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Kentucky Football: Measuring Success in 10 Hard-Hitting Facts

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Is 2016 the turnaround year for Mark Stoops?

Bear Bryant at Kentucky Kentucky Digital Library photo

The upcoming 2016 football season is a big opportunity for Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops. After going 2-10 in his debut season in Lexington, Stoops was granted a contract extension the following year after landing a highly-touted recruiting class and starting out 5-1 in 2014. He then went 0-6 to finish out 2014, and after last season has posted back-to-back 5-7 finishes, still with no bowl appearances.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Vanderbilt
The look on Mark Stoops’ face after Kentucky’s 17-27 loss to Vanderbilt unfortunately about sums up the 2015 season for Wildcat fans.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

While Stoops’ hefty contract extension will make it tough for Kentucky to part ways with him should he post another losing season, 2016 will certainly be a make-or-break year for the former Florida State Defensive Coordinator.

As we anticipate the 2016 season and look to what the future might hold for Stoops and the program as a whole, I pulled some notable statistics on Kentucky football coaches since 1946 (Bear Bryant’s first year as head coach).

Kentucky v Georgia
Rich Brooks is the most recent example of a successful Kentucky Football coach
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Measuring success is all about perspective, and it’s hard to hold high expectations when you know where the program has been. That said, here are 10 hard-hitting facts to measure success (or lack thereof) among Kentucky Football Coaches:

  1. Only two coaches have posted above a .500 winning percentage while at Kentucky since 1946: Bear Bryant (.710) and predecessor Blanton Collier (.531).
  2. Bryant, Collier, and Rich Brooks are the only three coaches since 1946 who have recorded more winning seasons at Kentucky than losing ones.
  3. Kentucky has played in only 15 bowl games in the history of the program, carrying a winning record of 8-7.
  4. In the last 69 years, Kentucky has had 28 winning seasons, 37 losing seasons, and four .500 seasons. Of the 28 winning seasons, half of them came before 1966. So, if we’re pessimistically nitpicking the numbers, UK has had only 14 winning seasons in the last 49 years.
  5. Of Kentucky’s 12 head coaches since 1946, seven have made bowl appearances, but only four have won: Bryant (1947, 1951, 1952), Fran Curci (1976), Jerry Claiborne (1984), and Brooks (2006, 2007, 2008).
  6. Of Kentucky’s four bowl-winning coaches, Bryant won his first in his second year as head coach, Curci won his solo bowl in his fourth season, Claiborne made a bowl appearance in his second year, lost, and then followed with a bowl victory in his third year, and Brooks’ first bowl win came in his fourth season as head coach.
  7. Of the three other coaches who reached a bowl game but didn’t win, Bill Curry’s lone bowl appearance came in his fourth season, Hal Mumme lost back-to-back in his second and third years, and Phillips’ only bowl berth was in his first season as head coach.
  8. Since 1946, three coaches have failed to record a winning season: John Ray, Joker Phillips, and Mark Stoops.
  9. Since 1946, only two coaches have posted four consecutive losing (regular) seasons: Ray (1969-1972) and Curci (1978-1981). Ray’s contract was not renewed after the 1972 season and Curci was fired after the 1981 season.
  10. Should Stoops finish 2016 with a losing record and not be fired, he will be the only coach in the program’s history to be invited back for a fifth season after recording a losing record for four seasons in a row.

With those facts in mind, here’s how I rank the top five coaches in Kentucky history in terms of success:

  1. Bear Bryant
  2. Rich Brooks
  3. Blanton Collier
  4. Jerry Claiborne
  5. Fran Curci

Bear Bryant is definitely number one. The order of the other four is debatable. But I’d say the majority of Kentucky fans would agree on those five in some order. What do all five of these coaches have in common? Each recorded at least one winning season in their first four years as head coach.

Bear Bryant at Kentucky
Paul "Bear" Bryant during his coaching days at Kentucky in the 1950s, pictured with quarterback All-American QB Babe Parilli & All-American lineman Bob Gain. How did we ever let the Bear leave?
Kentucky Digital Library photo

I think Stoops needs a winning season in 2016 to prove himself going forward. Simply making it to the postseason isn’t enough. He needs to either finish 6-6 and win the bowl game, or finish the regular season 7-5 and lose to a better team in the bowl for me to be optimistic looking ahead.

I would argue that Bill Curry was the worst coach of the last 69 years, simply because Kentucky kept him around for so long with such little production. After three losing seasons, he reached a bowl game in his fourth (with a 6-6 regular season record), lost, and followed that with three more losing seasons in a row.

The only coach with a worse overall winning percentage than Curry (.333) was John Ray (.233), whose contract wasn’t renewed after he posted a losing record in four consecutive seasons. As I write this, Stoops is currently tied with Curry for the second lowest winning percentage since 1946.

I still have faith in Stoops and like Stoops, but I think he has his work cut out for him this year…

What do you think?

POLL: How would you measure success for Stoops in 2016?

  1. 5-7 would be okay if UK ended the streak against Florida.
  2. Making the postseason is a success, even if UK finishes 6-7.
  3. Finish at least 7-6 when all is said and done.