Hard to believe it’s my seventh year representing the University of Kentucky. But with each year, my appreciation for this league, fellow coaches and the competition grows. It’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of the best college football conference in the country. And there’s really no better place than college athletics to help develop young men on the field and off.
Thank you to the media. I really appreciate what you do covering the University of Kentucky, covering all of us and the stories that you get out from the men and women throughout the SEC and throughout the country. It’s important, and we greatly appreciate that.
I like to recognize Mitch Barnhart, recently named Athletic Director of the Year. Mitch does a great job of supporting us. We have 22 teams and over 500 student-athletes, and Mitch gives us support in all areas and a lot of this wouldn’t be possible without him, so we appreciate Mitch.
Another gentleman I’d like to recognize is Jim Madaleno, our former head athletic trainer, a/k/a “Mad Dog.” Mad Dog does a great job. His impact goes far beyond Kentucky. It goes throughout the SEC. It goes throughout the nation. And he’s moved into an administrative role. So for the first time in my tenure at Kentucky and the first time in a long time for him he won’t be on the sidelines, but he’ll be missed, and we appreciate Jim.
I’d like to talk about the players that I brought here today, three fantastic people. They are great players. They’re leaders on and off the field, and you’re going to be impressed. You’ll get an opportunity to spend time with them. Lynn Bowden, wide receiver out of Youngstown, Ohio; Kash Daniel, a linebacker out of Kentucky; and Logan Stenberg an offensive guard right here out of Alabama. So, we got off the plane this morning, and Logan felt pretty good. He said the air smelled a little different and tasted a little different, so it was fun for him to get home.
Heading into this year, continuity is important. Our offensive staff comes back if in tact. Eddie Gran will continue to be the offensive coordinator and play caller, does a fantastic job, along with the help of Darin Hinshaw, who is the co-offensive coordinator. And the rest of the guys are back, so we’re looking to build on the good things we did a year ago.
Defensively, there’s a change in Brad White taking over for Matt House as the defensive coordinator. Matt did a fantastic job a year ago helping to develop Josh Allen into the National Defensive Player of the Year. He’s taking over the defensive coordinator role. I’m excited about working with Brad. He’s a great teacher. Comes from an NFL background. We’ll continue to build and do the good things we’ve done. Create some different nuances with him being the defensive coordinator.
With that opening, Jon Sumrall, we were able to hire Jon back. He’s a former Wildcat. Come in and coach the linebackers. We hired him. He was formerly coaching linebackers at Ole Miss. Excited to have Jon coming back.
Coming off the first ten-win season we’ve had in 41 years, we want to continue to do the good things we’re doing, continue to build on the principles, practices, and systems that we’ve done to get us to that point. We’re not interested in just having one good team or one good year. We’re interested in building a program. And that’s what we’re doing.
Clearly, there’s a lot that goes into that. Some of the things that we talk a lot about at Kentucky is build and protect our culture. And then it’s important for us to select the right players. As we have success, as we win, it gives us the opportunity to be more selective with those players and make sure they fit in our system and buy into our culture.
And then the last thing we do, and you hear me talk about it a lot, but it’s so important to us, once they arrive on campus, be very, very intentional about the development and what are we going to do to help them and develop them in all areas of their life.
So, those are — we need to continue to do those things well and build on that and build on the good things that we’ve been doing.
Offensively, we’re excited. Terry Wilson comes back, had the opportunity to win ten games for us a year ago, have one full year of experience under his belt. We expect him to make a big jump, and Terry’s worked extremely hard in the offseason just fundamentally getting better, understand the offense, getting better around him with the wide receivers.
You know, we have Lynn Bowden here. He’s a dynamic play maker. We have to make sure we get him the football because he can create some points, create explosive plays. And again, we’re working hard around him.
We’re going to be physical like we always try to be. The offensive line is going to be very, very solid. They’re going to be physical. We have some experienced players there. Landon Young comes back off injury. He was a starter at left tackle. He’ll be back for us this year. He will be a great addition along with Logan who is here with me.
Benny Snell is a hard guy to replace I think mostly because of his competitive nature and his desire and his drive, fantastic player for us, but we have really good options at running back. It’s now time for guys like
A.J. Rose to step up. Kavosiey Smoke is a young guy that we are very high on. Chris Rodriguez, so we have players there that are ready to step up and fill in.
Defensively, a lot has been talked about the guys we are going to miss, the guys we lost off last season, some very good football players, but we’re very excited about the players we have returning. If you’re going to build a defense, it’s extremely important to be good through the middle of your defense up.
If you look at our interior defensive line, the three interior guys were as deep and as talented and as physical as I’ve been since I’ve been at Kentucky. That’s a good place to start. We feel like we have six, seven, eight guys at the interior three that can play.
You go to the middle linebacker position, Kash comes back for the senior year leading that group, but we feel like we have four talented players there. And then you go to the safeties through the nickel of the defense, and those guys have some experience and are very good players.
Obviously, we’re inexperienced on the corners, at corners and outside linebacker. Josh is a hard guy to replace. I know people were asking me that. You don’t replace him with any one guy. Jamar Watson, Boogie Watson, is a heck of a football player. He’s going to do a heck of a job. He played a big role for us a year ago, but it’s going to be a group effort, a team effort. So very pleased with the work that our team has done. They’ve had a great offseason. This group is hungry. They came back in the winter. We’ve had a — everything in our program is increasing. You know, they’re — they’ve worked harder in the winter. We’ve had harder offseason programs in winter conditioning carried over to the spring.
I see the leadership there. Each and every year it’s a new year. We’ve got to go out and do the things that we did well a year ago, continue to look at all areas that we need to improve, and focus on those things, and that’s what we plan on doing. It’s going to be an exciting year, so I’ll open it up for questions at that time.
Q. It’s been 40 years since you guys have won ten games in a season. Is that the benchmark number going into the season?
MARK STOOPS: Did you say 4 or 40 —
MARK STOOPS: It’s been a long time since we’ve won that, and we’re proud of that accomplishment, but we want more. Again, what are we doing to put ourselves in a position. It’s really important to have the detail and stay focused on the good things that we did to put us in a position to win that, and then what areas can we improve on. You know, everybody in our program, you know, you look at your area of expertise and how do we improve.
The nice thing is also is our players saw what it takes. They saw the sacrifices that those players did that all of them. They were part of it. And you know, so they have a good example of the leadership that it takes, of the sacrifice that it takes, of the, you know, we want a team that’s team led. We want the accountability to come from them. And they saw a great example of that, and that’s the culture that we’re trying to continue.
Q. Coach, what are some of those areas you’d like to see Terry Wilson improve upon and what have you talked about him in the offseason?
MARK STOOPS: If you really go back and study, Terry really did a nice job and our coaches did a great job, Darin Hinshaw spent a lot of time with him, when you really have time to go back and break down everything, there were a lot of plays we left on the field just by the basic fundamentals. And those areas will those help him alone, just fundamentally getting his proper alignments, fundamentally looking at the proper reads, starting with the proper reads.
And then the system, just understanding the system and making sure we as coaches are putting him in a position to be successful, what he’s comfortable at. And then also getting better around him, putting pressure and getting some explosive wide receivers and guys that can make plays for him.
Q. For those of us who don’t see Kash Daniel on a regular basis, you know, we just see the social media stuff and kind of his personality come out, can you describe who exactly he is and what exactly makes him tick?
MARK STOOPS: You know, Kash is — what you love about Kash is what you see is what you get. He’s a guy that’s very passionate about things, and you got to love that. He’s passionate about being from Kentucky, being from eastern Kentucky and having a tough blue-collar background that I can certainly relate to.
He’s selfless. He cares about his team. He cares about winning. Sure, he wants to do good for himself, but he’s passionate about his brothers in that locker room. And I think that’s why a lot of people relate to him very well.
Q. How good is it to come here and not be asked when are you going to beat Florida? And I also got to ask you, I don’t know if you know this, Kentucky hasn’t beaten Florida in back-to-back years since ’76, ’77.
MARK STOOPS: Oh, come on now.
Q. How big would it be to start a winning streak against the Gators?
MARK STOOPS: I’m just going to avoid that question. I had the pleasure to play with your boy John Daly yesterday on the golf course, in the pro-am, the Barbasol event, the pro golf tournament that’s going on. Had the opportunity to play golf with John Daly yesterday. Big Arkansas fan, that’s for sure. Great guy. Had a lot of fun.
But you’re throwing me off with these streaks and all that about Florida. I thought I didn’t have to answer that anymore. But to answer your question, every game’s important. And, you know, each and every game, a team in the East, we had Florida at home, it’s an important game, but so are the other 11.
Q. Congratulations on last season.
MARK STOOPS: Thank you.
Q. I remember watching the bowl game last year, the Troy bowl game against Buffalo, and Sawyer Smith was fantastic at quarterback, and now I’ve seen that he has landed as a grad transfer in Lexington. Seems that can be a major, major get for you guys. Can you tell me how he might fit in and if he’s going to be able to get some snaps coming in at this late stage?
MARK STOOPS: Thank you very much. It is important to get Sawyer, the fact that he has experience. He’s a really talented player, but he’s also played in big games. I’m a big believer at that position you don’t know exactly what you have until you get him into a game.
And so the fact with us having some transfers leave us, we had a quarterback that was a sophomore that won ten games, and so we had some departures, it was important to bring some experience in there until we have some of our young quarterbacks have the time to develop.
Sawyer’s going to be a big piece of it. How big? I don’t know. We’ll see when he gets on campus and we get to work with him. But I’m excited to have him. I’m excited to have that experience. He’s been under pressure. He’s played in big games. You’ve seen him deliver under pressure. So that’s really important to have at that position, as you know.
Q. Coach, I wanted to ask you about a couple of Alabama natives on your roster. Talk about the development you’ve seen of his career of Logan Stenberg. I know he’s a big part of your offensive line. And as far as a young player, I know Benny Snell meant so much to your program, but Kavosiey Smoke from Wetumpka, Alabama, I wanted to know about your thoughts on his future.
MARK STOOPS: Allen Daily as well, the wide receiver. We have high hopes for Allen as well. He is going to be a heck of a player for us. But Kavosiey, as I mentioned, I’m very excited to see him, see how he improves in his second year. I think he’s a dynamic guy. He’s a tough guy to tackle. And so any time you’re productive in high school in this state, you know you have a chance.
With Logan, he’s been a solid piece of our offensive line. I think, you know, for us, the offensive line kind of sets the tone for our team, and Logan is a big piece of that. You know, you got to love him. He’s a bright guy. He’s unbelievably smart and graduated already and does amazing things off the field. On the field, he is nasty. And that’s what you’re looking for at the offensive guard. He’s a nasty player. He kind of sets the tone. He’s big. He’s physical. He’s been a rock for us. He’s been a big piece of it, and we’re proud to have him.
Q. I’ve noticed that you guys seem to be really active in the Carolinas, specifically North Carolina, in recruiting. What is it about that area that intrigues you?
MARK STOOPS: We’re trying to expand a little bit and get, you know, get any six, seven, eight-hour radius of Kentucky. We don’t have as many players in our state. We have very talented players. But we don’t have as many as some others. So we have to get out a little bit and expand, but there’s talent in players through the Carolinas as we all know.
Q. Shortly after they lifted the prohibition on stadium-wide alcohol sales, Mitch Barnhart and Eli Capilouto released a statement saying they are going to having conversations about it in the coming months. Have you been a part of any of those conversations and do you want to see alcohol sales at Kroger Field in?
MARK STOOPS: Thanks a lot, Nick. No, I have not been a part of that. That’s above my pay grade, and I’m really worried about winning football games. So I’ll leave that. I have great confidence in Dr. Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart, and I’m sure they’ll come to a decision that they’re comfortable with.
Q. You’ve been in the league your seventh year now, had not played Arkansas in that span. You got them coming in this fall. Just maybe thoughts about taking them off the first time.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I’m excited about that. You know, it is strange that we hadn’t played them until this point, but it will be a real challenge for us. I have great respect for Coach Morris and what he’s done. I know they can move the football. There’s no doubt about that.
You saw them last year against some of the most elite defenses in the country, and move the ball very, very successfully. I know they didn’t have the results in the win-loss column that they want, but there’s no doubt in my mind you’re going to see a big jump by them this year. So it will be an exciting opportunity just because of what you talked about, just had not had the opportunity to play in them and look forward to that challenge.
Q. How has the early signing date changed your job as it pertains to recruiting in terms of time, cost, and opportunities that maybe didn’t exist before?
MARK STOOPS: It definitely has changed the calendar. I think myself going back, you know, maybe two, three, four years, sitting in the SEC head coaches meeting, and at that time, maybe only being a head coach for two years, maybe three years and listening to some of the coaches that have been around for a while and them really warning people about how drastic that is going to change things. And, sure enough, that did come to fruition.
It’s changed our calendar. With that, you have to adapt the best way you can. I did notice a big difference between the first year and the second year, this being the second year. It did move things up. It expedited the process just like you would anticipate, and I think it will stay that way. So you have to adapt to it the best way you can.
Q. With more and more states have gone to a push towards legalized gambling, sports gambling, because of that, do you have to talk or have you talked to your players more about that and the dangers that are out there?
MARK STOOPS: You do. You definitely do. You had to have those conversations before it went legal as well because, you know, gambling can trickle into these student-athletes. Let’s face it. We have an awful lot of student-athletes throughout the country, and you know, there’s things out there that you have to warn them against and you have to educate them on. And, yeah, I think it is important to continue to help educate our student-athletes on that.
Q. Nick Saban yesterday said that he thought the NCAA had been maybe too liberal with how it granted waivers. I know you have a waiver situation for a transfer yourself. I want your thoughts on the waiver process in general and the transfer portal.
MARK STOOPS: I think it is difficult because, as I said, there’s a lot of good reasons. When kids need to transfer, there’s very good, solid reasons for that to happen. I think the human side of myself and everybody understands that and wants to support that.
When it gets to total free agency, I think we all are a bit concerned about that. And, again, you get criticized, you know, either way you stand on that. You want to be human. You want to help kids. That’s what we’re here for. That’s why we’re in this business. But part of that is also being hard on kids and disciplining kids and helping them be accountable when they don’t necessarily want to, you know?
And so I think that’s where the fine line, the balance, comes in when maybe somebody’s trying to escape, you know, the pressures that come with improving in all areas of their life. But then there’s the other side of it, the human side, where they need to transfer. I had one a few years ago when a player of mine had to transfer, and because there was some serious family situations going on, and I wholeheartedly supported that and wanted him to have the opportunity to play. So it’s just a tough issue right now. I think where the issues come in also is managing your roster, managing your team, and total free agency gets to be an issue for us.
Q. You mentioned free agency counting against that. I think there’s difference between the college and the professional game, but historically in the NFL, early on free agency wasn’t a big thing, but kind of moved on and turned into that. Do you see — you know, do you think of that in historical context and why would it be good for kind of in that section of the game and not in the college level?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t. I didn’t put that amount of thought into it as far as what it did to the pro game and how it affects the college game. This is all relatively new. I don’t think we’ll see the total effects of total free agency unless it happened a few years into it.
There’s certainly going to be some obstacles for all of us. I’ve always taken the approach it is what it is. Whatever the rules are, I’m going to play by them and do the best I can and make sure I’m doing the right things by these kids as well.
Q. Mark, you’ve seen the coaching changes in the eastern division going back three years or so, a lot of returning quarterbacks. Can you talk about and discuss the strengthening of the division as you see it?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it doesn’t surprise me to see the strength of the East. We knew that was going to happen. You know, there’s quality coaches. There’s great programs, very rich in tradition. None of us are interested in going backwards. There’s some very talented head coaches that are very driven to continue to push, and that’s what we’re all trying to do.
So it’s no surprise that the East is improving. But we all know so is the West. So you’re just trying to constantly do your part. I can’t be affected what’s going on with the rest of the league, you know. We really got to focus on Kentucky and what can we do to make sure we’re improving.
Q. The secondary guys that you just are going to have to replace this year, all those pretty much started for four years before you throw them into the fire. This year you’ve got a lot of guys that have been redshirting. How does that change the way you coach guys that have been waiting in the wing to get their opportunity to play?
MARK STOOPS: It definitely changes because there’s no replacing that experience. We had the opportunity to watch a lot of those secondary guys that you know very well from covering us locally. We had the ability to watch them go through the ups and the downs, and they grow and they mature.
You know, it was unique to have that amount of experience in our secondary with one group. And that is hard to replace. As I mentioned, I feel like we have some inside guys — some nickels, dimes, safeties — that have played, that got their feet wet. Outside of corner, that’s going to be the biggest issue with the experience out there.
You do have Cedrick Dort coming back where he played two years ago. Last year he ended up redshirting. He would have been the fourth corner last year, but he got a severe high ankle sprain late in camp and missed most of the season. And we had those veterans that you were talking about, and so we were able to redshirt him. We get him back, he’s played some. Brandin Echols comes in from junior college, so he has some experience as well. Jamari Brown is guy that redshirted a year ago that has the physical tools to be successful.
Sorry, I’ll finish the rest of that. As far as altering us, I do think you have to look at ways. You know, I’ve been a secondary guy for a long time, and there are ways you could try to protect a corner here and there in the way you go about your defenses, but not always. Let’s face it. That’s a position where they’re going to be on an island and you have to win some one-on-one battles. There’s just no getting around it. So there’s times you can protect and help and lean, but then there’s times when you have to win.
Q. Hey, did you play in the same group as Daly? He’s a pretty big Arkansas fan. He goes to a lot of games.
MARK STOOPS: That’s why I brought it up. I was trying to divert from that Florida question.
Q. I was wondering if he said anything to you about that Arkansas game or how big a fan he is, that type of stuff?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. I played with John. I had the privilege of being in his foursome and playing with John. And for me, because he has that exemption with that bad knee, I had the ability to walk ride in his cart once in awhile too to save me from walking around the 18 holes, but it was a hot day there in Lexington. He’s definitely a big Hog fan. There’s no getting around that, but he’s also supportive of the SEC. Definitely invited him to the game. He’s planning on playing golf until November. I think we play Arkansas somewhere in October, if I am not mistaken. So I am not sure if he is going to be able to make it, but he definitely supports Arkansas, big fan.
Q. Coach, I just wanted to touch on the loss of Jared Lorenzen. I know Terry said that he’s going to wear his number the first game of the season. Has there been any extensive talks of doing something to commemorate his loss?
MARK STOOPS: Thank you. That was a tough loss for all of us. Jared was a remarkable man. I didn’t know him as well personally. I knew him. Of course, he was around the program some. But he was beloved throughout our community, the Big Blue Nation. He was a person and father, and that was a big loss to us.
And when Terry called me right away or texted me right away and asked me what I thought about that, my immediate response was, that would be a great idea to honor him, to recognize him, to wear his number in the opener. So I’m all for that. And we have talked about it, and we will continue to work on that and what we’ll do to recognize him as the season gets closer.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Coach Stoops, thank you for time this morning.
MARK STOOPS: Thank you. Appreciate you all. You got one more to go, right? It’s been a long week for you. You just got to bear through Gus and have a nice weekend. Y’all deserve it.