It’s Day Two of SEC Media Days, and it’s been one hella crazy morning. The Johnny Football circus blew through this morning, followed by Mark Stoops taking the stage for his first Media Days appearance. Here’s a recap of his comments.
Stoops may have had the briefest opening statement of media days so far, but that’s in line with his no muss, no fuss attitude. He seemed a little nervous, but settled in once the media started asking questions. One thing I noticed: gone are the days that reporters leave the room when Kentucky’s at the mic. Stoops fielded questions for the entire 30-minute segment, a far cry from Gary Pinkel’s ten minute session yesterday. While there are definitely cynics in this room downplaying Kentucky’s rebuilding efforts, it’s obvious that Stoops has started a conversation that others want to at least hear, if not take part in.
Eight months into my career as a full-time media member, I decided it was time to put on my big girl pants and ask Stoops a question at the biggest press conference of the year. I flagged the girl over, took the mic and fired away, with some turning around in surprise when they heard I was from Kentucky Sports Radio. I asked Mark about how he’s tempering recruits’ expectations about winning in the SEC. Here was his response:
“Well, yeah, we all get caught in the momentum. I feel very good and I like the momentum we have in recruiting right now. We plan to continue that.
I’m sure coaches, and I know we are at Kentucky, when you bring these players in on campus, they know what they have. They know what we did last year. They watch practices with us. They just got to believe in where you’re going and where the future’s going of your program, what you’re doing.
You know, I just try to be very honest with those recruits and tell them where we’re at and where we plan to go.“
Stoops had the understatement of the day when he said that the staff’s success at recruiting in Ohio has been “somewhat of a pleasant surprise” so far. Very pleasant, indeed.
It hasn’t all been sunshine and roses. Stoops compared his new players’ psyches at Kentucky to his former players’ psyches at Florida State when he took over the defense, and said that they’re still trying to build everyone’s confidence back up:
“Yeah, you felt like the guys were a little beat down, a little bit lacking some confidence. So, you know, we just went about it the way we always go about things: just trying to put them in a position to be successful, show them what we’re going to do, and just getting the work. I see us improving. Obviously time will tell. We’ll see how things go in the season. But I think we’re making some strides there.”
Larry Vaught also had a good question asking about keeping fans’ expectations realistic when faced with the toughest schedule in the nation:
“Yeah, it’s really, to be honest with you, an uncomfortable situation for me because it’s not my style really to try to temper those expectations.
I think the educated fan knows where we’re at as a program, knows we have a lot of work to do. But the flipside of that is I want the excitement. I want them there. I want them to support our players that we have on our team right now. I want them at all of our home games.
We plan on going out and competing each and every week. We understand that the challenges are there. So, you know, I’m glad the fans are excited and I’m glad they’re showing up in large numbers.
Our season tickets are up. People are excited and anticipating a good year, because we certainly are. We’re not going out there to put all this hard work in to not compete and not try to win games.”
Try as they may, the media wasn’t able to get any trash talk from Stoops about Western Kentucky and Bobby Petrino:
“I really do not know Coach Petrino very well. I expect a very good team, good offensive mind. He’s had some great success. I’m sure they’re going to be very excited to play us. But we are, as well. That’s our first game of this new era of our program.
We have an awful lot on the line. We can’t take anything for granted at Kentucky right now. We can’t just show up and beat anybody. We have to play very well. We have to play to the best of our abilities. That’s our job to be ready to play in that opener. It will be an exciting time for both of us.”
Stoops’ answer to why he brought in Neal Brown and the Air Raid offense will make any Kentucky fan smile:
“I thought it gave us the best opportunity to win at Kentucky. I like the style of play. I like the roots of it, coming back to Kentucky, when Hal Mumme was there, had some success, with Neal having a background in Kentucky. I just thought it gave us the best opportunity to move the football.”
It wouldn’t be a Kentucky session at SEC Media Days without a question about basketball. When asked about being a football coach at a basketball school, Stoops said that Coach Cal “could not be any better” at supporting the program:
“It’s been great so far. Coach Calipari, he could not be any better. I really appreciate everything Coach Cal does for us. He takes time. We bring recruits in. He visits with them. He’s really embracing myself and the staff. So I love it. He’s so charismatic. He’s been so successful. I love spending time with Coach Cal.
I don’t really worry about that, to be honest with you. I think there’s such great support for visit our Kentucky basketball because of what they’ve done. They deserve it. They’ve had an awful lot of success through a lot of years.
But that’s what we’re trying to get to. If we put out a good product on the field, something the whole state’s proud of, they’ll show up in droves. I’m not even worried about that. It’s been evident thus far with how the fans support football. So I think in Kentucky there’s a rabid fan base. I’m quite sure if we do our part that there’s going to be great support for football and basketball.”
In fact, Stoops says the positive energy around the program has more than carried through to recruiting, and vice versa:
“It’s just been very positive. Everything has been positive. From the moment I arrived on campus at Kentucky, I just felt so good about the support. The people are starving to have a good football program.
I think that carries over to recruits. I really do. I think our current players and our recruits feel all the positive energy. They feel the fan base getting behind us. With social media, all the different aspects, you can reach a lot of kids. I believe they’re feeling that energy, and it certainly is helping.”
I’m currently uploading video interviews with Donte Rumph, Avery Williamson, and Raymond Sanders, so stay tuned…