The 2012-13 academic school year was one of the most disappointing years for Kentucky athletics. The baseball and basketball teams both started the season ranked in the Top 10 before failing to reach the post-season while the football team suffered one of the worst seasons in school history, leading to the departure of Joker Phillips. With the academic year over, we now turn to optimistic summer dreams of a future filled with wins. The biggest surprise? Kentucky football’s dramatic change in less than 6 months. While it is difficult to describe the success of a new coach without having played a game yet, Mark Stoops has given the #BBN more than enough reasons to once again ‘Believe in Blue’. After looking back to May 2012 compared to May of 2013, Extreme Makeover couldn’t prescribe a more drastic facelift. Don’t believe me? See for yourself…
1. Coaching staff. The most obvious change over the last year is the replacement of Joker Phillips with Mark Stoops. Joker spent most of his Spring and Summer Camp attempting to convince the waning fan base that he could still get the job done. While most called his bluff and did not renew their season tickets, some people (like Matt Jones) still clung to that last bit of hope. After losing to WKU and getting embarrassed by Vandy at home, there was simply nothing left for Joker. Mark Stoops wasn’t the first choice for most fans to replace Joker, but his plan for the program was more than enough to convince Mitch Barnhart that Stoops was the right guy for the job. Stoops’ next move is what separated him from Joker: he recruited a highly-motivated, young coaching staff with big-program ties to come to Kentucky. Joker’s staff consisted of men mostly in their 50’s, compared to the 30 and 40 year old pups that Stoops has brought in. While some may think that doesn’t matter, the energy that Stoops’ staff brings to a room is unprecedented when compared to the crotchety old men of before. These coaches could convince Alan Cutler to put on pads and play, unlike the former staff that couldn’t even recognize the 6th best QB in the nation at their own camp.
2. Recruiting, Recruiting, Recruiting. I could probably make a week’s worth of posts talking about the radical differences in recruiting since May of 2012. The most obvious difference is the addition of Ohio as a recruiting pipeline. A Top-5 state in national high school football talent, Joker only managed to recruit 5 prospects from Ohio to UK in his 3 years as head coach; Mark Stoops has received 8 commitments from Ohio in less than 6 months. Stoops is successfully reaching across the Ohio River for prospects, while simultaneously convincing the best from inside the state to same stay home. Joker may have picked up a few guys from around the state each year, he never consistently got the best of the best. Ryan Timmons and Jason Hatcher can potentially make a positive impact for the team in the fall. In the 2014 class, Stoops has the #1 player in KY with Drew Barker while staying hot on the #2 player’s trail (Matt Elam).
Another easy barometer for recruiting success is seen in the recruiting rankings. Mark Stoops’ three 4-star players in the Class of 2013 equal the number of how many Joker had during his 3-year tenure as head coach. Oh and 3/7 in Stoops’ 2014 Class are 4-star players. Long gone are the days when decisions for recruits are between Middle Tenn State, WKU, and UK: now it’s between Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Alabama. The improvement has translated into even further hype for Stoops’ program. The average fan never knew the big recruits, unless they were great in-state players like Patrick Towles. When my lawyer-boss asked me about Braxton Berrios today (from North Carolina), I realized that football recruiting has reached a level higher than ever before.
3. An increased chatter across #BBN. While writing for KSRCollege last Spring, it was tough finding anything to write positively about the football program. When I posted the Spring depth chart in March of last year, there were COMPLAINTS for having football news during March Madness. The proof lies in the numbers: In May of 2012 there were 22 football-related posts on KSR; this post is the 22nd football-related post since last Friday. Not only is there more chatter, but it’s almost entirely positive chatter. Instead of talking about how hot Joker’s seat is, we have actually been comparing Drew Barker and Andrew Wiggins. ANDREW WIGGINS, THE BEST HS PLAYER SINCE LEBRON! If this isn’t enough, go back and listen to old podcasts and see if you can find a football entry in the headline.
4. Season ticket sales. It’s sad to say that the biggest story of last year’s Spring football season was the dramatic decrease in season ticket holders. 2012 season ticket figures were down 20.8% since 2011 and 32.5% from 2009. On April 22 of this year, season ticket sales were 2x larger than on the same date in 2012, with 35,342 compared to 17, 647. The excitement generated by Mark Stoops arrival cannot be given all of the credit: UK’s marketing department has gone above and beyond promoting ticket sales. Not only has the quantity and quality of advertisements increased, but they have opened Commonwealth Stadium to the public during the work day, allowing you to sit in your potential seat before you buy it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think KSR had a radio show at CWS last Spring.
5. Bon Jovi to Chief Keef. Watching Matt Jones’ face light-up in sarcasm when “It’s My Life” blared through CWS before 3rd downs last year was something to see. Playing an outdated Bon Jovi song was a great reflection of the state of the program last year. The only thing uglier than CWS was the play on the field, which translated into an even emptier CWS. Fast forward one year and the CWS renovation bill passed in Frankfort with only one detractor. UK greats like Tim Couch spoke during timeouts of the Spring Game to pump up the crowd. The UKAthletics staff also began putting together video pieces inside Spring Practice. Watching Stoops get taken out during ‘board drill’ is a 180-degree turnaround compared to the sight of Joker’s somber face. For the first time since Hal Mumme’s original Air Raid, Kentucky football is cool.
6. Two pictures say it all…