The psychological toll from a lengthy, pandemic-plagued season filled with heartbreak is weighing heavily on the Kentucky football team. The collective trauma from John Schlarman’s death and the strenuous COVID-19 protocols culminated with a 60-point loss at Alabama.
Days after suffering the worst loss of his Kentucky tenure, Mark Stoops repeatedly said he does not want to make excuses. When push came to shove, he had to be frank.
“What’s that word you put in front of show? It’s a blank-show,” Stoops said to refrain from explicitly calling this season a shit-show. “I don’t have coaches, whatever. I don’t even want to say it because I don’t want anybody attacking me for excuses. It sucks. It’s very difficult and it’s very difficult to pick your players up each and every day but we’re going to try our best and we’re going to continue to fight and again, we will be there. We’ll play. There’s issues that we’re dealing with, but we’ll be there.”
Stoops will not make excuses for himself. He’s an adult who gets compensated very well for his effort and energy. It’s a different story for his young players who have never encountered adversity like this before and are asked to stay the course and continue to grind on the gridiron during such a difficult time.
“I’m paid to handle this and to run the program. That’s for darn sure; nobody’s going to feel sorry for me and I’m not worried about that. But it is difficult for the players. There’s no getting around that. A very, very difficult and trying week, trying year, but it is what it is, no excuses. We need to play better than we did. The players, I do feel for them. They’ve had to deal with a lot, no question. They’ve been down coaches. I’ve been down to two to three offensive coaches since the Tennessee game. We’re down players. We practice all week with certain players and find out on Friday they can’t play. It’s difficult. It’ difficult on them. They’ve had to deal with a lot. John Schlarman was close to everybody on this team and I think our team did as best they could at responding to difficult times.”
It’s not going to get any easier anytime soon. Kentucky travels to The Swamp this Saturday to take on Florida’s Heisman Trophy candidate Kyle Trask who leads the nation’s top-ranked passing offense.
“We definitely need to hit the reset button,” Stoops said. “There were things out of our control last week. Again, absolutely no excuses, but as far as our players’ mentality, we have to hit reset and get back to playing the way we’re capable of. We’re excited about us and our play and that we can have a normal week and get back on track.”
This week is normal, for now. Six COVID-19 tests stand in Kentucky’s way of finishing the regular season. Reaching the finish line has not and will not be effortless. No matter what happens, Stoops will do his best to rally the troops without making excuses.
“We’re not gonna run and hide around here. We’re going to play if we can,” Stoops added.
“There’s nobody that really cares about the extenuating circumstances. We don’t as a staff either. It is what it is. We have to go out and do a better job and we will. I anticipate that our players will respond. We’ll have a good week of practice and we’ll go out and play hard. I’ll tell you, there were a lot of players that played extremely hard against a very talented team. I appreciate the effort of certain guys, that’s for sure. There’s nobody giving up around here. There’s going to be guys going out there and playing extremely hard. We’re going to coach extremely hard and we’re going to get better.
“We’ll get through this. We’ve been through difficult times before. We’ll get through it again.”