This Andy Staples piece was linked yesterday in the comments, but I think it deserves a bit more exposition and commentary. I think every Kentucky fan can appreciate that Staples notices the support that the fans deliver, which is considerably in excess of what the on-field results deserve:
One major misconception about Kentucky is that fans care exclusively about basketball. While they do care about basketball as much as Alabama fans care about football, they also have been quite faithful to the football team -- even though the team has given them few rewards for their fidelity. The fans may have bailed toward the end of the Phillips era in 2012, but just two years earlier, the Wildcats averaged 66,070 tickets sold. The numbers were even better when Kentucky was coached by Rich Brooks, the current professional gentleman of leisure, whose stint in Lexington was highly underrated.
I think this is exactly right, and even though the local media have made similar observations in the past, it's nice to see it made in the national media as well. Kentucky really does support the football program surpassingly well considering how it has delivered relatively little in the way of return.
I get the impression that's about to change, and although you won't find much support for that in the SEC (and who can blame them, really?), many dispassionate non-conference observers do seem to get this same vibe.
The Wildcats now look a little like South Carolina did in 2005 -- like a perennial doormat with a fan base that deserves far better. In fact, Stoops has studied how Steve Spurrier transformed the Gamecocks from a team that counted bowl berths as a sign of success into one that has gone 33-6 in the past three seasons.
If recruiting continues at this level, success should as well, unless Mark Stoops is just a bust as a coach, which I doubt. He's surrounded himself with success, he has been relentless in his efforts to put together a competitive football team, and even if he will inevitably have the "young head coach" struggles and failures that are simply part of learning, I think he will learn fast.
Fortunately, Kentucky is a patient fan base when it comes to football. As long as we see positive progress, not to mention lights-out recruiting, we understand the reality that rebuilding a broken football team is a multi-year proposition. Of course, we can't just have progress in recruiting without commensurate results on the field, but we aren't likely to be demanding BCS bowls anytime soon — although a minor bowl by 2015 would seem to be an important milestone.
I think we are all fans of Mark Stoops right now, and I'm sure he's flattered by the comparison to the Ol' Ball Coach. If he delivers at 80% of that level, I think he's going to be able to stay in Lexington about as long as he wants.