Kentucky Football: If You Build It, They Will Come

USA Today Sports

Good fans, bad fans, who is to say who is what? The best cure for a fan base that is becoming fractured or stale is excitement. Winning can do that. Winning cures all ills. But hard work and a lot of promise can also reunite people who were once only the strike of a match away from burning down the house.

What? You can't enjoy the game unless we are winning? What kind of a fan are you? Everyone knows a true fan can experience the entire game for what it is, right? Yeah. Try selling that one to a guy wearing pinstripes in the Bronx. The truth is that we have fans galore when the wins are racking up. It is the nature of being a fan. That's OK. No "one way" of being a fan is the "right" way. Everyone needs to understand that we are all going to be what we are going to be.

Mark Stoops gets that. Matthew Mitchell gets that. John Calipari practically wrote the book on it. See, a successful coach understands those things. It's not enough to go out and do your job every day, at least not the way you used to. You have to sell it. You have to sell the idea of what you are trying to accomplish. In Calipari's case, he had to sell the Big Blue Nation on the idea that glory could and would be restored to a great brand that had recently lost some luster. He did that in spades.

In Mitchell's case, he had to sell the fans on the idea that women's basketball was every bit as exciting as the men's program, and that it was worth supporting. He had to cell the fans on his style of play, and that it could bring banners to Memorial. And lo and behold, he is starting to do just that.

Then we have Mark Stoops who is trying to do the impossible. He is going to prove to all the naysayers that you can win with the big boys in the SEC at Kentucky. Now, he is not going to do that all at once. No, he will be lucky to win an SEC game his first year. He wins two and he may well get a raise and a contract extension. Right now, however, he needs to build the loyalty back. Saturday was an incredible show of support for that idea. He had more fans at practice than UK had at the last 5 home games last season. Probably more than were actually at the last two home games combined.

Stoops brings a passion that the fans can see to what was once a lifeless and emotionless job. After Rich "Papa" Brooks and his fiery demeanor, his uncanny ability to call things like he saw them, and his relentless sideline ranting over detail, Joker Phillips came across as a Wall Street CEO. Very businesslike, usually unemotional, and almost lifeless at times. He inspired nothing.

See, the fans, they want a leader. They want someone who is going to strap on the pads themselves if that's what it takes. They want a guy who will stand at the podium in front of a sellout crowd and tell them that their hope is not lost and that they are going to be seeing great things from great kids. They want something to believe in. That is because winners win.

"Americans love a winner, and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for any man who lost and laughed...the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans". -Gen. George S. Patton

That line in the quote embodies what most fans feel. Yes, we can all pat ourselves on the back and talk about how we are going to be there in good times and bad, how we will support our team no matter what, well that's a lot of great talk, and not much else. If you don't win, you don't get fans. The Big Blue Nation was not built on losses -- it was built on succeeding and being the best. We have coaches all over the campus now that get that concept. It doesn't matter if you are a Steelers fan, a Yankee fan, or a fan of Tiger Woods. We all want to be winners. We want to be associated with winners. We want to show pride from belonging to something that is successful. It's our drive, and without it, we feel like we are not whole.

While we claim success as a birthright in basketball, we have not always been able to do so in football. We have told ourselves that it just was not possible here at UK. I have told myself the same thing. I said recruiting was not going to happen here. I made excuses knowing that they were just that. I accepted that we were good at one thing and that was enough. Well, don't look now, but it appears that success may be just around the corner in a lot of ways here at Kentucky. For a lot of sports.

Leadership starts from the top. You have to build what people want to see, if you want them to come and see it. Looks to me like Mark Stoops is that kind of a guy. And maybe, just maybe, we can add football to that line about something that is a Kentucky birthright someday. If we do, Mark Stoops may just be the guy who gets credit for starting it all.

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