The 2016 season was a wild one for Kentucky football.
The Wildcats got outscored 27-0 in the second half of Week 1 to lose to Southern Miss, got blown out at Florida, then turned around and scored an absurd 62 points against New Mexico State.
Then they managed to get four SEC wins, and somehow, some way, they beat the Louisville Cardinals to win the Governor’s Cup. They also went bowling for the first time under Mark Stoops, which is almost an afterthought when you consider all the other insanity.
It was Mark Stoops’ most successful year at Kentucky, no doubt. But it could have easily gone astray and turned into Stoops’ final season, at least according to ESPN’s Marty Smith, who said on Finebaum that Stoops told him he knew he’d be fired if the team didn’t beat Mississippi State that year.
Interesting. Marty Smith on the Finebaum show said Mark Stoops told him he knew he’d be fired if UK didn’t beat Miss. State in 2016.— Derek Terry (@DerekSTerry) July 17, 2018
“What about what Mark Stoops said about winning? There was a crossroads in 2014 (it was actually 2016), he told us, he knew — what game was it? (Mississippi State) either I’m winning or I’m fired. He knew it. I’m winning or I’m fired.”
This may be true, but it doesn’t really make a ton of sense for the higher-ups to put pressure on Stoops for that game. The Wildcats were coming off a 20-13 win over Vanderbilt, and had already defeated South Carolina a few weeks prior.
UK still would have made a bowl game had they lost to Mississippi State (though it wouldn’t have seemed like it at the time). I suppose it makes more sense if you consider the fact that Stoops was yet to beat Mississippi State, and it was one of the most winnable SEC games on the schedule that year. Perhaps Stoops thought he was going to be fired eventually, like after the regular season, if they didn’t beat the Bulldogs, which makes more sense. That was a must-win game at the time, so losing it could have proved fatal in the long run.
Now, if Kentucky had put pressure on him to beat South Carolina in 2016, that would have made a whole lot more sense. The 2016 season was a disaster before that win, and many thought that Stoops was coaching for his job the night that his Wildcats pulled off a 17-10 upset over the Gamecocks.
Nonetheless, Stoops got the job done. And he made his future a little more concrete with seven wins that year. You could argue that he hasn’t had to coach for his job on any single Saturday since then.