Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops appeared more confident and comfortable in his fifth appearance at SEC Media Days. The head Cat’s opening remarks included a thank you to conference commissioner David Sankey for the league honoring four former Wildcats that integrated the conference nearly fifty years ago.
Definition: Building a winning culture.
This has been a process for Mark Stoops. From strength and conditioning changes in both leadership and intent, facilities upgrades, and a goal for increased on/off field consistency, UK has placed its football players in an environment that negates excuses. The most important aspect of this program development pillar was winning seven of its last 10 regular season games. Wednesday’s Hoover environment is a prime example. There was a legitimate buzz and a much higher expectation surrounding the Cats than years prior.
Definition: Selecting the right players; it’s self-explanatory.
To simplify; keep Vince Marrow on campus to lead Stoops’ recruiting program. Marrow is one of the nation’s best at identifying, enlisting, and signing talent in Lexington.
Definition: Developing player and have an intentional development plan once they get on campus.
Case in point; UK produced two, 1,000-yard rushers in 2016. Its offensive line returns four of five starters yet none were nominated for All SEC via Media Day’s voting selection. This can also be filed under selection but leans more towards John Schlarman’s development of the big fellas. Higher “starred” players coming out of high school receive increased name recognition in college, especially at offensive line. Regardless, Kentucky is developing players at a high level on both sides of the football.
— JUCO DT Phil Hoskins will not be full-go on week one. Stoops indicated that the much needed defender may be ready week three-five. This was not good news for the Big Blue Nation as a beleaguered defensive line is down another player that was expected to contribute.
— Lynn Bowden and Michael Nesbitt are anticipated to be on campus for the first day of fall camp. Not having on campus for summer workouts could limit the rookie’s early impact.
— Stephen Johnson is the starting quarterback but Drew Barker and Gunnar Hoak will continue to compete. Stoops is confident in all three of his quarterbacks.
Excerpts from Stoops’ Speech
On Four Wildcats that integrated football in the Southeastern Conference:
“Greg, I like to thank the commissioner on behalf of the University of Kentucky for your decision to recognize the four players that played at the University of Kentucky that broke the color barrier in the SEC some 50 years ago. We appreciate that.”
Benefits of bowl game and dealing with expectation:
“Like everybody says, it’s an exciting time of the year. I’m excited about our football team. I’m excited about our season. It’s really nice to come in here year five and build with some positive momentum that we had a year ago. You know, a year ago, we did not start the season the way we wanted to, but we finished strong when seven of our ten regular season games, and you know, to build on that positive momentum, to go to the TaxSlayer Bowl, to have those extra practices meant a great deal to our program.
“Our players have worked extremely hard to get to that point, and it was really nice to finish with that momentum. If you heard me talk a year ago, you heard me constantly talk about our capacity to do more. Our team needed to mature. We needed to work them harder. We needed to have stronger weightlifting sessions, run harder, longer practices, mentally and physically, to be able to endure the rigors of an SEC season.”
On this year’s offense:
“We lost our starting quarterback the second game of the year, came in with a back-up who’s here with us today and again led us to seven victories down the stretch and really starts with Eddie Gran. I really appreciate Eddie. He’s a seasoned veteran, spent a lot of time in the SEC prior to coming to Kentucky. Eddie’s a great person. He’s a great X-and-O guy. But more important, he’s a great leader, a great leader of men in developing these young guys and developing an attitude on the offensive side of the ball. I am very proud to have Eddie with us, along with co-offensive coordinator,
“Darin Hinshaw. Again I just mentioned it, but Darin did a heck of a job with Stephen Johnson to put us in a position to be successful, along with the rest of the offensive staff, very proud of those guys.
“Also on the offensive stat of the ball, I got to mention our recruiting coordinator, Vince Marrow. I’m proud of our entire staff the way we recruited. Vince heads up that effort. He has done a great job in Ohio. We’re really stepping up our recruiting and Vince is a big piece of that. We appreciate him.”
On this year’s Defense:
“On the defensive side of the ball, we have promoted Matt House to defensive coordinator. It will be a lot of fun for me. It already has been. It will be a collaborative effort with myself, Coach House, and the defensive staff to tweak our defense. We’ll be much the same. We will continue to build on the good things that we’ve done, but we’ll also strip it down and start over in certain areas.
“And I’m excited to work with Matt. And we have two new additions on the defensive side of the ball. Derrick LeBlanc will coach our defensive line. He’s already improved them. I like what I’ve seen in the preseason, what I’ve seen in the spring ball. He has a big job. We all know that we all need to improve. That’s one area we need to improve. And I’m counting on Derrick and our defensive staff and all of us to get those guys to play at the level that we expect them to.
“Also the addition of Dean Hood, Dean will coach our outside linebackers and special teams. Dean has a wealth of experience. He’s been a head coach. He has been a defensive coordinator. He’s another seasoned veteran. We are very proud to have Dean on our staff. He also knows the state of Kentucky. He’s been the head coach at Eastern Kentucky for quite a while. So we are very excited to have him and his expertise.”
On Recruiting Ohio:
“I know we’re in the deep south here, and we respect that, and we need to and will and continue to recruit in the deep south playing in the SEC. But for us, it just makes sense with our proximity to Ohio. Southern Ohio butts up to us. You can go two and a half hours of our campus, and there’s a heck of a lot of football players in that region.
“With my ties, I grew up in Ohio. My father was a high school teacher and coach for 30 years in Ohio. With myself, Coach Marrow, Coach Clinkscale, there are quite a few ties to the Ohio area within our staff. I think that is a big reason. I think the SEC is a selling point for guys that grew up in Ohio and respect SEC football. I think they embrace the opportunity to come down here and play in this league.”