The Kentucky football season got off to a somber start when Mark Stoops revealed that Josh Paschal and John Schlarman are dealing with illnesses.
After UK’s coach revealed the details and shared his thoughts and prayers, Stoops got pretty excited about the upcoming season. See what he had to say about his secondary, the upgrading defensive line and the quarterback competition.
COACH MARK STOOPS: Before I get started I have a couple updates I wanted to give you. As I reported last week about Josh Paschal and the skin lesions he had removed from the bottom of his right foot, well, I’m sorry to say, that those came back as malignant melanoma. So since those results came back, Josh had another procedure this past Wednesday and we’re waiting for those results to come back.
Out of respect to his family, please, you know, don’t dive into this anymore. Josh wanted to be up front with this. Josh and his family are handling it well. They wanted to be open about this so there was no speculation. They also want this to be a reminder for people to pay close attention to any changes in their skin, and if so, have those evaluated.
You know, within our family, our football family have been very supportive of Josh and his family, and they are very — they are very strong people and they are doing the best they can in this situation, and we’ll help Josh along the way.
The second announcement I have is in regards to coach John Schlarman. He is also dealing with a health issue. He is undergoing additional testing to determine the nature of this issue. He is still coaching with us.
Again, we wanted to be up front and I will keep you updated with this information as available. We appreciate your sensitive to the privacy of Josh, John and their families, as they go through this process.
Again, John and Josh are very strong, very good people, two of the best people we have in our program. Our team will be supportive of them as they continue to battle through these health issues. It’s been a tough couple days in our program leading up to the beginning of camp here, but we — again, our hearts and prayers are with Josh and John as they battle this issue.
I appreciate our training staff. They have done a remarkable job in the discovery of this in finding something on the bottom of Josh’s foot and sending him to dermatology to get the right male skin care products and so on and they have taken it from there and discovered this.
I want to say, the first, as I reported this, about a week ago, at that time when they had that lesion removed, the doctors assumed that would be the end of the procedure, and that’s when we sent that off and it came back as melanoma.
So we’re waiting on other results to come back with both of these guys this week, and we will update you as I get this information, okay. So just wanted to be up front about that as they will miss some time here and there. We, again, are sensitive to them and their families.
It’s with a heavy heart that I open that way but I just felt the need. It’s very important, and felt the need to address that with you all.
As far as our football team is concerned, I’m very pleased with the work that they have done this summer. The guys have trained exceptionally hard. They are in great shape and I appreciate our strength staff and our coaches and the work that they have done this summer.
Our team is anxious to get started. We have some guys that have quite a bit of experience on both sides of the ball, and some talented players, and we’re optimistic and excited and ready to get started here this week.
Q. You’re a football coach but you’re also a human being — how do you look at the task ahead of you as far as the season?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I think, you know, of course we’re very close to both of those families. Spent time with the families this week, and we’ll continue to do that. We will be supportive and be a family, just much like you would, you know, and we will be there for them any way we can be but we’ll continue to do the work that we have to do, and they both want it that way.
Q. Before you knew any of this news back in the summer, I understand you road a bus back from Washington, D.C. to go watch Josh — looking back, are you happier now that you did that?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I definitely do. I think that’s just, again, the human side of you and the personal relationships that you have with these players and yeah, that’s part of it. It was, my neck was all banged up coming back from D.C. for 13 hours on a bus but it was important, because that’s an important part of their life.
In hindsight, yeah, I’m glad I did it, certainly, and being there and supporting them in any way I can.
Q. You lost one of the great kickers of all time in Kentucky. How is the kicking game looking this year, as Coach Laver used to say?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we are excited. Miles has been very reliable. A couple years ago when Austin was hurt, he did some kicking for us. He filled in punting for us last year and did a very good job.
Miles will have a good opportunity, and of course, Chance Poore, with him coming in, a freshman with a very strong leg. So we’ll see how that plays out through camp.
But definitely Austin was a great player for us and very reliable.
Q. What do you expect to see from Dorian Baker this year?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I’d like to see Dorian get back in form. He hasn’t played for a long time. He hasn’t been full-go in a long time. Of course he’s gone through spring and gone through the summer workouts, but hasn’t played in a game in some time. We expect to use this camp to get him game ready.
Q. Your defensive tackles, it looks like this as strong of tackles as I’ve seen in a long time.
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I feel good. These guys have played. We have some experience. We have the addition of a few new guys: Guys like Phil Hoskins, Adrian Middleton has played for a long time. You’ve heard me talk about Quinton and what he brings in the middle of our defense at nose, and Adrian has played a lot of football.
Of course, we had moved Josh inside and when he’s back, he’ll play inside, and T.J. Carter has played a lot of football for us in there. Calvin Taylor, there’s a bunch of guys.
You’re right, we’re fairly deep in there. Kordell Looney has had a good summer, as well, and Tymere Dubose did some good things in the Bowl game and hopefully he’ll continue to do that, as well.
Q. Kash Daniels is playing well.
COACH MARK STOOPS: Kash is doing a very good job. I talked a lot about it in the spring. I was very pleased with the way he’s taken charge of the defense. He’s passionate about it. There’s no doubt about it. He’s going to give you everything he has but he has good command of the defense. He’s playing very well, playing very confident and I’m excited about Kash.
Q. The guys behind Kash, you have a lot of talented young linebackers. What do they bring and how do you get them involved in the defense? Do you throw them in the fire?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I think there’s going to be some of both, as Jordan comes back and how his shoulder is and how he’s feeling, and Jamin Davis, we’re excited him, as well, and DeAndre. And Chris Oats, he has everything.
When you just physically see him and you see him moving around, you see the athleticism in him and of course you heard me talk about DeAndre through the spring because we were very, very pleased with him, the type of football player he is. We’re excited about those guys and see how it goes. We have a lot of practices, so we’ll see how it comes along.
Q. The Mike and Will, are they fairly interchangeable?
COACH MARK STOOPS: They are. There’s definitely some new answers. As they get older, it’s easier to bounce them back and forth, early — it’s hard, so we’ll try to lock them in place early on.
Q. How much is that aided with Courtney Love being on staff tutoring those young guys?
COACH MARK STOOPS: It doesn’t hurt. Courtney, he played it and he understands. That’s real important at times because there may be things that were difficult for him to figure out and maybe he could relay it in a different way and just spend some time with those guys and see it through a different set of eyes. It always helps.
Q. Alex King and Jordan Wright — what are you expecting from them this year?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we are excited about those guys. Alex is still playing the inside and he has the ability to play outside, as well. We’ll see how he progresses at inside linebacker. We know he’s natural at outside, as well. We’ll see where he goes.
And with Jordan Wright, we’re very excited about him. He’s putting on a lot of weight. He’s explosive and he’s very athletic, you know, coming out of high school, he was a phenomenal basketball player. He moves around in space and he’s a good player. So we’ve just got to continue to develop him and got quite a few practices here to get him game ready, as well.
Q. With Kendall moving on — Mike Edwards playing the slot corner a lot. Do you expect the veterans in your cornerback group to put him more at safety or even more at slow corner?
COACH MARK STOOPS: We like him at nickel, the nickel position is active. It’s difficult man matchups at times, and then it also gives you the opportunity to create some plays with blitzing them and things like that.
If you’ve been in here for a while, you’ve heard me talk about that position, and nickel, there’s a lot of little nuances to it and it takes a guy with good instincts and good feel and a good player. It’s important to have that guy at nickel so we like Mike at nickel but he’s interchangeable. He could play a sift position or nickel with no problem and he likes jumping in there once in a while at corner, as well.
Q. We met Freddie Maggard on this side of the podium. How has your relationship changed with him now that he’s a friend rather than a foe?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I quit yelling at him (Laughter).
No, it’s good to have Freddie. You know, he’s done a very good job. He’s as I mentioned earlier, I thought about that for some time. I just felt like as I just talked about the nickel back position, that position also is very unique with that because you have to wear a lot of hats, and Freddie can do that.
He’s done a very good job so far. He works extremely hard, and I’m glad to have him. Just goes to show you, I’m not sensitive, because he has said some things about me through the years and I comeback and hire him out of nowhere. I’m not as sensitive as you guys are (Laughter) — no, he’s changed his tune a little bit (Laughter).
Q. Your quarterbacks, do you expect to play both those guys early in the season?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Right now, I do. But you don’t know how that’s going to play out. You’ve heard me say it, I’m honest about it, but I think at that position you get a good feel for what you have but until you get to a game, you’re not exactly 100 percent sure and that’s not different in many places, not different in the NFL in my opinion.
Until those guys get under center and get playing and get those game reps, you’re a bit unsure. I think it’s fair to both of those guys to give them an opportunity because it’s very close at this time.
Q. With the new red-shirt rule, do you have a plan for that or see how it develops?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I’m going to see how it goes. Because each year, sometimes you come with a guy that jumps out of the blocks and you feel like he’s definitely going to play and he may level out.
Sometimes there’s injuries late in the year, as I mentioned before, much like the punting situation a year ago but there’s times like that all the time where we may get thin as the year goes on and a guy has developed over — over the course of the season.
So we will just play it out and see how it goes. There’s still going to be some freshman, I’m sure, that are going to impress us and they are going to play, all 12 games, 13 games, or 14 games. So they are going to — we’ll just wait and see and see how we need to do that.
Q. Speaking of punting, how has that situation changed?
COACH MARK STOOPS: The punting situation, you know, with max coming in, max was impressive in the spring and did a very good job. He’s the type of guy that’s talented. He’s still learning some American football, but he’s got a strong leg and he’s talented as far as the things he can do and rolling and moving, so we like Max and Grant is continuing to pursuant, as well. So we’ll see.
But at this point coming out of spring, Max had won the job.
Q. Does the red-shirt rule change the way you use the scout team? Do you prepare guys in the game plan each week in case you need to use them?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think it’s fair to say without going through it that yeah, it will be different.
And I will say, we have done that in years past, even with pulling guys up off the scout team and practicing with us just because we had not had the bodies. We may, if we have a Sam and a Jack, we know we are going to move the Jack to Sam and so on and just bring up the fourth guy just to get him some reps and get him practicing.
We’ve done that each year. I’m not sure how much that will alter that way.
Q. Have you had any problems — staying sharp — inaudible.
COACH MARK STOOPS: I haven’t been a part of that, but I’ve seen it before, and you know, we’re open to anything, anything that’s going to help us win. So we’ll see.
Q. What do you think with John, missing significant time, have you shifted staff around?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we have plenty of guys. That’s the nice thing about our staff is we have a lot of guys that are capable of doing that and guys with background there, and of course, Coach Gran can coach all the positions. We’ll handle it just fine within our program.
Q. Do you anticipate him missing a lot of time?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I’d rather not speculate on any of that at this time for John and their family.
Q. When Mitch was in here, he was talking about the difference in size that he sees in your team. How does that translate in a game? Do you substitute less? Do you feel like you can use a different kind of approach?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Well, I think it’s important, you know that, as we’ve been here in recruiting and the length and the size; it’s important. That’s the league we play in. You have to be good across the board. We all know that, but it’s definitely a big man’s game.
If you’re getting pushed around, then really, you’ve got no chance. It’s definitely still at the line of scrimmage. I mean, the is it a statistics prove it. I’ve told you guys this before, but if you out-rush your opponent by one yard, it’s a high percentage of winning in conference games.
So rushing the football and stopping the run are very important factors to winning games.
Also, as you look around this league and you go line up and play some of these guys, you see the size at the skill positions and that’s what I’m excited about.
We’re starting to get that, of course, in our secondary, we’re freaky big. Our corners are very, very long, very big, physical guys. I think it’s important to have big guys at the skill positions, as well.
Q. You’re very intentional about getting the players, the coaches, your staff together at social events. We’ve seen the famous leaks from your pool parties. There was a dunking booth this summer. How do you think that plays into wins on the football field or is that just a part of who you are?
COACH MARK STOOPS: No, I think it’s important both ways. Yes, it’s definitely who I am, and the relationship piece of it is very important to me. I think it also correlates to wins and losses, there’s no question.
You know, I think that’s the key point you made there is intentional about it, because it’s such a big operation at times. There’s so many people. I’ve mentioned that to you before. When I was in my own room and coaching the secondary, coaching the defense, it was very easy to get your arms around those people.
As you have a huge organization, it’s hard, so you need to be intentional about that and bringing guys together, and I think our team has done a wonderful job. Our staff has done a wonderful job.
Mitch and our administration is very supportive of those things, the things we’re allowed to do with bringing guys in and grilling steaks on the grill and bringing them to our home and things like that. It’s very important.
Q. Last year, the early part of the season, the offensive line had some moving parts, bad snaps. Having that O-line look pretty solid right now going into the season, your thoughts on that?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Definitely helps us. As you know, we felt going into last year, much like the year before, we had played with nine guys coming into last year, and so we felt like we could roll right into that, and as you know, it didn’t translate that way. And losing Jon Toth was a big factor heading into last year.
So yes, I like the fact of having Drake back, and he’s only a sophomore and played very good football for us. Really kind of anchored us there. There’s very talented, experienced players around him and those guys are very good players and we’re excited about the offensive line as a whole. And now, we can continue to maybe bring that depth along that we were looking for at the beginning of last year.
Q. Drake is still one of the younger guys amongst that group up front, but he seems to have taken a leadership role.
COACH MARK STOOPS: He does. He’s a guy that — it’s very important to him. We knew that recruiting him since ninth, tenth grade; the game is important to him. He works extremely hard, and he’s intentional about it and he still is.
He wants to help the football team any way he can, and leadership, as well.
Q. On the offensive line, do you think Landon Young is ready to take that jump into the upper echelon or the elite in the SEC on the offensive line?
COACH MARK STOOPS: We’ll see. I’ve very rarely, if ever, said a bad thing about Landon. He gives us everything he has. He’s talented. As he gets older, gets more mature, gets more physical, gets more confidence. He is a very good football player and again, one of those guys that really does everything, tries as hard as he can in everything he does.
Q. This year, looks like a pretty good football year in the State of Kentucky in high school, from what I see. It looks like it’s pretty good. It looks like several kids could come out that had not come out before. It looks like a pretty good crop.
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I’m not allowed to talk about anybody specifically.
But the state, you know, is always important to us, and it fluctuates, as I’ve said many times. I think the quality is always very good. The quantity is not as many as other states but there’s always good, you know, top of the line players here.
Q. What’s your favorite Media Day-type question, or least favorite media-day question?
COACH MARK STOOPS: That one. (Laughter) probably that question right there. (Laughter).
It’s all good. You know, obviously starting, you know, the Media Day with a heavy heart, with the announcements that I had to make, is not fun because you have a personal attachment to these folks and you feel for what they are going through. But the other side of that is, the team has worked exceptionally hard and the staff has worked exceptionally hard and we are excited about is this year.
Q. How hard is it not to overuse Benny?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I don’t think that’s too hard. He can handle it. As the other guys progress as they are progressing, then they deserve the opportunity to play, as well, so that will play out.
It’s hard. He’s a guy, this past year, he’s a hard guy to take off the field because he’s going to get you the tough yards. But again, as Asim and AJ develop, I’m very pleased with what they are doing.
You know, we always tell kids: Make us play you. If they are doing really good things, then we want to play them.
Q. Is he ever happy taking off?
COACH MARK STOOPS: No, no, you know Benny. He wants — he doesn’t want to come out of the game. He wants to put the team on his shoulders and you love that mentality and that’s good with us.
Q. He has a realistic chance to become the all-time leading rusher at Kentucky. Is that something you want to see happen or do you have to manage that because you don’t want to over use him?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I would like to see that happen but we’re not going to change anything for that. That’s unfair to Benny and unfair to our team. We don’t want to, you know, go out intentionally trying to do that. We have an opportunity, an obligation to develop all the players on our team and we are going to do that.
You know, our team, individually, will get the recognition they deserve if we do good as a team. It’s always team first. It will always be that way. But individually, you want to see kid get what they deserve but not at the expense of the program.
Q. If you look at the number of snaps and tempo — with the uncertainty at quarterback and special teams, how much do you see the way that you have to win games changing this year?
COACH MARK STOOPS: We don’t know yet. It changes every year. As you said, we’re breaking in a new quarterback, so we don’t know how that’s going to play out. We may go out there this year and with the addition of some wide receivers and the emergence of some wide receivers, you know, feel the need to throw the ball around a lot more.
You don’t know how it’s going to play out. We want to be a balanced offense. We want to improve in the areas we need improvement in, and part of that is the passing game, at times. We all want improvement in that area.
Q. Being more explosive with the young wide receivers, do you have any players in mind who can do that?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I think Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps, our guys that really did some good things, we think at the end of spring and through this summer. Obviously Lynn having a second year; Dorian Baker coming back is big. Tavin going into his senior year. So those are some guys that really need to step up.
Q. How much do you think it helps coming up against big, experienced defensive backs that you have in the secondary?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I think it helps, it definitely helps. Because depending who you’re playing and the style they are playing, as I mentioned, here, you watch the games, there’s no space out there. You have to earn your space at wide receiver and what I mean by that is that they have to create their opportunities, their grass and getting open. It’s hard to do at times.
One thing about it, one of the reasons why at times it wasn’t — like it’s not real easy to just ding and dunk and throw the ball around, nobody plays that way any more defensively. They take everything away at all times. So you have to create your space, and it takes a strength and a maturity to be able to do that.
Q. Talking to Vince earlier, he said this is the best defense you’ve had since you’ve been here. Would you agree
COACH MARK STOOPS: Well, it should be, because there’s been times we’ve had some pro defensive linemen but maybe not the second and third level. If you just look at the defense as an entirety, it’s definitely the strongest since we’ve been here.
We have to go prove and play better than we have and be more consistent. We’ve done good at times. We need to be more consistent.
Q. How close is Jones —
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, he’s ready to go. The first two days, because of, we’re not allowed to have shoulder pads on and they can’t strap his shoulder down, will be a little bit hit and miss. After that, he should be good to go.
Q. How much do you feel the need to get some younger guys on the field to prepare for that next year?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I do feel the need for development and bringing guys along and playing them and recruiting them, because it is important because I do think about year two and year three after this in all positions and that certainly is a concern because we need to get some guys and bring them along here.
Q. What do you think Keaton Upshaw and Brenden Bates will bring?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Well, they are big guys. They are big guys and they can run. They are the type of guys we are looking for because they are good line of scrimmage tight ends. You know, they can put their hand in the dirt.
They can get off and use them as the wide-off or fullback as well, but it’s important to have those point of attack guys and that’s what all of them are. That’s the good part is we have four tight ends who can put their hand down and be physical and also stretch the field and give them a big target.
Q. Traditionally, people think of the quarterback being the leader of the offense, but with inexperienced guys at that position and a lot of experienced guys around them, how much is leadership a factor?
COACH MARK STOOPS: It’s always a factor. You know, your quarterback needs to be a leader and these guys are, but you’re right in that, you know, you’ve heard me talk often about defending the quarterback because people around them have to play better. That’s why, you know, we have confidence going into this fall because we have faith in the quarterbacks, whoever is going to win that job, whoever is going to be under center and playing, we have faith in them and we feel strong around them, and those guys have to play well.
Again you’ve heard me talk about it, you’ve watched football, you’ve seen balls go up in the air and dudes come down with it and making spectacular plays and great catches, and we have to have some of that. You have to make some great individual plays at times.
Q. Is there a fine line about the pace of the offense? Eddie has said before, we want to fast, we want to do this, we want to do that, but for the quarterbacks, to slow the game down for them and not get too fast.
COACH MARK STOOPS: It just depends. There’s been times when we have gone at a pretty good clip and there’s been times when we have been methodical and that’s been the best way.
There’s been times when I’ve been in Eddie’s ear about going fast, and he’s just been methodical, thinking things through and setting things up and it’s been very effective. It’s game-to-game, year-to-year, we’ll see how it plays out.
We’ll have a little of both. We’ll be able to go fast and we’ll be able to be methodical, as well.
Q. How often are you in Eddie’s ear about going fast?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Not often (Laughter) not often. But there’s been times, yeah. There’s been times, yeah.
MITCH BARNHART: Good to be with everybody today and coming out on Friday morning. It’s an exciting time of year as we begin to crank up, again, with all the students coming back and specifically our student athletes coming in as we begin ’18 and ’19.
I think it’s going to be a great season on a lot of fronts for a lot of our teams. Excited about our football program and where we are and looking forward to U.K. Athletics as a whole as I always do. We closed our year — before we open up the conversation, I want to look back a little bit, what we did last year and some of the things we’ve got going on.
We closed our year with the Big Blue Caravan, a special experience for a lot of us, honoring the deep ties we have in the people of the commonwealth in our state. It was important for us to smart in Marshall County to show our support for the community, went through the tragic shooting of January, and it was an emotional time but a really cool time and we really enjoyed our time with those people and sharing time, a bunch of our athletes were out with a bunch of our staff, and it was a great way to start the Caravan and we enjoyed the time with those folks that were deeply impacted by those events.
Closed it out in Pikeville the Friday at the end of the week. Had an opportunity to spend some time over there. My family and I, we were going to go on a little bit, take a couple days off and my daughter met me there with my grandchildren.
We decided we were going to let them play in the park a little bit at the end of the night before we threw them in car, and hope they fell asleep for part of the journey, and we ended up in a park and ended up helping celebrate a U.K. fan’s 60th birthday party in the park.
We were there all together having birthday cake, but it did — it reminded me of the tie we have to our people and how much fun it was.
So we were taking pictures and laughing and they gave us cakes. We had desert, which was wonderful but it was pretty neat. Their tie to our program was immense and strong and really fun, so that was cool.
We’ll continue to do that. We’ll change directions and go different parts of the state next year as we continue to branch out and reach out to our folks and be a part of that. It was good for our staff and good for our student athletes and our coaches. We had a good time.
We’re also blessed to have a great story to share. It’s been a story of champions for this year. The past year we won a National Championship, Harry Mullins and his rifle team won a National Championship again, and really proud of the things they continue to do just to represent our program.
Harry is a humble man and a guy who has been here an awfully long time, and he loves this place and so proud of this place and the way he conducts himself and his team, so we are happy for their National Championship and looking forward to what they do this year.
We had an SEC regular season championship with Craig Skinner, a guy who has been knocking on the door for a long time and with some of his teams and had a lot of moments and he broke through to the elite eight this year and won an SEC Championship and really proud of him.
And know that was a big moment for some really, really great seniors we had in our program, notably Ashley Dusek, who was a Libero of the Year for a couple years in our league, and with some young people that are now going to go on to play professional volleyball in different spots; we wish them well.
But happy for Craig and his staff as they continue to grow our program. He has been remarkable in his tenure here. He’s never been out of the NCAAs in his time at Kentucky, and so, really proud of what he’s done.
We had an SEC Tournament, Men’s Basketball Championship, again, four in a row. Continues to be a special time of year for our program as we work our way through March, and so we’ll see if we can keep that run going as we go back to the tournament in March, I think it’s in Nashville.
Had individual champions crowned in rifle, national championship in rifle and individually, and then track and field as well. We had an opportunity to go to Eugene and watch several of our young people win national championships and that was fun.
Some incredible athletic performances and if we are not paying attention we miss those. Remarkable, remarkable athletes doing incredible things and that was fun to be out there with them over a period of three or four days and to watch them compete.
So many of them going on to do some things internationally, and then that also — we saw the transition in our track coaching staff and brought in Lonnie Green, which you met Lonnie about three or four weeks ago. A great guy and we’re looking forward to what he will do in our track and continue to grow our track and field program.
Academically, our student athletes continue to achieve at a high level. We’ve achieved our 11th and 12th semesters in a row with 3.0 GPA or better. Nearly a hundred Wildcats graduated this year, including Oliver White, who came back to earn his degree after three decades of playing football at the University of Kentucky.
That was a great story and happy for Oliver, but it continues to tell the story of bringing people back to get their degrees and we’ve had that happen every year. Folks are coming back and work being their way through their academics to get degrees, and we’ve got that lifelong scholarship. We want people to come back, after they have journeyed out, comeback and make sure they get that done.
In that transition, in Bob Bradley, we have a person on our staff who had been here for over 40 years. Want to thank him for his contributions to the University of Kentucky. One of the first people to ever get out and create an academic center.
So he was the first and created that and has been an absolute foundational piece of our academic program for an awfully long time. So he is retired, and I think on Monday he told me he’s getting in the RV and headed to Montana for a while and I think it’s a heck of a trip and a pretty cool deal. I hope he has a great journey and great time and he enjoys retirement.
As we change it up just a little bit we want to take where we were and grow it a little bit. We’ve hired Jason Cummins on our staff. He’s been consulting with our staff and our leadership development of our young people. He will now head up our student athlete experience and we are changing the way we frame it up just a little bit. You won’t notice a whole lot externally. Internally it’s a little bit of a change for us in how we are doing our work.
And the goal is to do a couple things. One, academically, stay strong where we’ve been, but also to grow that into making sure when they walk out of there with that degree, that there’s a career that waits for them on the other side when they do that.
It’s not just a piece of paper they walk out. They walk out with a plan and how they can get to the right spot in their lives, and we set them up for careers and what that means in terms of connecting them up to people in the Big Blue community.
So hopefully we’ll work our way through that and I think I’m looking forward to what Jason does in our program and what that does for Kentucky student athletes.
We also have the pleasure of supporting some young men and women as they did some extraordinary things beyond the bounds of the term “student athlete.” I’m thinking specifically of Courtney Love and the winning of the Wuerffel Trophy, the Heisman Trophy for community service; and Courtney just was so generous with his time and the things he did and an incredible representative of what it does and what it means to go out and do work in the community.
We’ve had a lot of folks do that. We just brought back another, probably 12 or 14 young people that went to Ethiopia again. We had two different trips to Ethiopia this year and those folks went internationally to do some work and we have folks to do work all over the commonwealth.
We are going to focus on that specifically and continue to work extremely hard to do some things with our communities. We know there’s needs here at home and there’s needs internationally, and sometimes it’s those moments that teach you what it means to be a servant.
And so we want to make sure that we are sacrificial in that and that our folks understand that. We have a lot of young people that are doing incredible work, and I’m not sure I was doing that when I was their age; and they see a need and they are filling needs and they are helping people, and Courtney was an incredible example of that.
And to get that award with Danny Wuerffel and spending time with Danny up there with Courtney was pretty neat, and to watch the interaction between those two; and I give Mark Hill and Susan Lax a lot of credit. They worked really hard to make sure there was opportunities for Courtney to understand how valuable he was to our community. He’s done a lot of good things and some really cool work.
All that serves as a reminder of why we do what we do and the things that we — the core of our mission, honoring and deepening the mission we share with our state and our fans, taking care of our young people, absolutely core to who we are. Graduating young people, really important. Competing at a high level, incredibly important. And doing it all with honor, representing the State with the way it deserves to be represented, and we want to make sure we do that with class and with honor.
It’s easy to get distracted and focus on things that aren’t important, and we’ll tell you, we don’t let that happen inside the walls of our offices. We don’t. We’re going to focus on things that are important to who we are. We are going to continue to do that and that’s what we will be.
With that, we’ve got a lot going on. Just a ton going on. You’ll hear some things going on in the upper deck of the stadium, new bleacher backs going on as we try to finish that project out as we go. There will be a couple sections, we’ve added four more sections of bleacher backs to the stadium this year.
And we’ve got the baseball stadium going up. You’ll go by the baseball construction. It’s impressive. We hope to be in that stadium, probably mid, late September in total. We may move in bits and pieces with coaches, and then the team and then actually being on the field probably mid-September-ish.
So we are hopeful of that as we continue to lean on Russ a little bit, and I’ll come back to that in a second. The new video board, we announced that a week ago I think. The video board will be added to Memorial Coliseum as we continue to look at ways we get Memorial Coliseum sort of renovated and walk through that process. We’ve had the feasibility study which has been out there and the video board will probably be ready mid-October. We are hopeful that will be the date when its ready.
We have to do some auxiliary things in the meantime with our volleyball team as we get in there with the fall competitions. Coaches are excited about it. It’s a massive amount of scoreboard. We think it will be really a dynamic piece as we begin that process. The old scoreboard has been in there for, I think 14 or 15 years. We are sort of out of parts. So it was time to get that fixed and replace it, and so will be another project that we have on the books and that will hopefully be ready mid October.
All that will lead me to say — and we will give him due when it comes around — but Russ Pear is also retiring, at the close of the baseball project, I told him. So he gets to stay until he completes that project, or he will stay, I hope, until he completes the baseball project and we get in that thing.
Russ has been an unbelievable, again, servant to this university for almost 40 years, maybe 40, I’m not sure, but has been all over this campus and is well respected and done a remarkable job with our physical plan, and we are so appreciative of what he has done and want to wish him well, and I do that publically. We’ll do that privately and we’ll honor him the right way as we thank him for all he’s done for the University of Kentucky.
We have a capital campaign we’ll be launching as part of the University’s Capital campaign in September, which will be vital to us laying a solid foundation in the future as we look to the things still to do that we have out there; and we have things that will always pop up and we’ll cycle around and continue to work our through maintenance and operations and continuing to renovate and make sure we are updating and stay current with what’s going on and the needs of our student athletes as we — as we continue to grow our program. So really, really important.
And of course, all that gets us to the spot where it’s football season, and that’s why you’re here today, and I’m going to let you get to that here in a few minutes.
I’ll close by saying how thankful Connie and I are to be at the University of Kentucky. We love this place. This is year 17 for us. It’s our home. We love the Southeastern Conference and the University of Kentucky, and it’s a great place to be, and it’s an honor to work with our president, Dr. Capilouto and our commissioner, Greg Sankey.
Greg is a dear friend. He and I have been at this thing a long time together. He’s been in a league almost about as long as I’ve been the AD here at Kentucky. I’ve been in the league a lot longer than him in total but he’s a great friend, and I enjoy working side-by-side with him as we do things within the conference.
I’ll stop there and if you have questions, I’ll take those, and if not, I’ll let you get to Coach Stoops because I know that’s who you came to see.
Q. For you, what would success be for the football team this year?
MITCH BARNHART: That’s the annual question.
You know, I think that, always talk about improvement. We’ve continued to make strides in a — so when I was talking to someone the other day, they said, I remember when — I look at our team and always think, gosh, we’re undersized and we’re smaller than most SEC teams and that same person said, boy, I came to Wake through the football facility the other day and we’re big. We’re a big group of guys. We’ve got some big-time players and a big group and so — (phone ringing) who is that? No, just joking.
We have a big group of guys that we look like an SEC football team. Our front lines on both sides of the ball are physical. They look physically big, like we belong in there and I don’t know that we’ve always had that kind of depth, so I’m hopeful that will help us as we sustain. You always sustain some injuries in this league. That’s part of it.
But we want to take a step. We’ve been to two Bowl games in a row. We’d like to get to that third Bowl game and we’d like to win one of those and make some progress in that. It’s important. That’s what all of our folks want to see, and we understand that. There’s no one that — that doesn’t slip up on anybody.
So to take a step in the SEC standings; to take a step in the post-season, all of those things are important, and we understand that.
But I look at our team and I look at the talent, talking to some of our coaches and talking to some people that follow our team from a professional — from the professional scouts that follow it, they say this is as good a group of students as we’ve had on our campus in a long time.
I know these kids have worked awfully hard. We have watched them all summer. They look great. They have put in a lot of hard work and I think they are ready to go. Schedule is always hard that. Doesn’t change. We’re in the Southeastern Conference. That will not change.
So we’ll load up and get going and see what happens.
Q. Good for the state championship to come over here — a great success.
MITCH BARNHART: I appreciate it. We enjoyed hosting it. We’ve enjoyed hosting the state championships on our campus. We think that’s an important part of who we are. Our connection to young people that are wanting to play games, we want to give them a place that they can dream to play in one day.
So whether that’s — we’ve hosted I think you look — I don’t know the number. We host everything from tennis and track and field to football. We’ve obviously got the Sweet 16 here in town.
I think that’s important for a couple reasons for the University of Kentucky to showcase the incredible campus that we have got. We have an incredible campus now. If you have not been to the Student Center, remarkable, remarkable Student Center. To be able to walk through that and see the changes that have occurred on our campus, whether it’s the dorm life, the facilities we have got on our campus; it’s good for the City of Lexington.
We bring people to the City, and we have an opportunity to showcase Lexington and for people to come and spend some time in our city is really, really important.
But I to make it a destination place for one people to want to come play college sports; if they are capable of playing the Southeastern Conference, we want them to understand what it looks like to play in our facility.
So we are excited and glad we get to do it and looking forward to doing it again.
Q. Not only are you the longest-serving SEC AD, but you’re the chair. From the perspective of that position, how do you think the current Kentucky program stacks up to the others in the league, especially in regard to fan support, support from the administration?
MITCH BARNHART: Yeah, I think our support is fine, in terms of the things that we do to support football, I think the people always — they had questions, were we committed, and I think we answered those questions a few years back. With the renovation of the stadium and the addition to the football complex and the way we’ve supported it in terms of staffing, I think we’re in a good spot.
We are an SEC school that looks like an SEC school and we have got SEC students in our program. I think that you’ve still got to go win on the field and that’s part of it. I was telling our — I’ve talked to our teams, all of our teams, not just football. It’s a tough league, and you’ve got to understand that when you get in it, it’s not one of those things you get to take a day off and you can’t give a day away. Coach Menge (ph) talks about that all the time: You cannot give a day away.
I talk, and our folks have used that a little bit; you just don’t give a day away. I don’t think my tenure as an AD has a whole lot of impact of what we do from a football perspective other than to say I’ve been around it long enough to know that I think we’re the best conference in America competitively top to bottom.
It is a really, really hard place to play, but that also makes it a real honor to play in the league, and the friend ships in the league are great. I have great friendships from an athletic director’s perspective. I respect the guys in the league. We have a good fellowship and also great competitiveness between us, and so I look forward to those days and we shake hands beforehand and we shake hands afterwards, and I think that’s the way it should be.
I think that’s the beauty of this league.
Q. As the sports gambling legislation starts to come online state-to-state, how much does that change life for you and how much concern do you have just on the big picture?
MITCH BARNHART: I think that there’s been gambling on sports for a long time to be real honest with you, legal and illegal.
This changes the game. I think that there’s concern, to be honest with you, and I think in — patience, moving cautiously into this area, has a lot of merit. There’s going to be a lot of conversations nationally about, we must do these things to ensure. I think some of those things we’ve been doing on our own.
I think there will be some national governance in some way, whether that comes from the NCAA or whether that comes from states or federal, there will be something that happens that gets, hopefully, some boundaries to all of that.
To say there isn’t concern, I think would be the wrong thing to say. I think we need to be really smart and understand that this — it puts pressures in some unique areas, and so you know, you talk about conversations about player availability and you talk about injury reports and everything like that; there’s all sorts of issues adjacent to that that I think need real, real conversation.
And to rush in and say that we’re ready to take those on by August 31, I’m not sure is the right thing. I think you might be making some mistakes, and then having to go back and correct.
Once the Genie is out of the bottle, it’s really hard to get it back in. So let’s make sure what we do, we do it with real intelligence and real pause, if you will. There’s not 50 states legalizing gambling right now and there’s not — obviously there’s some changes that have occurred. It’s now different. But I think we need to be really cautious and not race to a new spot without real thought.
Q. Nationally, college football attendance has declined over the last few years. Just from a national perspective, how do you get that turned around?
MITCH BARNHART: Yeah, I think clearly there’s some concerns. There’s programs that have incredible success that are down in season tickets.
There’s two pieces to that. There’s discretionary time and discretionary dollars for all fans in what they do, and the other is the way people by tickets in today’s world.
With the way to buy available tickets on secondary markets, people are making the decision to not have a season ticket and just say, I’ll just go ahead buy what’s available from someone else who is not going and catch it on a secondary market.
Well, that changes, obviously, the stable finances for programs that count on season tickets and that stability. Doesn’t mean you can’t tell the ticket, but it has to mean that you are selling it differently.
So everyone is, I won’t say, freaking out, but they go, oh, my gosh, season ticket numbers are down. They are sort of stagnant and down a lot of places and that’s not usual.
Again, there’s programs that have had incredible success that are seeing numbers drop because the ticket-buying mechanism for a lot of folks is different.
Having said that, the game of football, we’re broadcasting it in a lot of ways. You can catch games on TV. So we have to give fans a reason to want to come to the game, whether it’s an experience, a tailgate experience before the game where they can fellowship with their friends, where they get in there and there’s a competitive, enjoyable environment, where there’s music, there’s good play on the field and at the end of the day, there’s a safe way to get home; all those things are important.
So if you’re asking people to invest six, seven hours of the day, you’ve got to make sure that you do it right.
We also have to pay attention to the length of the game. The length of the game, what we are finding is people want to keep it in that three-hour timeframe. If we can keep it in that timeframe, the games can drift a little bit long, some of the ways we play the game.
Those games are getting into — some of the games are three and a half, four hours. That’s too long. We have to find a way to make sure the game stays within a certain timeframe, and we know that fans want that. We get that in response.
If you look at some of the popular sports that are out there in terms of television and what people are watching, it is length of game. It matters. Softball, I use softball as an example. It’s one of the fastest-growing sports on television. Why? Because the game is two hours and you can almost book it. You can book it; it’s under two hours.
So sometimes those baseball games can go three, three and a half, four hours and people are turn it off around two. We know the watching span or attention span, we have to understand that. We have to pay attention to all the things in the fan experience and make sure we are understanding the discretionary time and dollars of our fan base is changing.
At the end of the day, you have to provide a really good product on the field but at the end of the day, you also have to be cognizant of those other pieces.