I feel like I have to preface this lest I come across as one of those crazy, deranged, Kentucky Wildcats football fans that are calling for Mark Stoops to get fired after leading Kentucky back to respectability and a pair of bowl games. I like Mark Stoops. And I appreciate all that he has done for the University of Kentucky, and while culture change was not part of his job description when he was hired at Kentucky, he has changed the culture, so much that fans like me are calling for more after two winning seasons.
Let's be honest. The current malaise with Kentucky Football is not all of Mark Stoops' fault. This program took a huge stumble when they decided not to do a thorough, national job search to replace Rich Brooks and instead tagged Joker Phillips as the head coach in waiting. There was nothing good that came out of this and Kentucky Football lost a huge chance to continue the momentum of what Rich Brooks had started.
Mark Stoops was given a chance to resurrect the dumpster fire called Kentucky Wildcats Football that Joker Phillips left, and for the most part, he has rebuilt this program back to the level it was when Rich Brooks left it, on the field that is.
Off the field, Stoops has done what Brooks could not do. He has literally redone all of Kentucky's football facilities and has given the Commonwealth a stadium and a look that screams they are an SEC team. And after that first season of 2-10, Stoops has restored this program to the level that Rich Brooks brought them too.
Despite all the praise and the saint-like status bestowed on Rich Brooks, he never won more than seven games in a regular season. For his last four years at Kentucky, Brooks went 27-21 in the regular season, 12-20 in the SEC, 3-1 in bowl games, and never beat Tennessee or Florida.
Stoops has gone 24-24 in the regular season, 12-20 in the SEC, 0-1 in bowl games but has a win over Tennessee. For that comparison alone, Mark Stoops has earned another year or two to see if he is the guy that can take Kentucky to the next level. It took Brooks three years of futility to get Kentucky to that breakthrough winning season, just like it did Mark Stoops.
So like it or not, Mark Stoops is going to be your head coach. However, he has to do more in 2018.
The main reason that Kentucky fans are impatient is that while Stoops has brought winning football back to the Bluegrass, his recruiting has been at an unprecedented level. With better players come more expectations and an increased demand for ... more.
While recruiting has been great, Mark Stoops has failed Kentucky at the quarterback position thus far. I know a lot of fans are critical of Stephen Johnson, but I am not jumping on that train, Johnson was not recruited as a savior of the program. He came aboard as almost an afterthought and has won more than the highly touted UK quarterbacks of the past such as Jared Lorenzen and a long line of others. Johnson played to the best of his abilities, and he led this team, and he played because he was the best quarterback on this roster.
If you are going to throw shade at Johnson, you also have to throw shade at Stoops who has failed to recruit an SEC caliber quarterback in his time at Kentucky. Blame it on scouting, blame it on poor recruiting and the inability of the staff to keep quarterbacks committed, but the quarterback position is at it's most unknown status entering Stoops sixth season as it has ever been. And that is firmly on Stoops.
Also, Stoops still has those coaching moments and struggles with clock management that are not typically there with a coach entering his sixth season. The defense is a mess, and this is inexcusable with the defensive bloodline that Stoops has.
And this is where Stoops must do more. And it has to start with this defense.
For the season, Kentucky allowed 28.58 yards a game and 4.7 yards per rushing attempt. The defensive backfield, once touted as NFL ready by fans, was a disaster. Opposing teams passed for 263 yards a game. These results in the fifth season of the defensive guru Stoops' run at Kentucky is inexcusable. Especially from the guy that sent several players to the NFL while at FSU.
A coach is only as good as his staff, and the blame for the state of this defense has to go to the defensive coordinator Matt House and the defensive backs coach Steven Clinkscale. For much of the Louisville game (and the season), the defensive backs were out of position, and the wide receivers were wide open. Let's not forget the Florida game where two wide-open receivers that scored touchdowns were the bulk of Florida's offense.
The one thing that Mark Stoops cannot do is move forward with this current coaching arrangement as this is arguably the most talented defense Kentucky has ever had and on the field, they are one of the worse. Stoops the defensive guru cannot be OK with this performance, and changes need to be made.
Fortunately, the fix is simple for Kentucky. The talent is there. They are being mismanaged. Either Stoops take more of a hands-on effort with this defense like he has done in the past or he brings someone in that can. I hate to call for anyone's job, but keeping this staff together is an endorsement of how this season played out and Stoops deserves what fallout that may come next year when we repeat this scenario all over again.
If you have been following the Florida/Chip Kelly situation, the dealbreaker was rumored to be that Florida maintains some control over what assistants Kelly would keep on his staff. If that is good for Florida, it is good for Kentucky and Mark Stoops.
Stoops' record at hiring assistants has been subpar at best, and it's time that Kentucky oversees this somewhat. It's been a revolving door of coaches for Stoops, and there has to be some kind of quality control as to who he brings in. I am willing to give Eddie Gran another year, but this defensive turmoil every year proves that Stoops can't be trusted to solely fill his staff. I'm not sure what role Mitch Barnhart plays in the hiring of these defensive coaches, but it is not working. And it cannot continue status quo.
That said, I am still rooting for Mark Stoops at Kentucky and would love for him to be around to enjoy the fruit of his labors. Critics will point to his subpar record after five years, but Kentucky fans can see the job he has done to get the Wildcats to this level. The big question is if he is the coach to take the program forward and if he is willing to do more.