From my perspective, the hire of Mark Stoops today by UK represents a tremendous step forward for the Kentucky football program. After three weeks of searching and narrowing a list, Mitch Barnhart ended up zeroing in on Mark Stoops and finalizing a deal. The basics of the agreement were finalized on Monday evening and Stoops was announced today as the newest football leader of the Big Blue Nation. Others on KSR have written about Stoops and what he means to the program, but after talking with a number of sources close to the process, a few tidbits about the search are worth reviewing:
1. Major Facility Renovation Was Part of the Hire
Multiple sources have told me that the biggest worry that Mark Stoops had about the Kentucky job was the state of the Kentucky football facilities in comparison to the rest of the SEC and the commitment by the program to their upgrade. Barnhart assured Stoops that a major investment in UK football facilities was planned and that they were working towards a bonding request for this next Kentucky legislative session. This assurance followed meetings in the last two weeks between Barnhart and former players/football donors, detailing the types of renovations that are to be done and the requests that will be made to Frankfort. This will be a big focus over the next couple of months and was part of the sell to Mark Stoops.
2. Stoops Reached Out to Kentucky and Had a Plan for UK
A source tells me that Mark Stoops was on Mitch Barnhart’s list of those he wanted to consider, but that Stoops impressed the UK AD the most by affirmatively reaching out for the job. Stoops, through representatives, made it known he was interested in the UK job and believed he could win here. Multiple sources confirm to KSR that he produced a plan as to how to make UK a winner in the SEC. I was told that those involved in the search were “blown away” by how much Stoops had put into his plan and his explanation as to why UK can compete. He said he believed there was nothing stopping UK from being competitive in the SEC and his confidence was a true selling point for the group. In addition, Stoops gave a list of 2013 football recruits that he believed he could get to come to Kentucky if hired, and noted the areas of the country that he would focus on in the future. The detail of his plan and his exuberance in getting started was potentially the greatest selling point in Stoops’ favor.
3. The Timeline of the Hire
Kentucky narrowed its initial search list down to 6 candidates by early last week. The list at the time included Butch Jones, Sonny Dykes, Mike MacIntyre, Gary Andersen, Mark Stoops and a NFL guy. UK never felt like the interest from Dykes was complete and he fell by the wayside, as did the mysterious NFL name that I was never able to confirm. The UK folks focused in on their top three candidates, Jones, Stoops and MacIntyre. As they talked to each of the three candidates, Jones expressed an interest to look at other jobs, specifically the opening at Tennessee. He was left as part of the process but Kentucky’s goal of finalizing early before other schools selected their coaches made the union incompatible. That left Kentucky with its two top candidates, MacIntyre and Stoops. Barnhart had a close connection with MacIntyre, thanks to the recommendations of mutual friends Bill Parcells and David Cutcliffe and he was impressed with the way he built up the San Jose State program. However, like the others involved in the search, Barnhart was impressed with Stoops’ plan and the energy that he brought to the process. As one source told me, “no one wanted this job more than Mark Stoops. UK didn’t need to sell it to him, he wanted to grab it and take it. And I think Barnhart really liked that a lot.” The desire to win and the eagerness for the position was ultimately what the biggest selling point. The two sides negotiated on Sunday and a finalized offer was made on Monday afternoon, which was then accepted on Tuesday morning.
4. Coaching Staff
A Florida State source told me today that Stoops was told he would have a “substantial budget” to go after his Assistant coaching staff, including a large salary for a top-of-the-line Offensive Coordinator. No decision has been made at this time on who that will be, but Stoops received assurances from Barnhart that he would have “whatever support financially he needs to succeed.” I am told Barnhart gave that promise with no equivocations and that Stoops believes he can produce a top-notch staff quickly in Lexington.
5. The Timeline in Lexington
Mark Stoops is going to coach in the ACC Championship game on Saturday and then come to Lexington on Sunday for a press conference. A final decision has yet to be made on whether he will coach in the Florida State’s bowl game. I am told that will in part depend on which game it is and the opponent that the Seminoles will be scheduled to play. If he ends up not coaching in the Bowl game, he will immediately begin work in Lexington on building a staff and recruiting for the 2013 class. If he coaches, he will split time until after the game. Kentucky has given him the ability to do either and it will ultimately be his choice.
In my view, Kentucky got a potential great one today and more importantly, showcased a desire to finally put an investment into UK football that it deserves. A lot will depend on the facility upgrade plan that goes to Frankfort in January, but if it passes as all hope, today could be the start of a new era in Kentucky football.