With the season opener upon us, we’re quickly approaching the start of the 2018 season! After another long layoff without football (for the fans at least), the Cats are now preparing for their opening game this Saturday.
Kentucky made a few moves with their coaching staff this off season. They let one coach go, added two new coaches and shuffled Dean Hood to a different role. Besides those couple of changes, the rest of Kentucky’s coaching staff remains the same from last season.
After another bowl berth last year, Kentucky is focused on reaching a third consecutive bowl game this season.
Let’s take a look at the coaches who will lead the team toward this goal in the upcoming season:
HEAD COACH: Mark Stoops
Kentucky’s fearless leader, Mark Stoops, returns for his sixth season as Kentucky’s head coach. Since he took over in 2013, UK is one of only two schools to have improved or tied its win total in each of the last five seasons. He’s been one of the most successful recruiters in Kentucky football’s history. This team has the potential to be the most talented team he’s coached at UK.
ASSISTANT HEAD COACH: Eddie Gran
Eddie Gran serves as the assistant head coach of the offense/offensive coordinator and is also the running backs coach. After coaching together at Florida State from 2010-2012, Gran teamed up again with Stoops here at UK two years ago.
Gran has done fantastic things for UK’s offense in his tenure here, especially with their running backs. In 2016, his first season at UK, he led Boom Williams and then freshman Benny Snell to more than 3,000 combined rushing yards. Last year, Snell rushed for 1,333 yards and 19 touchdowns.
This season, he’s got a ton of offensive weapons to work with, most notably Snell and CJ Conrad. It should be a fun offense to watch.
ASSISTANT COACH: Darin Hinshaw
This will be Hinshaw’s third season at UK. He joined the staff with Eddie Gran and serves as the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Like Gran, Hinshaw has worked serious magic with UK’s offense. He helped bring Stephen Johnson along in 2016 after Barker’s injury. Then, in 2017, he led Johnson to another successful season as the teams starter.
He’ll have a brand new QB this year after the graduation of Stephen Johnson. It’s never easy bringing in a new QB, but both the potential starters have a lot of talent and different skill sets. We’ll really get to see the strengths of Hinshaw’s coaching prowess with how he utilizes Gunnar Hoak’s arm and Terry Wilson’s dual threat ability.
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Matt House
Matt House joined Kentucky’s coaching staff two years ago as their inside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator, but was named their defensive coordinator in 2017. He took over the defensive play calling from Stoops after the promotion.
There have been some dominant performances by Kentucky’s defense under House, as well as some seriously ugly ones. UK’s run defense has excelled with House behind the helm, but their pass defense has struggled. Last season, they allowed more than 252 yards per game, the worst under Stoops.
Kentucky returns nine starters on their defense this season. Their defensive line and secondary come in as their deepest and most experienced. This year, UK faces a few of the top quarterbacks in the country against Missouri, Mississippi State and Georgia.
House’s defense will be exposed if they aren’t able to generate pressure and cover like they did last season.
ASSISTANT COACH - OFFENSIVE LINE: John Schlarman
John Schlarman has been with Kentucky since 2013. UK’s offensive line has improved each year under Schlarman. Even with a number of injuries to their line the last few years, his offensive lines paved the way for the record setting rushing numbers they’ve amassed in that time. Kentucky’s line lost two starters from last season, but added USC transfer EJ Price and redshirt freshman Naasir Watkins.
Sadly, Schlarman has been battling cancer and had undergone treatment recently, though he has continued to coach. When he has been out, Gran has helped more with the offensive line coach.
For now, it appears Schlarman will coach in the early-season games.
ASSISTANT COACH - DEFENSIVE BACKS: Steve Clinkscale
Steve Slinkscale came over to UK from Cincinnati two years ago. Like Stoops, Steve Clinkscale hails from Youngstown, Ohio. This season will be his third as UK’s defensive backs coach.
Kentucky’s pass defense struggled mightily last season, but their secondary returns a lot of experience. All four starters are back again for another year. Out of the returning starts, they get one of the top safeties in the country back in Mike Edwards. This unit should be much improved this year.
SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR/DEFENSIVE BACKS: Dean Hood
Dean Hood has over 30 years of coaching experience. He’s the most experienced coach on their staff. In his debut season as UK’s special teams coordinator, Dean Hood’s special teams unit made crucial plays all year. They finished the season with three total blocked kicks, all while not allowing a blocked kick or punt themselves.
Coming into this season, UK will have to replace their kicker Austin MacGinnis and return man Charles Walker. Both are massive losses. MacGinnis is Kentucky’s all time leading scorer and arguably the greatest kicker in school history.
It will be quite some time before UK will have a kicker even close to his caliber, if ever. For replacing Walker, they have the athletes, but it will be hard for anyone to be as reliable back there.
If anyone can handle the challenge of replacing these guys though, it’s Hood.
With the hiring of Brad White, Dean Hood will move from coaching Outside Linebackers to assisting Steve Clinkscale with the Defensive backs. He will focus primarily on the safeties, with Clinkscale focusing on corners.
ASSISTANT COACH - WIDE RECEIVERS: Michael Smith
Michael Smith is one of the two new hires for UK. Thomas is a twenty-five year coaching veteran with previous SEC experience as well. He came over to UK from Arkansas, where he served the same role from 2013-2017. He replaces last years’ WR Coach Lamar Thomas after UK decided not to renew his contract.
Smith was successful as both a coach and a recruiter at Arkansas. The Razorbacks brought in top 35 recruiting classes in every season with Smith, including top 25 classes in 2015 and 2016.
Kentucky brought in Thomas for the recruiting he showed at Louisville. They replaced him with an even better recruiter in Smith. As for the receivers he will be coaching, Dorian Baker is back after being out for the season last year. You can also expect an increased role from Lynn Bowden in his second year. Those two, plus the return of Tavin Richardson, are some nice weapons for whichever QB wins the starting role, which appears to be Terry Wilson, as Mark Stoops has announced he will start on Saturday.
ASSISTANT COACH – OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: Brad White
Brad White is the other first year coach on Kentucky’s staff. He spent the last six seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. He coached quite a few great linebackers during his Colts tenure. He will coach two more with NFL talent this year, Jordan Jones and Josh Allen. By bringing in White, they were able to move Hood to help coach defensive backs.
DEFENSIVE LINE COACH: Derrick LeBlanc
This season will be Derrick LeBlanc’s second year as Kentucky’s defensive line coach. In 2017, UK’s defensive line held six opponents under 100 rushing yards, the first time they accomplished that feat since 1949. It wasn’t all great for the D-Line though, they allowed an average of 239 rush yards per game in their last seven games.
This year, Kentucky returns a ton of depth on their defensive line. They’ll add even more whenever Josh Paschal is able to return from injury. Stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback is imperative, especially against the high powered offenses on UK’s schedule this season. We will see how LeBlanc is able to use a more experienced line this season.
TIGHT ENDS COACH: Vince Marrow
Vince Marrow has been serving as Kentucky’s tight end’s coach and recruiting coordinator since 2014. He’s helped UK have the best recruiting classes in their history in his tenure. He’s also done an excellent job with their tight end group. Kentucky loses Tight End Greg Hart, but CJ Conrad is back for his senior season after missing some time to end last year. Conrad will definitely be a huge focal point of Kentucky’s offense, both as a blocker and receiver.
They’ll also have TE Justin Rigg back, who’s missed a considerable amount of time with injuries. Marrow has stated before that Rigg is just as talented as Conrad. Fans should be excited about the prospects of this years tight end group under Marrow.
Kentucky has other graduate assistants and interns not listed here. The most notable addition of these assistants is former UK middle linebacker and team captain Courtney Love. He will work closely with DC Matt House and inside linebackers. It’s nice to see Love stick around. The insight and leadership he can provide will certainly make him an asset to the program.