Stoops, Kentucky starving for success
By David Cobb | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It is possible to successfully make the jump from a coordinator position at Florida State to head coach at an SEC school. Just ask Georgia’s Mark Richt, who is the longest tenured coach in the conference.
Now Mark Stoops—formerly the defensive coordinator for the Seminoles—will try and copy Richt’s rise as he takes over a Kentucky program that historically struggles to maintain gridiron relevance in a basketball-crazed state.
The Wildcats finished 2-10 in 2012 in Joker Phillip’s final season, but that didn’t stop 50,831 fans from filling Commonwealth Stadium for the spring game to get the first glimpse at a new team.
“Everything has been positive,” Stoops said at his first SEC Media Days. “From the moment I arrived on campus at Kentucky, I just felt so good about the support. The people are starving to have a good football program.”
Though significant on-field success may still be a couple years down the road for Stoops, he’s wasted no time in rising to the top in recruiting.
His 2014 class is currently ranked No. 4 in the nation according to http://Rivals.com , and the only SEC school ahead is Tennessee at No. 1.
“I think our current players and our recruits feel all the positive energy,” Stoops said. “They feel the fan base getting behind us. With social media, all the different aspects, you can reach a lot of kids. I believe they’re feeling that energy, and it certainly is helping.”
As for the present, the Wildcats return most of their key players from 2012, a season in which they lost six games by 20 or more points.
A pair of 500-plus yard running backs from 2012 return as seniors Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George will run behind an offensive line that features three returning starters but a new center.
The quarterback position is up for grabs between a trio of sophomores, Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow. All three played last year and Smith posted the best numbers before going down with an ankle injury.
Whether it’s Smith or one of the others, the quarterback will be throwing a lot under the direction of former Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
The new air-raid attack may gain a false confidence in fall practice though while throwing against an inexperienced secondary that’s coached partly by 2012 UT cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley.
Otherwise, the Wildcats defense will have some experience up front with senior Avery Williamson returning to the middle linebacker slot after finishing second in the SEC only to UT’s A.J. Johnson in total tackles last year.
He and defensive end Alvin Dupree – 6.5 sacks and 91 tackles a year ago - were voted to the Pre-Season All-SEC Third-Team by the media.
Before Kentucky and Tennessee meet in the season’s final week in Lexington, the team’s will have played six mutual opponents, including Western Kentucky who UK plays to open the year in a revenge attempt of last year’s 32-31 loss.
WKU then travels to Knoxville in Week 2 for a game most UT fans will have penciled in as a win on the Vols schedule.
But Stoops isn’t overlooking anyone for the time being.
“We have an awful lot on the line,” Stoop said. “We can’t take anything for granted at Kentucky right now. We can’t just show up and beat anybody. We have to play very well. We have to play to the best of our abilities. That’s our job to be ready to play in that opener.”