This is Mark Stoops’ third year at SEC Media Days and by the end of his session, he looked the most at ease that we’ve seen him on the big stage. After a short interview session with local media, Stoops took the podium in the main room and started off a little shaky.
“My third year here at the SEC media days,” Stoops began. “Really glad the first two years trying to build this program didn’t kill me, but the first two years really went extremely fast.”
About that year three…
With more talent on the team and renovations being made to the facilities, there is progress, but Stoops is ready to see results.
“Optimistic, excited, year three, we should be better. We are better,” Stoops said. “I think one of the big things that stands out to me is just the unity of our football team. They’re all in together. They’ve worked hard throughout winter conditioning. They’ve worked hard this summer. They’re anxious and more confident.”
Stoops admitted that his team “wasn’t able to handle the work that I gave them” in his first year, and although he was pleased with how the team began the second year, going 5-1, the reality of playing in the SEC took its toll.
“We were in the middle of a tough stretch in the SEC, and physically and mentally we did not handle it. We have to continue to grow,” Stoops said. “We have a long way to go. I knew what I was doing when I took this job, and I’m very optimistic about where we’re at and where we’re going.”
Stoops brought up basketball first
Every year, it’s only a matter of time until Stoops is asked about John Calipari and basketball. This year, Stoops beat reporters to the punch by being the first to bring it up, mentioning how beneficial basketball is to the football program.
“Basketball does nothing but help us,” Stoops said when asked about fan expectations. “That atmosphere they set, Coach Cal, what he does to help me and help our program, the recruiting, just the environment of that arena. We may bring a prospect in for the first time and bring them to a game, and they see our fan base. Believe me, our fan base goes well beyond the basketball team.”
I vowed to throw paper wads at the reporter who asked about basketball. Those wads are still sitting next to my computer. Maybe I can throw them at the guy behind me who decided to watch a video during Stoops’ session without headphones.
Melvin Lewis is mentoring Matt Elam
I’ll have more on this tonight, but Melvin Lewis had the story of the day when he told us how he’s taken Matt Elam under his wing.
“Matt Elam, he’s making huge strides this offseason with being more consistent and stuff like that,” Lewis told reporters this morning. “There’s been times where I went outside and just saw him running on his own. You can see that he wants it. He has that hunger now. So I really believe that he’s going to make a lot of good plays this year.”
Stoops said Melvin’s leadership has been huge for Elam’s progression.
“I think Melvin has been a guy that has really tried to lead and help Matt in that area and give him that extra motivation and be the guy, and that’s what it takes for all of our team,” Stoops said. “We need more and more leaders. We worked extremely hard developing leadership in our program. Melvin has been a good leader, but I see that dedication. I see the hunger of our team.”
Stoops couldn’t be more pleased with Shannon Dawson
Stoops raved about all of his staff, but he seemed the most pleased with Shannon Dawson, his new offensive coordinator.
“Very excited about him. I feel like we made great progress in 15 practices in the spring,” Stoops said. “I also like the way our players respond to him. They like playing for him, and they’re very excited about what we’re going to do.”
With all the times Stoops mentioned rushing today, you might forget Dawson runs a version of the Air Raid, but that’s further proof that his more balanced attack may be what sealed the deal.
“I like the creativity out of the run game, and I love the mentality that he has out of the run game,” Stoops said. “We all know, every coach will talk about that, certainly the defensive guys, but balance is a big thing. Being able to run the ball is a big thing. It helps your defense practicing against the run game. It helps the defense. So I think the nuances in the run game and getting the ball down the field are a few things that are different with Coach Dawson [than former OC Neal Brown].”
Stoops on soap operas
UK’s Thursday night game against Auburn is getting A LOT of press here today, and when asked, he said he’s just thankful the Cats are hosting, not traveling.
“It’s not a lot of fun to go on the road for a Thursday game. It’s just weird. You travel on a Wednesday, and you get to the hotel, and there’s soap operas on or something instead of football. I don’t know. It’s just different traveling on a Wednesday.”
Sadly, I didn’t get to ask my follow up question, so we’ll never know what his favorite soap opera is.