THIS IS THE PROGRAM WE SHOULD BUILD OUR PROGRAM LIKE
How do we make Kentucky a serious college football contender? Is it possible at all? I think it’s very possible at Kentucky. But, I think the current sports fanbase is far too impatient. I get the sense people think the program can be turned around in 2-3 years. I am here to argue that it will take AT LEAST 5 years to make this happen. But, if run correctly, Kentucky can set the foundation to be a consistent SEC power. Below, I give the 4 things that make a college football program great. Some top programs are not excellent in every area, but they are in most.
1) Exciting or Reputable Head Coach
-To be a top tier college football program, you almost always have to have a head coach that either brings a great amount of excitement to the table or has the results to bring a credibility to the program. A guy like Kevin Sumlin brings an exciting personality to a program, which is attractive to recruits. A guy like Mark Richt or Nick Saban brings results to the table. If your coach does not excite the fanbase and doesn’t really have the resume, then he can be the Jesus of Coaching but players have no reason to play for him.
Kentucky’s Standard: Joker Phillips never had the personality to be a first time head coach at an SEC school. He didn’t bring any head coaching results to the table and wasn’t a big enough personality to draw recruits to the school. And then when the program began declining, he didn’t have the personality to keep the fans interested. That is what Hal Mumme did. People forget Mumme had a couple pretty poor seasons, but fans were still attracted to his ways and coaching style and still supported the program. Mark Stoops’ jury is still out. He seems to have more personality than Joker and the recruiting has certainly picked up. We’ll see if that translates to results.
2) Consistency at the Coordinators
-It is always a bonus if a head coach can keep his top assistants. Sometimes assistants do so well, they have to leave to take head coaching positions. But, when a program can keep consistent figures leading the program, the players have a better, and more confident, comfort level. In Steve Kragthorpe’s 3 seasons at Louisville, he had 3 offensive coordinators and 3 defensive coordinators. How did that turn out? Florida’s offense has not been the same since Dan Mullen left. The list goes on and on. It’s not always the head coach that makes the program. In many cases it’s the assistants.
Kentucky’s Standards: During the Rich Brooks’ 4 bowl seasons, he had 1 offensive coordinator (Joker) and 1 defensive coordinator (Steve Brown). I firmly believe this was a HUGE reason Kentucky was able to take a step up. Joker was able to keep Randy Sanders for his 3 seasons, but he had 2 different defensive coordinators the first year and then brought Rick Minter in for final 2 years. Mark Stoops will bring back Neal Brown and DJ Eliot for a 2nd straight year, so we’ll see if success pushes those guys out or keeps them here.
3) Recruiting Advantages and Location
-Not going to rehash this from yesterday, but the schools in the south, Texas, and California have advantages. They just do. Despite what some may argue, most kids like to stay within a short distance from home. Thus, the Texas and Florida’s of the world don’t have to travel too much to find enough elite kids.
Kentucky’s Standards: No school in the SEC has more recruiting disadvantages than Kentucky. Not only is the in-state recruiting not great, but the states around Kentucky with talent (Ohio and Virginia in particular) are dominated by national powers. There is really nowhere for Kentucky to dominate except for the state of Kentucky, and that’s not enough. Stoops is recruiting at a level probably not seen at Kentucky and that bodes well for eliminating those recruiting disadvantages. BUT, eventually the Cats will have to start winning games or Stoops won’t be able to steal players from football rich states.
-You have to spend serious money to win in football, both in recruiting and in facilities. The SEC has proven this more than any in the country. Do a quick search of top college football facilities, and 3 schools show up continuously: LSU, Florida, Oregon. Top level facilities obviously attract top recruits, and personally, I think a player’s mental state can also be so much better when walking into a top-class training facility or stadium. Remember the HUGE billboard in NYC of Joey Harrington from Oregon. That cost a ton of money, I am sure. It also raised the profile of Oregon.
Kentucky’s Standards: Kentucky is doing things to fix some of the money issues they have had in the past. They are updating Commonwealth Stadium, which is far overdue. They are taking a greater looked at advertising, as shown by their local Super Bowl ad. But the spending overall on football is still the bottom half of the league and Mark Stoops is last in salary in the league. So there is still room for improvement.
It took Frank Beamer 7 years at Virginia Tech to win 9 games in a season. By his 13th season, he was in the national championship game. He has had 12, 10-win seasons since that first breakthrough season in Year 7. I think this is the perfect blueprint on how to build a program. It required patience from the fanbase. It required a dedication to make it work by the athletic department. And it took a singular coach to commit himself to that program. Here is to hoping Kentucky finds a way to make it happen. I, for one, am tired of seeing the ship sail past us.