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Kentucky Football: Is Mark Stoops Retaking Control of His Program?

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The rumor mill is rife with the reported locker room disputes during the last half of the season. It seems the disputes were between the offensive players (pardon the pun) and everyone seems to be aware that Stoops and Shannon Dawson didn’t seem to get along due to philosophical differences.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

What happens behind closed doors is always subject to speculation and rumors.

Here are the facts:

Shannon Dawson was fired.

Patrick Towles decided to transfer afterward and claimed that Dawson was the best coach he has ever been around.

Reece Phillips decides to transfer and then does an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press which was critical of Stoops after Drew Barker was declared the starting quarterback for the 2016 season.

Tommy Mainord was also fired as WR coach.

So far, no wide receivers have left the program except for Thaddeus Snodgrass during the middle of the season.

Those are the facts as we know them. The rumor mill is another thing altogether. Some "insiders" are claiming that Dawson was involved in the locker room split. Apparently, Towles was Dawson's guy in spite of the wide receivers complaining about Towles' performance. If Mainord was part of the locker room divide, no one has said so. Mainord was probably fired because of the lack of accountability for all the dropped passes. Those who were dropping the ball never seemed to suffer consequences.

We all know that Towles had his problems with his receivers. His performance in the second half of the season for the last two seasons was less than stellar. It didn't help his cause with the receivers dropping the ball on many occasions. We all wondered what was going on, particularly this season. Well, we may not know all the details, but we know the end result.

It appears that Stoops is done with the recruits from the Joker Phillips era, at least on offense, with the exception of John Toth. Toth and Zack Meyers are the only remaining 2012 signees left on offense.

Here's a list of the remaining recruits from the 2012 class:

John Toth (Center), Zach Meyers (C/OL), and Zack Blaylock (S). J.D. Harmon was a walk-on for 2012 and will be a redshirt senior for 2016 at cornerback. All are redshirt seniors. Toth is slated to become one of UK's best at his position and he gives Drake Jackson a redshirt year for development if Stoops and Schlarman decide that that is needed.

So, was Stoops right to fire Dawson and name Barker as his guy? In my opinion, yes. If anyone had hopes for the UK offense with Dawson's hiring, it was me. After the first game this year I wished that Neal Brown had not left. I was uncomfortable in spite of the big plays, I could not, for the life of me, figure out if Dawson was using the run to set up the pass or using the pass to set up the run. I wasn't comfortable with the play calling. The EKU game was it for me. I knew Kentucky's season was on the brink. It was obvious to me that Towles wasn't going to get it done for the second straight year.

When we played the 2nd half of the season against tougher SEC teams that seemed to know every play we were calling, I knew we were not going to beat any good team, including Louisville. I lost confidence in Towles and Dawson and could not figure out why Barker wasn't given a chance to play while Towles floundered. It was, I think, Stoops who stepped in and insisted that Dawson play Barker. The fact that Barker played in the last two games is my evidence. Again, this is supposition. Had Barker received early season attention and been given playing time in some games, he may have played better in the last two games.

Barker was the leader of the 2014 class and was Stoops' primary target for 2014. Several 2014 recruits signed with Kentucky because of Barker. Both Towles and Barker were invited to compete in Nike's Elite 11 competition. Towles competed against eighteen quarterbacks,  but wasn't named as one of the Elite 11. Barker competed two years later and was named the 7th best QB in the Elite 11. Barker was one of Kentucky's best recruiters for the 2014 class.

With the eternal optimism of a typical Kentucky football fan, I hope Barker turns out to be the missing link in the UK offense next year. Eddie Gran is our new OC. His development of Gunner Kiel makes me optimistic. CoachingSearch.com has a good chart showing Cincinnati's offensive improvement during Gran's three years as OC for the Bearcats.

What's done is done. Dawson, Towles and Phillips are gone and the QB position will consist of Barker and 2016 recruit Gunnar Hoak. We also have Lexington Lafayette's walk-on QB. The 2016 class includes a couple of players who played the HS QB position. Zy'Aire Hughes played QB and Kash Daniel also played some QB. Both could be switched if injury hits Barker and Hoak. The latest is an offer to JUCO QB Stephen Johnson (Dual Threat) from College of the Desert in California. According to Justin Rowland at Rivals, Darin Hinshaw and Gran have evaluated 17 JUCO QB's. Read about it here.

As everyone knows, 3* DL Kobe Smith de-committed. There are rumors swirling about as to why. One has it that Smith had his financial aid papers in hand and planned to sign them and enroll early. The word is that Stoops, or one of his staff, called Smith and told him not to sign. Hence, he de-committed.

We need defensive linemen, so you have to wonder why UK asked Smith not to sign his financial aid papers and enroll early in order to participate in spring practice. The word on the street is that Stoops and Eliot are quietly working to land defensive tackle and the Rivals top player, Rashan Gary.

The odd thing about this rumor is the fact that Kentucky hasn't offered even though Gary expressed interest in Kentucky early in the recruiting cycle. Gary was interested in taking a visit to Lexington, but it hasn't happened yet and he's taken all his official visits. You have to wonder if UK offered and kept it under the wraps. Landing Gary would be HUGE! The rumor, however, might be nothing more than wishful thinking.

Gary and Drake Jackson became friends during The Opening when they competed against one another. In recruiting, you just never know.

With Smith's de-commitment, the Cats still have two defensive tackles in the fold for 2016, Ja'Quize Cross and Kordell Looney. Freddie Maggard believes that UK could also go into the JUCO ranks looking for defensive tackles. Kentucky has offered two JUCOs, but their primary target is Naquez Pringle from Itawamba C.C. in Mississippi. They've also offered Tyrell Chavis from Nausau C.C. in New York. I've not heard much about Chavis.

From the high school ranks, Kentucky has offered the following uncommitted defensive tackles: 4* Shavar Manuel from IMG Academy in Florida, 3* D'Andre Christmas-Giles from St. Augustine in New Orleans, 3* Amir Watts from Phillips Academy in Chicago,  Jovan Swann from Center Grove HS in Indiana, 3* Christian Colon from Independence in Charlotte, 3* T.J. London from Phenix Central in Alabama, 3* Justin Andrews from Kathleen in Florida, and 3*Trysten Hill from Suwannee in Florida.

Kobe Smith may still be on the table, according to 247sports, although I'm skeptical since the going theory is that he'll be a Gamecock.

With the hiring of Eddie Gran and Hinshaw as co-offensive coordinators, I think the locker room divides may be over. Chad Scott will move to WR coach, in order to give him experience for a future OC position. The Lexington Herald-Leader's Jen Smith expects some more organizational changes. There will be a tightening of social media activity. That will be interesting.

I suggest for you to expect some surprises like last year before or on Signing Day with Hinshaw and Gran coming on board. Both, according to Freddie Maggard, are good recruiters. They've already made contact with several players and recruits. The big question is still about Stoops regaining control of his program.

What say you?