I like the hire. I can easily slide behind Mark Stoops as the Kentucky Wildcats next football coach, but the most exciting element of the hire is the clear potential for it to eventually be a hire I, and other intermittently suffering UK football fans, can easily love.
For Mitch Barnhart (and evidently, UK football stud Tim Couch) to bring in a defensive coordinator, not just any DC mind you, but the coordinator of Florida State's second ranked defense in the nation -- a unit which was ranked 108th in defensive effectiveness in 2009 -- is equal parts startling (he's not an offensive guru?!), and invigorating (this guy's pedigree is rich with high-level success). There exists a chance though, that Mitch Barnhart's hiring of Stoops could become an unparalleled Kentucky football hire. Well, unparalleled at least since 1946 when Bernie Shively brought Bear Bryant to campus to coach the gridiron 'Cats.
Against the Grain
Conventional wisdom says to win at Kentucky one needs a high-powered, gimmicky offense. While conventional, demonstrated experience counters with the fact that Kentucky has been successful running two very different offenses -- UK has scored ample points in both a pro-style offense under Rich Brooks, and the hurry-up, Air Raid offense of Hal Mumme -- but to truly compete in the SEC (and by compete I mean winning four, five, six league contests every year), one's defense has to be competent (unless a team boasts Cam Newton at QB). And by competent I mean a top tier "D," nationally. In other words, a defense UK hasn't possessed since John Travolta wannabe's were terrorizing discos from New York to LA.
In Stoops, UK now has a man who has quickly and dramatically bettered the defensive performance of two FBS teams; Arizona and Florida State. Stoops has also coached a title winner, as he tutored the corner backs at national champion Miami in 2001.
OK, Stoops can coach defense. Let's assume that is an established fact.
Just as key to his success at UK, though, is that Stoops is known to be a relentless recruiter, with all-important contacts in every corner of the country. Most fortunately, Florida, specifically, south Florida. Additionally, Stoops made recruiting in-roads out west while at Arizona, and in his native Ohio, where his father was a renowned high school coach, and where the younger Stoops cut his coaching teeth at the high school level.
All the talk of Stoops' defensive genius and recruiting prowess, though, is making me ponder which direction UK's offense might go. After all, at some point, a team has to be able to score points. There are simply too many high-powered, nearly-impossible-to-stop offenses scattered around the college football landscape to ignore the need for plentiful points. Just take a look at what the Florida Gators did to Stoops' FSU defense last weekend (scored 37 points, in case one wasn't aware).
As in any leadership position where one has control over vast fortunes or football teams, those people the king surrounds himself with oftentimes will determine the ultimate outcome of the takeover. So it's very important ... no, vitally important, for Stoops to make the right decisions when it comes to cobbling together a staff.
Now, with the UK head coaching vacancy filled, the majority of the Blue Blue Nation, because of the defensive background of its new head coach, is awaiting Stoops' decision on who will lead the Wildcat offense. Recently -- and Stoops surely knows this -- the Kentucky football faithful have grown weary of offenses which average sub-20 points per game. It may not a Louisiana Tech-like 50-plus points per game UK fans desire, but a ravenous fan base needs to be fed an offense capable of competing with the big boys, every Saturday. That would turn the collective big blue frown, upside down.
The rumor mill, churning faster now than ever, has generously proposed two offensive coordinator options for UK's new head man to consider. Let's take a quick look:
- Stoops could put his efforts behind luring Florida State's offensive coordinator, James Coley, to Lexington along with his fast-paced, spread offense. In addition to leading one of the nation's most exciting offensive attacks, the 39-year-old Coley, originally from Miami, was Florida State's recruiting coordinator in 2008 and 2009. It was under his recruiting leadership in those years that the Seminoles began to bounce back from FSU's dip into mediocrity toward the end of Bobby Bowden's tenure.
- Or, Texas Tech OC Neal Brown, a Danville, KY native, and former UK wide-out under Hal Mumme (1998-00), might be enticed by Stoops (and Couch?) to bring the siren-inspiring Air Raid-style of offense back to Commonwealth Stadium. An attack, more-so than Coley's, which would be focused on moving the ball down the field through the air -- In 20012, Brown's Red threw the ball 547 times, while Coley's Seminole QB's threw 369 passes. Brown, though, has only been a coordinator at an FBS school since 2010 (before his stint at Texas Tech, Brown was OC at high-scoring Troy), but the success he has enjoyed to this point in his young career cannot be denied.
Both coordinators have set themselves apart from the pack with outstanding results in high places, and the valid points which can be made for each to be hired are boundless. If Stoops' decision does indeed whittle down to Brown and Coley, his selection will undoubtedly unveil the offensive direction Kentucky football will embark upon.
And watching intently, awaiting the decision, are three Kentucky quarterbacks: pro-style passers Max Smith and Patrick Towles, and dual-threat QB Jalen Whitlow. All three will obviously be greatly impacted by Stoops' decision.
But regardless who Stoops tags as his offensive chief, for UK supporters it's the marriage of a potentially great defense, with a fan-friendly, high-flying offense, which has been rare 'round these parts, oh low these many decades. And is the primary reason Kentucky football fans should, at minimum, be "in like" with the Stoops hire, with the potential for "love" in the distance.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!