to see some improvements to the areas the team works in every day, such as the locker room, weight room, dining facility, and training room.
— Stoops and Neal Brown will hit the road tomorrow to visit various high school across the state to strengthen the relationship between UK and Kentucky high school football program. Stoops, whose family has a rich history in high school football, called those relationships very important and said from now on, the staff will “always have an open door to coaches” to come watch the Cats practice and study what’s going on with the program.
— What will the two listen to as they drive around the state? Stoops said he was a big Toby Keith fan. How Do You Like Me Now?!
— What would Stoops say to those (aka Matt) who have said that it’s not possible to win big at Kentucky? “Why would you not get it done here? It’s a great place to live, a great school with great support, and we have the financial backing. Sure, you have to overcome numbers when it comes to in-state recruits, but we’ve got a great product to recruit to.”
— That enthusiasm even carries over to next year’s schedule, which Stoops called “something else, but let’s go!”
— When Charlie Strong took the job at Louisville, he famously told his players that they’d never lose to Kentucky again. Stoops is not a fan of such declarations, but did promise that the Cats will come out and compete each and every game. And of course, “Louisville is high on our list.”
— Stoops said that he’s also willing to schedule games on days other than Saturday to get the program more exposure, as long as the administration is willing: “Yeah, I’d definitely be open to that, especially for the opener and possibly a Thursday night game.”
— Finally, Stoops said he’s embracing the basketball program and has enjoyed getting to know Cal, who has been nothing but supportive so far: “It’s been fantastic, it’s been a joy to spend some time with him. I sat in on a practice and some meetings. He’s been fantastic and extremely supportive. He’s a winner and someone I can learn some things from.” As for that old myth that you can’t be both a football and a basketball school? Stoops says that’s phooey: “Of course, how can you not? I don’t believe that you can’t be successful at both sports.”
Is it time for spring football yet?