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Kentucky Football: 'Fool Me Once...'

The implosion of Kentucky football in 2015 has me questioning the future of the program.

Tyler Thompson KSR

The season has come and gone, and the roller coaster of emotion has settled into a dull thud of indifference mixed with palpable moments of outrage.  That may seem an impossible combination of emotion, but it is exactly what Big Blue Nation is feeling right now.

Have you have ever felt a headache coming on, but not enough to think twice about, and then before you know it you have a full-on head banger migraine but it is too late at that point?  That is about the best way I can describe this season.  The problem is there is not enough Advil in the world to fix this headache.

Going back to last season I had already drank the Kool-Aid. I was predicting 7 wins when anyone in their right mind knew that year two Stoops would win 4-5 games, with 6 as a ceiling.  This year was the year that everyone thought we would make that step forward to at least 6 wins.

This was the year that Coach Stoops would have three classes worth of players in his lineup, this was going to be the magical junior year leap for Patrick Towles.  We had 8 home games slated and 6-8 wins seemed a viable option.

Neal Brown had improved the offense the prior two seasons, but not to the level of satisfaction of the BBN, so the replacement of Brown with a Hal Mumme disciple was supposed to be all the difference in the offense.  Visions of the late 90s actual Air Raid offense were rolling around in our heads.

D.J. Eliot had learned on the job for two years, and while he lost two NFL draft picks, he was replacing them with a sum of talent that should have prevented a regression.

The summer hype was that we were clearly a better team than last year.  Coach Stoops indicated early on that we were significantly better than last season.  We believed that, I believed that, and I was one of the ones out front championing this season as we would break out for a 7-5, possibly 8-4, season.

As the season wore on, expectations rose to possibly winning the SEC East all the way down to whatever circle of hell this is.  During that time, I never wavered in my outspoken defense of where we were headed and had no problem criticizing those that dared to jump off so early.

The day has come where I am now starting to question the future of this program and if it is in the right hands.  I do want to preface this though, with the disclaimer that I am not off the football bandwagon nor am I off the Stoops bandwagon, but I am wavering on the latter.

I am not at ALL advocating that Stoops be let go; there are multitudes of reasons that should not and will not happen.

  • Stoops' contract is AMAZINGLY one-sided in his favor through 2017
  • We would lose all recruiting momentum and crumble what little base of success we have
  • What top-tier coach would come to a basketball school knowing he is nearly starting from scratch and has three years or else?  The answer is zero, true story, we could not even upgrade if we wanted to upgrade.  We would have to hire an up-and-comer like Stoops used to be and hope for the best.
  • The most important reason: he does deserve more time than three years to rebuild from the ashes he was left.  Remember, HE wanted us, he wanted this job, and there is a lot to be said for that and I think one, or even two more years minimum is fair.

However, for all the credit I give Stoops for his passion, recruiting, and desire to make UK a winner, I feel just the opposite in his management.  I think he struggles in the hiring process.  He hired his buddy  D.J. Eliot.  It has shown little promise for the future, and we seem disorganized and unprepared.  Add in the lack of adjustments during games and it just seems like a unit of disarray. I would think three years in this would not be the case.

I know a lot of people defend Eliot and think the struggles of the offense lead to his struggles as a defensive unit.  I agree, SOMEWHAT.  There is logic in the thought, but I just cannot get on board with giving the man a pass based on it.  I think he is simply not ready for a job of this magnitude, and it showed against any and all opponents with a decent or better offense.

Remember, Stoops was one of the best defensive coordinators in America before UK.  Read the below quote from Josh Forrest and tell me what you think about our preparedness for the biggest game of the year, against our biggest rival. It seems the only person in America who did not know Lamar Jackson would play and run the read option was D.J. Eliot.


Enter Shannon Dawson, who in my opinion is the Billy Gillispie of football, and you have a triumvirate of frustration at the top of the program.  Dawson has never took responsibility upon himself and loves using his go-to phrase of ‘if it would've worked, you'd call me a genius.' Yes coach, that is correct, do I have your permission to use that in my day job this week?  Boss, I know I cost the company thousands, but if it would have worked...

Then there is the gem from yesterday when he was asked about the receivers dropping balls and poor performance on offense.

To throw the QBs and WRs under the bus for failing to succeed in his offense is laughable, then the logic of asking what you do with a guy dropping balls is inexcusable.  He says you do not want to give up on a kid, what is funny is that by not giving the kid behind him a chance, you are essentially giving up on that kid.

We have a championship coach who will pull a McDonald's All-American from the game in an instant so that they learn you have to get it right to play.  I know he is replacing his 5-star with another 5-star but it is not as if we are replacing a football 5-star with a 3-star, in fact, Dorian Baker is a three star kid himself.  Why not allow a kid like Charles Walker a chance to earn more clock?

Logic and sanity says you just replaced an offensive coordinator and you cannot fire him after one season, but the levels of regression the offense had, and his overall demeanor makes me want to take the irrational route and tell him to kick rocks too.

We have already witnessed some fallout of the season with Patrick Towles deciding to transfer.  Towles leaving is particularly troubling when you look past the surface.  It would be easy to say that Towles sees the writing on the wall and that he did not want to backup Drew Barker his senior year.  Valid, but I think it is deeper than that.  Towles announced this less than 24 hours after the game ended; he clearly made this choice days or weeks ago.

While Drew Barker had been anointed the starter, it was not a cut-and-dry decision that Barker was absolutely the man going forward in the program.  In fact, Towles finished the UL game; Towles had beaten Barker out for the job on multiple occasions.  Therefore, what was to keep Towles from staying at the school he loved and trying to win his job back for his senior season?

I think there are only two explanations for this, either it was made crystal clear to him that the team was Drew Barker's going forward or he wanted to get out of the situation and into one he could improve in.  I think the truth is in the middle, and neither scenario is a good look for the staff.


The truth of the matter is I laughed/argued/criticized at all those folks who told me nothing had changed; this was UK football, and they had seen this script before.  I thought it was just a rough patch and Stoops would get it all under control with a quickness, I am still clinging to that hope.

However, I have concluded that I am wrong about it being just a rough patch; it is more serious than that.  Mark Stoops is finished with year three of his first head-coaching job in major college football.  He has been learning on the fly and any evolution of his head coaching ability is yet to be determined.

Freddie Maggard played the game at Kentucky, he has forgotten more Football knowledge than I likely will ever have, and he wrote this post on KSR that was his assessment of 2015.  it is a sobering reality check and I applaud him for saying it out loud.

Mark Stoops must evaluate his football program in its entirety. From coordinators to assistant coaches, practice schedules to calisthenics, the Kentucky Football program is in need of an overhaul; what that looks like lies within the mind of Mark Stoops.

At no point in 40 years of fandom have I witnessed a team worsen more so than the 2015 Wildcats. From a 4-1 start to a 5-7 finish, week by week, Kentucky lessened its on-field prowess while facing the friendliest schedule in decades. College football is unforgiving. While the Cats are home for the holidays, its opponents will enjoy 15 additional days of bowl practice as well as an extra game. While UK is Christmas vacationing, future foes are strengthening. For returning players, that should sting. I'm not convinced that it does. I hope I'm wrong.

I am not conceding that Kentucky is going to always be Kentucky.  It is simply not rational to think we are some sort of cursed program.  What I am conceding to, however, is that my personal expectations for this program are gone, zapped, no longer able to compute.  I just do not have the patience to fight it.  Mark Stoops is going to have to earn a very hefty portion of his fan base back and the only way it will be done is by winning.

I do think he is smart enough to look around and know he has to make some major changes in his staff or he will risk losing recruits, fans, current players, and likely some buy-in from the administration.  It is going to be an interesting off-season for the Big Blue Nation, expect to see staff turnover, possible recruit decommitments, and a lot of hot seat talk leading into the summer.

One thing is clear, 2016 is the year Mark Stoops looks more like Rich Brooks, or more like Bill Curry and it is all on him to make the tough decision(s) to make sure it is the former and not the latter.