If there’s one downside to building a program from the ground up and inching toward historic success, it’s the vultures that come looking to pluck your coach away at the end of the season.
With Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, there were whispers of opposing schools looking to bring him in for an interview following his first seven-win season in 2016. Now that his team is sitting at 5-1 with a chance to win nine or ten games and compete for an SEC Championship bid, it may be time to start worrying about that again.
Florida State is struggling under new coach Willie Taggert, and though it’d be expensive, they could opt for a buy-out and look elsewhere. And that’s just one of several elite programs that could make coaching changes this offseason. If there is a surprise coaching termination from now until the end of the season, you better believe Stoops will be on the short list of potential candidates.
For Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart, he’s been preparing for this day since the day he brought Stoops in as head coach in 2012. He’s restructured Stoops’ contract with built-in bonuses and extensions in case he ever had to fend off any elite programs. In his eyes, it’s a good problem to have.
“We’ve got a great relationship with this staff,” Barnhart said in an interview with Jen Smith of the Lexington Herald-Leader. “It’s a friendship more than it is anything else. I appreciate that. I think that you’ve gotta be honest with one another. I think we’ve built in a contract that I think gives him a chance to succeed and grow. It’s built for that. We built that a couple of years back. It wasn’t a mystery how we did that.”
According to the Herald-Leader and official Kentucky contract records, the deal Stoops signed in March of 2017 has built-in extensions of one additional year for each seven (or more)-win season and two additional years with 10 (or more)-win seasons. With his most recent seven-win season, he extended his contract through 2023.
He also earns bonuses of $100,000 for making the SEC Championship, and that’s doubled if Kentucky wins it. Participating in a New Year’s Six bowl game will earn him an additional $200,000, and going to the national championship would give him a $400,000 bonus. Winning it all would give him a smooth half-million-dollar bonus.
“We were hoping that we’d have to have these conversations, we could build into those conversations,” said Barnhart. “That makes those conversations a lot easier when you do that on the front end rather than trying to fix it on the back end.”
Barnhart says the Kentucky head coach knows this is his program now. Following numerous elite recruiting classes and bowl appearances, he has earned the athletic director’s trust.
“Mark has realized that this is his place,” Kentucky’s top athletics administrator said Friday afternoon following the university Board of Trustees meeting at Kroger Field. “This is his program. He’s building it and done a unique job of just growing it steadily. In the world of what we’ve got going on in college athletics.”
For more of Smith’s article on the Herald-Leader, take a look here.