Saturday night, after the Kentucky Wildcats had defeated Vanderbilt evening their record to 3-3, media at the Mark Stoops post-game press conference began tweeting out his remarks. One of his comments drew ire:
The toxic negative stuff where fans turn on the players makes it tough to turn a program around, Stoops said.— Jen Smith (@jenheraldleader) October 9, 2016
Fans turn on players, unfortunately, at a lot of schools. In fact, it happens everywhere and is not a specific symptom of UK fandom. Coaches also universally despise it - as do most fans - because these are their players who they’ve developed relationships with since most were 16 years-old.
The players’ parents have trusted these coaches to safeguard their sons for four years, and good coaches will do their utmost to defend their players by threats both real and perceived.
The fan response to Stoops was negative. The responses can generally be summed up in two points: it’s the coaches who are being criticized not the players, and don’t try to pin a toxic environment on the fans. The losses, and the environment it creates, are your own doing.
Mark Stoops’ full comments respond to the first part of the criticism. Here it is in full:
Q. You guys were in a storm a little bit as a team three weeks ago. Has there been an element within that locker room on the practice field across the board of sort of us against the world and a rallying in the mentality of this team from sort of what how bad things looked three weeks ago?
MARK STOOPS: I think part of that, part of that. I told them in the locker room, after the Southern Mississippi game, first thing I told them, I grabbed them up, I wanted to see the whites of their eyes, and I told them to stay the course. I said, every son of a gun outside of this room right here will be attacking you and me. So put your head down, do your job, and go to work. Because there’s nowhere to run and there’s nowhere to hide. You either man up and get better or you cave. And we’re still working, you know that, but nobody’s been hesitant, it’s about getting back and getting to work. We knew we had a good football team. We’re not a great team, but we’re a work in progress and we’re getting better and better. And I love their attitude and I love the way they work and so we do need everybody back on board. And I’ve said that -- I’ll tell you this: It’s very hard to get something turned when it’s toxic and negative. And the criticism, we deserve it sometimes. And that’s, you know that. I sat here and taken it and will. When you deserve to be criticized, you take it like a man and move on. But the toxic, negative stuff, very hard to turn a program when people turn that way, and turn on the kids and turn on the players. Coaches deserve to be criticized. That’s our job, it’s part of our job, but the players and getting toxic and negative and being all that, that’s not going to help get this program to where we want it to go. I promise you.
Stoops never says he doesn’t deserve to be criticized. He’s inviting deserved criticism at himself and the other coaches. Given the full context of the originally tweeted statement, I’m not sure how anyone could draw another conclusion. He’s willing to own up to his failures (though he may disagree on the specifics).
The second part is related to fans creating a toxic environment. Like this guy Saturday night after UK just won a game:
Better make sure you're getting your ankles taped man! Go Cats! https://t.co/vvBs60GoxJ— Drew Barker (@D_Barker7) October 9, 2016
This clown is a rarity as most fans are positive to players, but this is the “one bad apple spoils the bunch” principle. It was an issue six years ago too:
Players playing poorly contributes to a toxic environment as do coaches coaching poorly. Fans need to realize they, too, make up the third part of the triad. Online attacks, campus harassment, and overall negativity doesn’t motivate players to continue to practice hard. It doesn’t help with recruiting as current players’ parents are asked by recruits’ parents how they’ve been treated.
It doesn’t contribute to retaining quality assistant coaches, or hiring new ones when they find out how quick you are to be criticized. If it’s Alabama, you take the job anyway because despite the short leash, you have a chance to win a championship and pad your resume. If it’s Kentucky, the juice won’t prove worth the squeeze.
Some fans gladly accept their mantle as difference-makers when the times are good. You often hear things like, “Rupp Arena is such a tough place to play”, or “Texas A&M’s 12th Man made a difference tonight.”
But it works both ways. Fans can’t boast about their power to change outcomes some of the time, but conveniently avoid responsibility when their collective enthusiasm is a detriment.
The interesting thing is Mark Stoops - whether intentional or not - has made himself the target for online ire. If players are decreasingly the target for negativity then Stoops comments will have succeeded.
I don’t think he much cares if you think he’s a bad coach, or not the right guy for the job. I think he’s too busy trying to keep his players focused on getting to a bowl game, and he’s happy to give his players the cover to do so.