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Kentucky Football: A Capstone, Keystone, Steppingstone or a Headstone?

Cutting through the hyperbole of Louisville AD Tom Jurich.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been reading a lot of forums as a result of Charlie Strong’s hire at Texas and a lot of UK fans are taking shots at Louisville, contending that Louisville isn’t a destination job for head coaches. Mike Rutherford has a great piece on the subject over at Card Chronicle that is well worth reading. I suggest that you take the time to read it.

Paul Jordan has written something similar over at Wildcat Blue Nation, where he takes a shot at Jurich for claiming Louisville is a destination job. What you see quoted below is taken slightly out of context which is why you should read the article.

While Jurich and Strong have done a great job in improving the Louisville situation, it is far from a "destination job".  The claim that Louisville is a "destination school" for football was flat-out ridiculous.  UL is not close to being a destination.   And neither is Kentucky. Not by a long shot. But with the enthusiasm and change in culture Mark Stoops has brought to Kentucky, I began to wonder if Stoops can make Lexington a destination job.  Or if Kentucky can make it an attractive enough school to keep Stoops from making it a "stepping stone"  and leaving at the first whiff of sustained success.

I want to address this premise. Mark Stoops has been here for two recruiting cycles and one football season. Yes, he is doing a good job of trying to change a culture of mediocrity, but he really hasn't accomplished anything on the field of play. That isn't to say he won't, but we don't know what the future holds. He gets an A+ from me for recruiting at a school with no winning tradition, but he's going to have to start winning "winnable" games. My point here is it is premature to be talking about destinations and steppingstones.

Historically, our beloved Kentucky Wildcats football program is a headstone program. Paul "Bear" Bryant was forced out with recruiting restrictions placed upon his back. Blanton Collier was fired. Charlie Bradshaw was fired. John Ray was fired.  Fran Curci was fired. Jerry Claiborne retired. Bill Curry was fired. Hal Mumme was fired. Guy Morris left because he wasn't hired after coaching two seasons. Rich Brooks retired. Joker Phillips was fired.

Kentucky's all time record stands at 582-592-44 over 123 seasons. That's a win percentage of 49.6%. If you count the ties the same as losses, we're at 47.8%. While we slipped below 50% under Phillips, whose win % was 35.1%, he only holds a portion of the blame. Collier was our last winning coach. He was followed by Bradshaw (38.6%), Ray (23.3%), Curci (48.0%), Claiborne (47.2%), Curry (33.3%), Mumme (43.5%), Morris (39.1%), Brooks (45.3%), Phillips (35.1%) and now Stoops (16.7%).

This is the culture that Mark Stoops signed up for because he believes that Kentucky is a sleeping giant. He came in with eyes wide open, knowing he has huge obstacles to overcome. A lot of us believe he can overcome them. From my experience with Kentucky football, he has two more years before things begin to go against him and he will then become another headstone in the graveyard of coaches.

Compare Kentucky's history to Louisville's. The all-time record is 490-442-17 for a win percentage of 52.6% (51.6% if you count the ties as losses). Kentucky alum Howard Schnellenberger took over at Louisville in 1985 when Louisville was considering dropping football. He left in 1994 for Oklahoma. At UL, he had a win percentage of 49.1%. He was followed by Ron Cooper (39.4% who was fired. John L. Smith (66.1%) was next, but left for Michigan State. Bobby Petrino (82.0%) left Louisville for the NFL. Steve Kragthorpe (41.7%) was fired. Charlie Strong (71.2%) left for Texas. Louisville can absolutely be considered a steppingstone.

For Kentucky fans to make fun of Louisville as a steppingstone, it only proves our memory is selective. We only wish we were a steppingstone. Just as ridiculous, though, is Jurich's claim that Louisville is a destination job. It isn't, but UK isn't either.