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Stoops’ primary objective in year three? Exorcising Kentucky football’s losing mentality


Since the dawn of time, Kentucky football has followed a pretty consistent script: convincing yourself you have a shot in the preseason, getting high on a sliver of success (“FIRST DOWN KENTUCKY!”), and, with a sad shake of your head because you knew it was coming, enduring beatdown after beatdown until, bloodied and panting, you crawl under the table until basketball.

There are exceptions, of course. Fran Curci, Jerry Claiborne, the thrill of scratching plays in the dirt with Hal Mumme and Tim Couch, and the blissful 2007 season with Rich Brooks that had us dreaming of a different life, one where upsets became the norm and “College Gameday” was com-ing to our cit-taaay. However, the cruel “Rise” of the Joker era plummeted the program back to the cellar, where we resumed our old habits and occasionally looked up through the glass ceiling at our SEC counterparts.

I can only speak as a fan, but I think it’s safe to say that the players have lived under this ceiling as well. For too long, Kentucky football has been haunted by a “losing mentality.” You can almost feel the moment coming, a sick sixth sense. With the first big hit from an SEC linebacker goes the sugar high of the cupcake season. Whereas most would get up and shake it off, the old Kentucky football taught us that it’s okay to roll over. The beating’s going to come anyways, right? Why fight it.

Although Kentucky made considerable strides last season, that mentality still pops up occasionally, most notably last Saturday afternoon.


“If you don’t play with a chip on your shoulder, we’ll have no chance”

Stoops has been candid about how dire things were when he took over: poor talent, poor fundamentals, mediocre facilities, and an impossible schedule. In two years, he’s done an excellent job resolving three of those issues, and there’s not much he can do about the fourth; however, I’d argue the biggest challenge he’s facing right now is getting rid of the losing mentality around the program. After listening to his comments on the show yesterday, I believe that’s the entire reason he called the practice on Saturday night.

“I was clearly frustrated after the scrimmage. More than anything, it was about what I felt on that field,” Stoops said on KSR. “The bottom line is, I’m looking for an attitude, I’m looking for an effort. This game is played with a giant chip on your shoulder. And if you don’t play with a chip on your shoulder, we’ll have no chance. When we do, when we play with that toughness, when we play with that attitude, when we play with that chip on your shoulder, we’ll have a chance to beat anybody.”

Last year at SEC Media Days, Bud Dupree acknowledged the team’s confidence problems, which have built up over years of struggle.

“We have enough talent to win games. Now, the big key behind it is, do we believe we have enough talent to win games?,” Dupree said before the beginning of last season. “Even though the coach is telling me I can do it, if I don’t believe in my mind I can do it, it’s not going to happen.”

A 5-1 start showed the team believed, but a 0-6 finish (with three blowouts) revealed there’s still a long way to go.

“We truly are getting started, but you know what? It’s time to go.”

Sometimes it’s easier to roll over and play dead than push past your comfort zone, especially if the former is a habit. With the talent gap narrowed, Stoops’ next obstacle is the space between the ears. He said as much yesterday, noting that even though his team was worn out physically from a scrimmage earlier that day, he wanted to push them to see how they would respond mentally.

“Once you challenge them to that point, it could have went one of two ways,” Stoops said. “I was very happy with the way our team responded, and I felt like they needed that challenge. Quite frankly, if I had done that and challenged them to that brink earlier, I’m not sure they would have handled it the right way.”

When the going gets tough, whether it be in the dog days of camp or in the middle of the SEC schedule, Stoops is pushing his players to go. Even if it means playing football in the dark when you could be partying with your friends on the first weekend of school.

“We truly are getting started, but you know what? It’s time to go. It’s no longer acceptable for us to accept the mediocrity and below. We need to step it up and push ourselves and compete at a higher level.”

Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics

Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics

Finally fielding a product you can be proud of

Leaving a perennial powerhouse like Florida State for Kentucky must have been quite the culture shock, so you can’t blame Mark Stoops for not wanting to shout his 7-17 record from the rooftops. He knows the dangers of false expectations, especially with a vulnerable fan base like Kentucky’s. When asked about the excitement in the fan base, Stoops had a very telling response.

“You know, I’ve always danced around that question since I’ve been here for this reason: I want to put a good product on the field. So, if I’m calling for people to drive hours and hours and spend the money and deal with all the crowds and how long it takes people to get here, to come from the Eastern part of the state or the Western part of the state…”

“I take pride in the product we put on the field,” he repeated. “Quite honestly, it hasn’t been good enough for me either, but this year, I feel like we have a good chance to have a very good football team.”

Hopefully one that will use the lessons learned on a dark August night to push through.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

21 Comments for Stoops’ primary objective in year three? Exorcising Kentucky football’s losing mentality

  1. Matt Jones
    8:58 pm August 25, 2015 Permalink

    I will be making a very important announcement tomorrow at 2pm at Sleep Outfitters on Winchester Road

  2. Leuther
    9:00 pm August 25, 2015 Permalink

    Great post, Mrs TT!

  3. Rixter
    9:13 pm August 25, 2015 Permalink

    Wow, excellent writing Tyler. I’m impressed… you’ve come a long way.

  4. Jacob
    9:43 pm August 25, 2015 Permalink

    You do realize that the dawn of UK football was with Bear Bryant and was quite successful. We as a university let him go and have been cursed since. If you want to write about changing the losing mentality it starts there

    • Rqa
      11:19 pm August 25, 2015 Permalink

      UK didn’t “let” Bear Bryant leave. Bryant chose to leave. Bryant was quoted many times saying that UK had always given him everything he ever wanted. Bryant wanted to be the big man on campus but knew that would never happen as long as Rupp was there.

  5. jdarren1963
    10:43 pm August 25, 2015 Permalink

    Stoops has done a wonderful job so far, If I had to give him a grade…it would be an A+. He’s going to do something special and, barring a lot of injuries, we should go bowling this year. This year we will see a different team for sure. But I believe next year will be the year that we make a huge step forward. We’re still pretty young but next year, we will have a lot more experience.

    • Observation
      6:50 am August 26, 2015 Permalink

      A+ ??? Maybe if he had a winning record. Otherwise, you are drinking the Kool-Aid. This team had the ability to go to a bowl game last year. Stoops blew it. Last season was clearly bad coaching at the end of it. No way he gets higher than a B grade. I’d personally say B-.

    • J-Dub421
      9:58 am August 26, 2015 Permalink

      Players twice dropped what would have been game winning interceptions, and that’s the coach’s fault???

    • Observation
      1:22 pm August 26, 2015 Permalink

      I don’t have any idea how sportsball is played, but I’ll damn sure post a negative comment on it!

  6. Mark Liptak
    11:43 pm August 25, 2015 Permalink

    I wish football all the best but it’s hard to exorcise 50 years (at least) of generally bad football.

    UK simply doesn’t have the caliber of players or the depth to make a serious run at the Alabama’s, Auburn’s, Georgia’s, LSU’s of the conference and world and unfortunately they probably never will.

    That’s simply the reality.

    Basketball more than makes up for it though.

    • LongTimeListener
      12:25 am August 26, 2015 Permalink

      Mark, let me respectfully disagree with this explanation. As soon as ‘the team’ has the mind set of “REFUSE TO LOSE” and the attitude that losing is no longer acceptable then that is exactly what will happen. Kentucky has the talent and the depth to compete and win but they must learn that to just ‘compete’ is not good enough. To me, their ONLY question mark is their defense and more specifically. the capabilities of the Defensive Coordinator. If our defense and special teams plays to the level of the offensive, there will be no stopping UK. REFUSE TO LOSE and reap the rewards…GO CATS!

    • J-Dub421
      10:00 am August 26, 2015 Permalink

      We are in the process of upgrading our talent and facilities, but it is a long slow climb in the SEC. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Give Stoops a little time.

  7. katmandue2you
    12:42 am August 26, 2015 Permalink

    With all due respect I believe one way to move beyond this mentality is for the media to quit forcefeeding this constant reminder of UK’s history. I sometimes feel like the media forcefeed the fans and the team the mindset of being mediocre. Let’s report on the here and now and let history take care of itself.

    • jdarren1963
      1:56 am August 26, 2015 Permalink

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Some of the fans are to blame too. You hardly ever see a prediction from anyone, media or fans, better than 6-6. On the other hand, if we do win 7 or 8 this year, maybe the media and fans will start predicting 8, 9, even 10 wins next year.

  8. FirstDownEverybody
    7:42 am August 26, 2015 Permalink

    While a first down is just a sliver of success there’s hardly a Kentucky monopoly on celebrating said sliver. At Tennessee it’s one more reason to hear Rocky Top for the 9,679th time but it doesn’t stop there. Not only are first downs celebrated throughout the conference and the country but the list even includes superpower Alabama. At home games the stadium announcer says “first down Alabama” with the fans responding with a hearty “Rollll Tide!”. So this little chestnut particularly popular with the naysaying Fellowship of the Miserable implying that somehow UK is unique in celebrating such a small victory is just that, a trite, little old wives’ tale. So the next time you consider saying something to the effect of “only at Kentucky” save your breath and you won’t sound foolish.

  9. Rick Parks
    8:16 am August 26, 2015 Permalink

    I agree with Katmandu above- this is a tired storyline. It seems like when a writer needs to post or submit an article but has no subject they can fall back on this. We get it- Ky has not won in the past as much as would like. Write something new my young Tennessee based KSR friend. This is not new or helpful.

  10. android guy
    8:48 am August 26, 2015 Permalink

    I think the losing mentality thing is more for fans. Six years ago, we didn’t have a player on the team who knew what it was like to end a season without going to a bowl, but the negativity remained in the fans. Changing it on the field can and will be done (Brooks did it already once), but changing it in the stands will be much harder.

  11. catfan4life
    12:47 pm August 26, 2015 Permalink

    Some good comments, but I think we need to understand Brooks had closed the gap a little on the league, but we still didn’t have the depth of quality players other SEC teams had. They operated much like others have done believing KY couldn’t compete for great players in other areas. Now in year three of Stoops campaign we still don’t have the quality of depth after the Joker tenure, but we do have more than we have had since perhaps the Curci era.

    The press lauds every player that signs on the line as if they are the 2nd coming, but in fact they aren’t. Talk shows and boards like this one start talking trash like we should win 8, 9 or 10 games and when we don’t people fall off the fence. We need reality along with the so-called football people supporting coach until he has been here 5 years. Even then year 6 should be the ultimate year of Stoops regime because the first class will be gone and many from the 2nd year.

    Even though we haven’t played a game this season I do think Dawson will be an upgrade from last years play calling along with better talent. The # of wins may increase and may not depending upon fair officiating and injuries, but the quality of play will be improved IMO. So, yes, TT is right we need to change the perception of UK football, but it will be one step at a time rather than ascending straight to the top.

  12. Ky fan
    1:07 am August 27, 2015 Permalink

    Ky will be much better this year. This is the year Louisville an Tennessee goes down