The era of good feelings is over for Mark Stoops. No longer am I willing to say, "give him time", or "let him build." The promises of better days, competitive football, and stud recruits are ringing hollow in my ears. The brand new Commonwealth Stadium and the ensuing upgrades are lipstick on a pig in my eyes.
I've given Stoops the benefit of the doubt for the last three seasons primarily for these reasons: 1) he inherited a dirt pile and a dirt pile at Kentucky is worse than a dirt pile at any other school; 2) he has had success as a coordinator at big time programs; 3) he wasn't just talking the talk about recruiting, he was walking the walk; and 4) I genuinely like the guy and I wanted him to succeed.
So what caused me to change my tune? It wasn't the negative trajectory of the team for the second season in a row. I was disappointed in it, but as Kentucky's schedule strength increased, I did expect losses.
It wasn't what looked like a lack of coaching. True, our team continually looks worse compared to others as the season progresses. For the second straight year, Kentucky backtracked while other teams improved. Marginally or otherwise.
It inexplicably wasn't the loss to Vanderbilt. I can't really explain this one. I should have been done at this point but, like any fan, there was reason in my heart to believe they could beat Charlotte and then Louisville to get to six wins.
What changed my heart was the stadium atmosphere on Saturday. I attended the game with my family and what I saw there made me sick to my stomach. As the Louisville Cardinals climbed back from a 24-7 deficit and dominated the second half of football, I watched the Kentucky crowd slowly retreat in shame and the pro-Louisville crowd became louder. It got to a point where it felt and sounded like a Cardinal home game in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
I have been to plenty of Kentucky football and basketball games and I have never seen a visiting crowd take over our home in that manner. And Wildcat fans weren't even angry. There wasn't bickering. There weren't any attempts to drown them out. We simply just took it. Our heart had been ripped out and there was no fight left in us. Much like there wasn't any fight from our team on the field. It was surreal.
As I left the stadium, there wasn't anger amongst the blue fans, there was a sense of acceptance. This is Kentucky football. This is who we are. We bought into the hype. We sold out the early games. We were "All In." We did our part. And for that, we were punched in the gut by the slimiest head coach in college football for the second year in a row.
Bobby Petrino skipped across the field and pumped his fist in the air. He said in the post-game press conference that it was the most satisfying comeback he's ever experienced. He danced in the locker room with a giant grin on his face. I don't hate Louisville as much as some do, I let that part of my fanhood simmer down a bit, but I do hate Bobby Petrino. He's a disgusting little weasel. And damn it, he owns the team I love and there isn't anything I can do about it.
Where does this leave me? Personally I haven't given up on Stoops but I'm not far from it. Hopefully in the coming days we learn of coaching changes and hopefully he fills the vacancies with coaches that are experienced and proven, not just young guys looking to make a splash. To rebuild Kentucky, it takes more than that.
I think a lot of the fanbase is where I am at the moment. We want to give more but we aren't sure how much we have left to give. I'm only 33 and I feel burned out by Kentucky football. I can't imagine what those older than me feel. Part of me is worried if Stoops cannot make it work. Because where do we go from there? Who would want a job that seems impossible? Even with new facilities, great fan support, and unprecedented recruiting success, it's still Kentucky football.
Mark Stoops has one more season to get to a bowl game or better. After that, it's rinse and repeat. The search for a new coach will be on. The new coach will be hired and will promise changes and the fans will get excited. Then, back we go into the void of Kentucky football.