A great deal has happened in the last few days involving Kentucky athletics, and my mind has been racing with thoughts. Let's start off with some thoughts on Mark Stoops and DJ Eliot.
Has DJ Eliot Been Demoted?
Last night on Mark Stoops' call-in show with the great Tom Leach moderating. At one point Leach asked Stoops if he is going to be more involved with coaching the defense. Stoops affirmed that he indeed would be more involved. But when Leach pressed him with the follow-up question as to how much he would be involved, Stoops declined to comment any further on the subject.
The Kentucky Wildcats are ranked near the bottom of the NCAA in defense, 125th in points against out of 128 teams. Stoops brought defensive coordinator DJ Eliot with him from Florida State. The two are close friends. Despite the defense at Kentucky being sub-par during the entire Stoops tenure, Eliot has received little to no public criticism from his head coach.
Stoops is on his third offensive coordinator, yet Eliot has remained a constant even though the performance of the defense has been just as bad or worse than that of the offense. Has Stoops finally had enough of the ineptitude of the defense? He will never publicly chastise his friends, but that interview with Leach last night is the closest to a public condemnation as we may get from Stoops.
Loyalty only means so much when your job is on the line. And even with that major buy-out, Stoops may indeed be coaching for his life.
This is only Partially on Mitch Barnhart
Anytime something goes awry with an athletic program at Kentucky; the AD gets the spotlight pointed directly at him. Sometimes that is fair, and sometimes it isn't. This is a case in which I think it isn't fair. Partially.
We all believed Stoops was the right hire, and he still may be. He talked the talk; he walked the walk with the facilities and the recruiting, and he has a name that means something in football. Barnhart was universally applauded for this hire, so those criticizing him for it need to stop.
Where Barnhart does deserve to be questioned is in the contract extension he gave Stoops immediately after beating a fading South Carolina team at home. At the time, we didn't know the Gamecocks were fading, and we all thought that the worm was finally turning. Barnhart acted on emotion and locked Stoops up in a deal that may have handcuffed him in the future.
But again, how many of us thought the extension at the time was a good idea? After all, good football coaches don't stick around at small or marginal programs. Wehn the big boys come calling, it's difficult to resist their siren song. But Barnhart should have been a little more cautious. He is paid a lot of money to make those decisions. Little did he know that season would collapse. And so would the following one. And this season may have collapsed before it even started. But maybe he should have been a little more pragmatic and waited until a bowl game was achieved.
Cool Off on the Replacement Coach Talk
I have been very critical of Mark Stoops and his staff recently, but that doesn't mean I don't want him to succeed. I like Mark Stoops a great deal. I think he has done more for Kentucky football off the field than any coach in my lifetime. He deserves all of the credit for that but his success on the field has so far been lacking.
He is the coach at Kentucky right now and deserves our support as much as our critiques. Nobody wants to see this team fail. While it may be hard to support them, and I'm lumping myself in with this lecture, it has to be done for the sake of our program and the athletes.
I take great umbrage with anyone compiling a list of coaches to replace Stoops at this juncture in the season. I didn't like it when people did it while Joker Phillips was in his final season and I don't like it now. A popular radio show host read his short list of coaches on air, and I found that to be in extremely bad form.
Mark Stoops isn't going anywhere for the time being and may not be going anywhere for seasons to come. Therefore we need to cool off on the replacement talk until Mitch Barnhart makes the final decision on Stoops.
Is Trae Young Kentucky Bound?
Usually, whenever John Calipari hones in on the point guard he wants for his class, he gets him. Rarely does Calipari miss? He targeted John Wall, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, Andrew Harrison, and De'Aaron Fox: they all committed.
The only miss one could point to was Emmanuel Mudiay. But Cal got Tyler Ulis, and I would say that all worked out fairly well for all involved except for Larry Brown and SMU.
Cal has placed his laser focus on the 2017 phenomenal point guard Trae Young. Young just hosted Cal and Kenny Payne for a visit and by all indications that went really well.
Kentucky's main competition for Young will come from Lon Kruger and Oklahoma. Young is a native of Oklahoma and actually lives in Norman. But if I were to put money on it right now, I would go all in on the side of John Calipari.
Young was the MVP of the Peach Jam this summer, and when he went head-to-head with fellow point guard Quade Green, Young absolutely dominated him.
If Cal can get Young to commit before the spring signing period, the all-important 2017 class will have its centerpiece around which to build.