“Reunited and it feels so good!” Maybe I am in the minority here, but for the first time since the beginning of this year’s football season (and perhaps even longer, really)– I feel like Kentucky football fans are as close to unified as we might ever be. Today’s announcement that Mark Stoops will be the new head coach at Kentucky brought a cease fire in what has felt like a month-long battle between multiple sides. Coaching searches are exciting for a while, igniting interesting discussion– bringing about deep questions and stirring up passionate fans. Throwing out a slew of names, debating the pros, cons and reality of each, leaking of information from “sources,” and “done deals” are all equally part of the on-going equation that seems to take twists and turns from one meal to the next. Whoever was the perceived leader while finishing your morning coffee, probably had turned down the offer by the time you folded your 8-10 Kentucky national championship t-shirts before bed at night. The carousel of news was entertaining and exciting at first, but almost became exhausting by the time this week began. A sense of restlessness and worry began to creep its way into the overall excitement of something new coming among the fan base.
Joker Phillips was fired on November 4th. For nearly two and a half weeks Big Blue Nation was a nation divided, a massive, passionate group without a common ground.
Today, November 27th, a new era has taken flight. A common ground has been found. The hiring of Florida State’s Defensive Coordinator, Mark Stoops, has provided an overwhelming sense of unity among the Kentucky fan base. By all accounts, most people are genuinely excited about the hire. With the names Mitch Barnhart was considering for the job, Stoops was widely considered to be the most popular choice.
I knew the Stoops hire was a good hire when I looked at his level of success with his defenses at Florida State. I was reassured that Stoops was the right hire when nearly every national media member/analyst had nothing but good things to say about Kentucky’s decision. I was convinced even further that Stoops was the perfect hire when the news leaked about the plan he presented to Kentucky for how they could succeed in the SEC. I was 100% CERTAIN that Stoops was the right hire when I realized around 8:30 p.m. that for the first time in 3 years, I hadn’t thought about Kentucky basketball all day. #StoopsEffect
A new era in Kentucky football is here…
— Early this afternoon, we learned that the coaching search was finally over. Kentucky was ready to name Florida State’s Defensive Coordinator Mark Stoops their new head coach. Kentucky Sports Radio’s very own Matt Jones was the first to break the news…
— The news immediately created a buzz around the Kentucky football program comparable only to
Stevie Getting Loose, Beating #1 ranked LSU, Snapping the Tennessee Streak, Beating Steve Spurrier … honestly, I can’t remember a level of excitement that quite matches that brought about today by the Stoops hire. Some of those other moments may have been greater in magnitude at that exact time, but the level of excitement right now surrounding Kentucky football is more than just a fleeting moment. The fans, administration, players and coaches all seem enthusiastic about the new direction of the program.
— With the head coach position locked in, all of the attention now falls on Stoops’ choice for his offensive coordinator. According to Matt Jones, Mitch Barnhart made it clear to Stoops that he would have the financial support to assemble a first-class staff of his choice around him at the University of Kentucky. Barnhart will make the funds available for Stoops to go out and try to get the best assistant coaches he can. Stoops’ first order of business will be securing an offensive coordinator. According to sources, Stoops has already reached out to current Florida State offensive coordinator James Coley. Coley is a popular choice and would certainly be a great first addition for Stoops. Coley is widely considered to be one of the best recruiters in the country, with extensive ties in the Miami area. Much like Charlie Strong has been able to open up the recruiting pipeline from the state of Florida to Louisville, the combination of Stoops and Coley would likely provide a similar opportunity.
— James Coley will likely make his decision on whether or not he wants to be a solid 1-2 punch at Kentucky within the next 48 hours. Coley would likely be given more freedom when it comes to play-calling, which is rumored to be one of the reasons he might be looking to leave Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. Hey Coley, as long as you don’t do the following 5 things, you can call all the plays you want here in Lexington:
1) Bubble screens
2) Passes to the line of scrimmage on 3rd-and-long plays
3) Bubble screens
4) Quarterback draws on 3rd-and-long plays
5) Bubble screens
— Some other names have been mentioned as possibilities for the offensive coordinator position if Coley declines the offer. The most talked about second option being discussed right now is Texas Tech’s Neal Brown, who has Kentucky connections.
— In less than 12 hours, the Mark Stoops hire only continues to look better and better.
Here are 8 reasons to be excited about the new Kentucky football coach.
1) Defense- Your best chance to succeed in the SEC hinges on your ability to defend well. As a whole, the SEC makes up for a lack of dominant quarterbacks with strong running games. The ability to stop the run is crucial to sustained success in the league, and Kentucky has hired a coach who specializes in defense and can do just that. Stoops is considered one of the best defensive coordinators in the entire country, shoring up a Florida State defense that struggled before his arrival. Kentucky’s inability to keep other teams from scoring almost at will this season has been documented. Individual players have thrived in Kentucky’s system over the past few years, but as a whole, the unit has not always been a strong point– at least not in terms of competing in the SEC. One would think that Kentucky’s defense will improve drastically under Stoops.
2) A commitment will be made to the football program- Stop me if you’ve heard this line before: “It’s not necessarily the coach. Kentucky has to make more of a commitment, especially financially, to the football program if we ever hope to compete in the SEC.” I think it’s a safe assumption that Mark Stoops would not have agreed to make the move to Kentucky without the promise of a bigger commitment to the program. Rumors have been swirling that in December/January, big announcements will be made regarding upgrades to the football facilities. That had to have been part of the draw for Stoops and part of his plan…
3) Stoops reached out to Kentucky…with a plan- I thought Kentucky would have to do a good job selling the job to the legitimate candidates. I know it’s been said that coaches came out of the woodworks when the job opened up, but I’m talking about the good candidates– the ones people really wanted and thought could possibly make a big impact. Perhaps the biggest surprise to many was that Stoops actually reached out to Kentucky. Stoops didn’t start seriously considering the job a week ago due to a Barnhart phone call and sales pitch. Stoops was ready. Stoops had a plan. Stoops wanted Kentucky. For a job that was thrown around as the doormat of the SEC for weeks, that’s a pretty huge statement. Stoops wanted Kentucky. And he came in with enthusiasm that won Barnhart over and led him to believe he was the right choice for the job. Not only was Stoops a good coaching hire, a rising star as a coordinator, but he was a good coaching hire who had a plan specifically for this Kentucky job.
4) Recruiting potential- Mark Stoops is a recognizable enough name that he will likely be able to catch and keep the attention of the guys already committed to Kentucky. Stoops did his homework too. He came in with a list of recruits he thought he could get to Kentucky if he was hired, but he also knew the guys already signed on. Stoops has great connections in the state of Florida and can likely at least get some of the bigger names he was recruiting at Florida State to think about Kentucky. His name is well-known in recruiting circles not only in Florida, but Ohio as well. If he can bring along Coley, things could get very exciting recruiting-wise for Kentucky.
5) Buzz around Kentucky football- People were talking about Kentucky football all day today. And not just people from the state of Kentucky. It wasn’t just me, you, and the guys you talk to about Kentucky football at work (you know who I’m talking about). It wasn’t just the local newspapers (yes, they still exist…I think), the Kentucky websites, etc. ESPN, CBSSports, etc, were all talking about Kentucky football. Not only were they talking about Kentucky football, but they were praising Kentucky for a great hire.
6) Well wishes from those associated with Stoops- Sometimes when a guy is hired away from a school, you find an overwhelming sense of “you can have him” or “we didn’t like him anyway.” Of course there will always be some who fall into that category, but for the most part it looks like those involved in the Florida State program, including a large portion of fans– wish nothing but the best for Stoops. In fact, I would almost say that the feeling is one of excitement for Stoops in his first head coaching gig. If the quotes below don’t make Stoops sound like the kind of guy you want joining our program, I don’t know what will…
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Jimbo Fisher and the players are all happy for Mark Stoops that he is taking the leap.
“I was more happy for Coach Stoops than anything,” safety Lamarcus Joyner said. “He was a coach that put in work and after explaining it was best for him and his family and that it was setting him up for what he needed for him, that’s a blessing for him. He’s a great man and he deserves it.”
Joyner said Stoops came to him with the news before most players. He wanted to pause and let him know before the full team found out. Just after that, members of the team’s unity council, a body comprised of seniors and veteran key players, were told the news, too.
“Nobody’s sad. Everybody’s happy for him,” defensive end Bjoern Werner said.
“We gave him a standing ovation,” Werner said. “Everybody knew how much he put into this program and turned it around pretty fast on defense.”
The year before Stoops took over, FSU ranked 108th in total defense. A year later, the Seminoles improved to 42nd. Last year, they ranked fourth. Currently, they are second in the nation.
“I want to be known as the guy that helps guys get jobs,” Fisher said. “If they come to a good program and do well, they get the opportunities.”
7) Puns on Puns on Puns on Puns- If you haven’t heard a good “Stoops” pun today, you have clearly been hiding under a rock. If you haven’t heard a bad “Stoops” pun today, you’ve really been living under a rock. Love them or leave them, the Stoops puns are here to stay.
A few of the most popular: “Stoop, there it is!” “Kentucky football Stoops Ice Cream” “Stoops in the Name of BBN” “Don’t Stoop Believin'” “Stoop Kids” “Unstoopable”
8) He comes from a good coaching pedigree- And they all seem excited about the move to Kentucky for Stoops as well. According to ESPN’s Jake Trotter, his brother Bob Stoops (Oklahoma head coach) said, “Kentucky has a lot of potential. He’s prepared for the job.”
His brother Ron, who is the coach at Youngstown State, had this to say: “I’m out with my sons now looking for Kentucky blue.”
*BONUS: John Calipari and UK Athletics tweeted it, so you know it’s real. After some questions earlier today, you can now Follow Mark Stoops on Twitter.
(I see you, Jax Teller)
— The timing was right with Barnhart and Kentucky making the move in the midst of a host of other SEC schools looking for a new head coach. Kentucky was the first to pull the trigger, and they have to be pleased with the results. Barnhart took a lot of heat all season long, which continued on into the coaching search. He reached out for help from former Wildcats such as Tim Couch, as well as Duke coach David Cutcliffe, and made a nice hire for the football program. Stoops will officially be introduced on Sunday at Keeneland, after he coaches Florida State in the ACC Championship game (which we will now all be watching like hawks, let’s be honest).
— A few questions to ponder as we spend the rest of the week analyzing the hire: Who on the current Kentucky coaching staff, if anyone, will Stoops retain? Will he keep former players such as Jeremy Jarmon and Andre Woodson? Any chance that he adds a guy like Tim Couch? Will the excitement carry over to the Spring Game, the first real chance fans will have to get behind the new coach and the team? What are realistic expectations for Stoops’ first season at Kentucky? Considering the schedule, is a bowl game realistic?
— Kentucky basketball took the backseat to football today, and that’s probably the way it should be on a day like today. We will start to look ahead on the site tomorrow to the Notre Dame game on Thursday, another big road test against an experienced team for this young Kentucky bunch.
— In other SEC news, it appears as if every resident in Arkansas has donated their allowance and their kitchen sink to the attempt to hire Les Miles away from LSU. Reports are coming out that Miles is being offered a five-year deal worth more than $27 million dollars.
— Indiana might be kinda good, guys. Indiana just put the finishing touches on a romping of North Carolina, 83-59. The only question that remains… Ring? Banner? Or Popcorn container for the win?
— KSR will be on the radio for an hour tomorrow morning before the UK Hoops game. Tune in from 10-11 a.m. on WLAP 630 AM for chatter surely surrounding the hiring of Mark Stoops.