Thursday afternoon Kentucky’s newest offensive line coach, Eric Wolford, was introduced to the media during an almost 30-minute press conference. You can watch all of the action that took place in front of a herd of elephants unfold, or you can simply read some of the high points.
1. Keeping Schlarman’s Legacy Alive
You can’t replace a coach like John Schlarman. Wolford admires Schlarman’s fight and the work he did to build the Big Blue Wall. He plans on honoring his legacy by keeping Schlarman’s family involved with the program.
“It’s heartbreaking, quite frankly. I can tell you this, John Schlarman’s going to continue to have a presence in our meeting room, in our position group, I can assure you that,” Wolford said. “I welcome his family, his wife and his kids to be a part of my family and continue to be a part of our offensive line group.”
2. No Time for Sensitivity
When evaluating players, the former South Carolina coach is looking for all of the right physical tools — length, athleticism, physicality — but there’s one intangible each player must have.
“You need to find guys that aren’t sensitive,” he said. “When things don’t go well, everyone wants to attack the offensive line. When things go well, they obviously don’t always want to credit the offensive line, so you can’t be a sensitive player. It’s a very unique group of individuals that you have to deal with on a daily basis and you have to just keep a nice even keel.”
3. He goes by “Wolf”
That’s a guy you don’t want to pick a fight with.
4. Bob Stoops Out-Recruited Kentucky
Another Youngstown native on Mark Stoops’ staff, Wolford was actually recruited out of high school by Bob Stoops at Kent State. During Christmas break, Bob got a new job working for Bill Snyder at Kansas State, a team that was 0-33 over the last three seasons. Stoops still convinced him to visit the school in the middle of nowhere.
“I can bring you out on Tuesday and I’ll fly you out on a Thursday so you won’t miss your visits on the weekend,” Bob told him.
Wolf took the visit just because he wanted an excuse to miss a few days of school. He also officially visited Kentucky during his recruitment. He remembers fondly staying at the Hyatt next to Rupp Arena.
“Jerry Claiborne tried to put the squeeze on me,” but Wolford’s high school coach had a policy that prohibited kids from committing until they got home from the visit. Ultimately, it took Wolford to Kansas State, the place where he would eventually take up coaching.
5. Wolford Owns the Rivalry
“I’m undefeated against Cardinal Mooney, for the record.” Wolford’s Ursuline High School in Youngstown may have never lost to their rivals, Stoops’ Cardinal Mooney, but, “I love Vince. I wouldn’t want to get into a wrestling match with him or anything.”
6. How He’ll Replace Offensive Linemen
If Darian Kinnard chooses to go pro, Wolford may have to replace four starting offensive line in his first season on the job. The top priority is filling the big shoes left by Drake Jackson.
“We obviously have to solidify the center position. That’s the position that handles the football. At the end of the day, we need to have three guys that can play center,” he said. “That’s your quarterback of the offense.”
From there he will move players around to find the right fits. “We need to find eight guys that can play in those four spots, let them compete and find out who wants to do the things on and off the field to be a great football player.”
7. Lessons Learned from the NFL
After serving as the head coach at Youngstown State for five years, Wolford worked with the 49ers for two seasons. In his first game his jaw dropped when he saw that only seven players were dressed to fill five spots against the Minnesota Vikings. “You wanna talk about panic?” he laughed.
“I found out real quick that there’s a lot of things that us college guys don’t know that these NFL guys are looking at that. Can this guy play multiple positions?”
Like Schlarman, Wolford will place an emphasis on versatility and work players at multiple positions to make them well-rounded individuals.
8. What Kind of Scheme?
Wolford admitted that every in college football runs inside zone, “But I think you have to have more of a variety these days because people are catching up to that.” He’ll implement some pin-and-pull schemes, duo (two double teams at point of attack on the line that allows the running back read the hole) and wide zone. That might seem like mumbo jumbo right now, but we’ll break it all down here in due time.
9. Can Recruit Anywhere
When you’ve coached for as long as Wolford, you’ve recruited about everywhere. Obviously his Ohio roots make that an easy place for him to find players. He’s had success in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas up to Virginia and all the way out on the west coast in LA and Houston. One area in particular to keep an eye on: he has carved out a nice niche in the Kansas junior college recruiting scene.
10. Scheming vs. Stoops ain’t easy
Wolford is happy he no longer has to face Mark Stoops’ defense on game days.
“Mark’s considered to be one of the best in the country as far as a defensive coach and a head coach. At the same time his staff does a wonderful job of finding the right guys and putting them into positions to be successful. It’s been impressive. I know when we play him it’s a pain. I can tell you that, and I always don’t say that when you line up and play somebody. It’s a pain schematically. Anytime you can line up schematically and take away people’s angles, which they like to do, that puts more stress on your offensive line and they put stress on you. I’m glad I’m on your guys’ team now.”
He’s been impressed from afar. Now Wolford is excited to help Stoops knock down more doors.
“Stoops is knocking doors down right now. Let’s call it the way it is. You guys just absolutely blew out Tennessee, blew them off the map,” he said. “It seems like every year he continues to knock down something that’s never happened before in that program and it’s only a matter of time before it breaks through.”