Following the 2015 season, it was gut check time for Mark Stoops. The Wildcats were fresh off consecutive 5-7 seasons and it was clear changes were needed on both sides of the ball. Heading into his fourth season, the head coach was feeling heat for the first time in Lexington. He responded by making some major changes.
In that offseason, Stoops brought in four new coaches and promoted Corey Edmond to the head coach of the strength program. The main change from this offseason was naming Eddie Gran the offensive coordinator and we’ve extensively covered how big of an impact the veteran SEC assistant coach has made on the program. However, there was another coach that made a big splash.
After being promoted to defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh by Paul Chryst in 2014, House ran a defense in the ACC that finished 56th per S&P+. It was a solid job, but once Chryst left to become the head coach at Wisconsin, House found himself on the job market. He landed at FIU and ran the defense in 2015 under Ron Turner. Under House’s guidance, the Panthers finished 110th per S&P+ in a 5-7 season. When a power five opportunity to run the special teams and coach linebackers at Kentucky opened up, the Michigan State alum jumped on the first flight to the Bluegrass.
Mark Stoops appeared to like the versatility House brought with a four years of NFL experience from 2008-2011 to go along with two years of FBS defensive coordinator work. He was named UK’s special teams coordinator and he instantly became a major contributor to the coaching staff.
In House’s first season, UK’s special teams were much improved and included multiple game-winning kicks that pushed the Wildcats into bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. Following Mark Stoops moving on from D.J. Eliot at defensive coordinator, the Wildcats named Matt House the man in charge of the defense for the 2017 season. In that season, UK had the second best scoring defense of the Stoops era to that point. Then the big change happened.
You know the story. UK made a slight shift by putting Matt House on the field and placing Dean Hood in the coaching box. The move paid huge dividends with Kentucky finishing 15th in defense per S&P+ on their way to a historical 1o-win season. Behind the development of a bunch of future pros, UK’s defense turned into a stalwart in what seemed like overnight. House was a big reason why.
Now after a week of flirting with the Chiefs, House is off to Kansas City to work for Andy Reid and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Back in 2009, Matt House was hired by Spagnuolo when he was the head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Now it’s time for UK to join the coaching carousel.
Why the Move?
Once the search develops, we’ll delve more into who will be next for the Wildcats when some candidates emerge. Now is the time to recognize what UK is losing in Matt House.
During his three-year run, the assistant coach oversaw major improvement in both special teams and on defense in addition to becoming a very excellent recruiter. House turned into this staff’s point man in Georgia and that paid off big time in the class of 2019 with Kentucky reeling six recruits from the Peach State.
For a guy that seems to have it rolling as a college assistant, making the move to NFL to be a linebackers coach now seems like strange timing. House is likely to take a decrease in pay from the $650,000 per year salary he is currently making that was likely to be bumped up in 2019. If the defenses continues to produce in Lexington, he could be setup to land a defensive coordinator job at a blue blood program or become a Group of Five head coach (he was linked to the Central Michigan opening earlier this offseason).
Why make the move? Well, it’s for a multitude of reasons.
First off, whoever is given the defensive coordinator role at Kentucky is in a unique spot perception wise. Mark Stoops is always going to get either too much credit or too much blame for how the defense performs. It is no secret that he is heavily involved with the play-calling and since taking over for D.J. Eliot in 2016, Stoops has emerged as the face of the defense.
It could be tough for House to get seen for potential gigs. In today’s college football world, three years is a lengthy amount of time for any assistant to stay on one staff. Coming off the best year of his coaching career, House could’ve felt it was time to strike while the iron was hot. After lasting through most of the coaching season with no sniffs, it looked like he was set to stay in Lexington for a fourth consecutive season. Then the Chiefs made a defensive coordinator change.
After working a combined three years at Fresno State and Buffalo, House got on with the Panthers for one season before making the jump to St. Louis. He would be there for three seasons before Steve Spagnuolo was fired following the 2011 season. That forced House out of the NFL and he then was in college ball for the next seven seasons.
Timing is everything in life. House’s only real connection in the NFL gets hired to be a defensive coordinator on a Super Bowl contender after House’s best season in coaching. It feels like the stars aligning. With a chance to coach a perennial AFC power, House may feel that he is just a few strong years in Kansas City away from becoming an NFL defensive coordinator.
There is also the lifestyle that the NFL provides opposed to college. As Mark Stoops mentioned on KSR yesterday, “This job will absolutely consume people. We have no downtime.”
When you add up all of these factors and it feels like everything connected for Matt House to make a move right now.
Due to the timing of the move, Kentucky is a bit behind the eight-ball. The majority of staffs have already filled out the lion’s share of their opening positions. Coaches UK would’ve had a chance at are now settled into their new roles. Now Mark Stoops could have to work a little faster than he has for previous hires in the past.
When forced to make recent defensive hires, Stoops has shown a tendency to lean heavily on X’s and O’s. Derrick LeBlanc was a former LSU grad assistant who had never served a full-time role on a Power Five staff. He was known more for his development of defensive lines. Dean Hood was a former FCS head coach and Wake Forest defensive coordinator who was a current assistant at a C-USA school when Stoops hired him. He’s turned into a steady hand and an excellent special teams coach. Finally, Brad White had only two seasons of FBS experience at Air Force. He spent the six prior seasons with the Indianapolis Colts working his way from an off-field role to full-time member of the coaching staff. He put in instant work developing edge players Josh Allen and Boogie Watson.
It’s easy to see that the hires have paid off with the individual development of the defense over the last couple seasons. Now UK needs help on the recruiting trail. In the last two classes, Matt House emerged into the best recruiter on the defensive side with corners coach Steven Clinkscale being a close second. Replacing that void will play a huge part in who the new coach is.
No matter what Mark Stoops decides to do at coordinator, recruiting must be addressed with the new hire. On the offensive side, UK has two ace recruiters in Eddie Gran and Vince Marrow. The defense needs someone to come in and make an immediate impact on the trail.
Staff departures are just a major part of FBS college football. In the last three years, the Wildcats have done a great job at keeping continuity in the football facility. Having to replace just one full-time member of the coaching group is a good thing. It just stings that it is so late in the process and that it is your defensive coordinator off one of the best seasons in program history.
Entering spring ball, Kentucky is in very good shape right now. Eddie Gran turned down Kirby Smart and the entire offensive staff returns. The defensive staff worked very well together last season and the head coach will play a major role in the day-to-day operations of that unit. Now it is time to find the next coach who can come in and make an immediate impact. With a lot for the program to sell heading into the fall, this should be a very attractive opening.