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Eric Wolford introductory press conference

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“To have the opportunity to be with Mark (Stoops) at Kentucky is special to me.”

Youngstown State Red v White Spring Football Game April 13, 2012 David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats’ regular season ended two weeks ago, and Mark Stoops has wasted no time in shaking up the coaching staff.

Shortly after hiring Liam Coen to be Kentucky’s next offensive coordinator, Stoops tabbed Eric Wolford to be the new offensive line coach. Wolford had the same job at South Carolina since 2017.

On Thursday, Wolford had his first meeting with Kentucky media to talk about joining Kentucky’s football program. Here is a recap of what he had to say via UK Athletics.

Opening Statement

“Obviously, my family and I are excited to come to Lexington. I’ve been impressed with what Coach Stoops has built there. Back when I was the head coach at Youngstown State, his brother, Ron Stoops was on my staff so I’d get updates on how things were going. After I came from the 49ers I’ve had a chance to play (UK) the last four years and I can tell you it’s a blue collar, tough, disciplined football team. Just really impressed with everything (UK) has been able to and obviously that says a lot about the administration, the commitment that has been made to football with the staff, facilities and development of players. Very excited about the opportunity to come back north and be a little closer to my family in Ohio.”

On his knowledge of Coach Schlarman and following his footsteps…

“First of all, John Schlarman is very well-respected in our business. I’ve met Coach Schlarman several times on the recruiting trail and when you coach in the same conference you have the opportunity to see his offensive lines play against other teams. You always watch film of common opponents and I’ve always been impressed with what John has done. The running game has been impressive. The running backs have been impressive. More than that, just the person he is. The way he handled himself the last couple of years going through the situation he went through, he was going to stick by his players and that says a lot to me about what kind of person he is. Everyone I interact with that knows John personally talks about how wonderful his family is and his kids. It’s heartbreaking, quite frankly. I can tell you this, John Schlarman is going to continue to have a presence in our meeting room, in our position group. I can assure you that. I welcome his family to be a part of my family and our offensive line group if they so choose. We’d welcome that.”

On how his time in the NFL made him better college coach…

“I think there are two things that have taken place in my career that have made me a better coach: One, when I was the head coach at Youngstown State I was there five years, you learn to appreciate assistants who handle their business. Meaning, they take care of their recruiting, their position players, handle their grades, not in trouble off the field and developing them as young men. When I had the opportunity to go to the NFL and sitting through two drafts I found out real quick that there are a lot of things college guys don’t know that NFL guys are looking at. Can they play multiple positions? First night of my career, I’m all excited and we’re playing the Minnesota Vikings. How many offensive linemen were suited up to play? Seven, and five were starters. You have to train guys to play multiple positions. You can’t just be a center. I learned that in the NFL. I also learned about taking care of your body, finding the right kind of guys. These NFL teams follow these players (on social media) when they’re a sophomore. You think it’s a beautiful blonde girl but guess what, it’s not. It’s somebody working in the 49ers office seeing if you want to get together and party this weekend. They know everything about you. You’ve got to let your players know that.”

On expectations from his O-Line…

“You want to find guys who have length, have athleticism, will put their face on you. That means in the running game they’ll block you. You want to see guys fly around and play with high energy. You need guys who aren’t sensitive. What does that mean? When things don’t go well everyone wants to attack the offensive line and when they do people don’t always want to credit the line so you can’t be a sensitive player. It’s a very unique group of people who have to keep an even keel. You have to do things off the field too, that means getting in the weight room, taking care of your body, getting proper sleep, rest, hydration, those are all parts of the equation. At the same time I think you’ve got to be a student of the game. If you just flip a switch and turn off (football) when you leave the building, you’re making a big mistake. When I was with the 49ers I was amazed at how much time those guys were in there on their own watching film and studying. There was no coach in there. It takes that kind of commitment. You have to teach them that and explain that to them. Some guys don’t know. It’s all part of the preparation process. There’s so much more that goes into being a great player than just your God given ability.”

On whether he’s met with the new signees…

“You’d love to walk in and have five starters back, who wouldn’t? When (South Carolina) played (UK) I was looking at your team and they’ve done a great job recruiting. They’ve gotten in the weight room with Coach (Corey) Edmond and Coach (Mark) Hill so I see players who have muscle mass on their body. They’ve been trained. Who’s the next man up? I can’t speak to that but I trust that Mark (Stoops) has done a terrific job. With the recruiting class, just having watched them on film, it looks like they’ve signed an outstanding group of players. You look at (the signees) and those guys are really good football players, obviously special. I think they’ve done a great job of finding guys that football is important to them, they play hard, play with passion and those are the same characteristics I see when I’ve watched Kentucky’s offensive line play.”

On the process of figuring out where guys will play…

“You have to solidify the center position. That’s the position that handles the football and at the end of the day we need to have three guys who can play center because the last thing you want in a game is to have your center hurt and then you have a tremendous drop off. That’s the quarterback of your line. We’ve got to find tackles. You have Kinnard, who is supposed to be a returner, and then an open spot. You have to ask yourself what you’re asking them to do. What you’re doing schematically has a big part of that. The guard position, you want guards who can also play center and in an emergency go out to right tackle. If there are four open spots we need to find eight players who can play and do what it takes on and off the field to be a great football player.”

On recruiting area of expertise…

“I would say it depends on what organization I’ve been with. When I was at Illinois I used to run from Toledo to Columbus and did very well there. We’ve done well in Ohio. Vince (Marrow) has Ohio on lockdown so we’re good there. I have recruited Florida and Georgia in the past and done well. Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and then Kansas with the junior colleges. When I was out west I was in L.A. quite a bit and then Houston was my primary area. I think Mark (Stoops) has a footprint that he wants to specialize in and obviously has done a very good job in recruiting and getting the right guys in there. There is a five- or six-hour limit you want to try and stay within but I feel good about the product we have to recruit to and it’s an attractive place right now. Stoops is knocking down doors right now. Let’s call it the way it is. You guys absolutely knocked out Tennessee, blew them off the map (this year) and then Florida, beat them a few years ago. It seems like every year they’re knocking down a door and I think it’s just a matter of time before they break through.”

On the Stoops name and Youngstown connection…

“Coming out of high school a guy named Bob Stoops recruited me. Everyone knows him nowadays but Bob was just a DB coach at Kent State and I went to a rival high school in Youngstown – I am undefeated against rival Cardinal Mooney in high school – he tried to get me to come to Kent State and then over Christmas break Coach (Bill) Snyder hired him at Kansas State so he talked me into taking a visit there. Kansas State, at that point, had not won a game in three years. That means 0-33. He said, ‘Hey Wolf, I can bring you out on Tuesday and fly you back on Thursday so you don’t miss your visits on the weekend.’ I said, good. What’s funny is one of the visits was Kentucky when Coach (Jerry) Claiborne was coach. I visited Kansas State just to get out of school. Long story short, we turn the program around, Bob goes to Florida with Coach Steve Spurrier, I met Mark and Mike hired me at Arizona.

“To have the opportunity to be with Mark at Kentucky is special to me. You’re talking about a blue-collar family. One thing you have to understand about Youngstown, the people are blue collar, loyal and passionate. Those are all great traits to have as a person and the opportunity to be with Mark is just something I look forward to.”

On if there are different styles in the offensive line or is it consistent across the board ...

“One of the things that Liam (Coen) and I talked about this morning is there are two guys on the Ram’s stuff that are close friends of mine, Thomas Brown and Kevin O’Connell. Kevinn O’Connell is the offensive coordinator and Thomas Browns is the running backs coach. I worked with Kevin at the 49ers. He’s going to be a young, upcoming head coach here soon. Thomas Brown is the guy that I worked with here at South Carolina and he got a job at the Rams. They obviously watch our games, so they know some of the things we do. They’ve been impressed with what we’ve been able to do. Our running back this year, with a stacked box pretty much every play, is currently leading the SEC in rushing, Kevin Harris. That’s something you have to find ways to creatively do as an offensive line coach because if you don’t have the things you need necessarily in the passing game, to get the safeties and play back, you have to be creative and create angles for your offensive lineman. I think every college football program in the country runs inside zone, but I think you have to have more of variety these days because people are catching up to that.

“I think some of the things that I’ve brought here to South Carolina and that I learned with the 49ers and that I did at Youngstown, some of the stuff that you saw Chip Kelly doing, the pin and pull scheme, some of that stuff that obviously playing you guys Mark (Stoops) has seen and Mark likes it, Alabama’s running it now, has become a popular play in our league. Also, another play they call a duo where you have two double teams at the point of attack, the back reads the linebacker and wherever the linebacker goes he goes opposite. The play actions off that are really, really good. Same thing with the pin and pull scheme. Then you look at the wide zone. My first year with the 49ers I was with Jim Tomsula and Kyle Shanahan. Those guys are the masters at running a wide zone. So, if you have that kind of variety along with the counter that way people can’t just sit on you and play just basically an inside zone or one-back power team. Once you have play actions off of those plays, you got that one support player down the box you obviously want to get the ball behind his head and that’s where you need play action and throw the ball to that receiver behind that one support player’s head.”

On how much football in the SEC has changed from his first stint in the SEC until now …

“When I was here (at South Carolina) in 2009, I came here from Illinois and Coach Spurrier was traditionally an under center, two-back guy who wanted to run lead draw and run some inside zone and the toss play. He brought me here to implement the zone read, as we all know the zone read today. So, we brought some of those principles. It took coach Spurrier a good part of the year to fully adapt to it because it was new for him. We finally ended up making it go. I think the biggest breakout game probably was against Clemson when he ran the ball 53 times against Clemson and we beat them. That was a big win for him and that’s what started the five wins against Clemson. That was the first game that started that streak. Obviously, we did a good job here recruiting here as we had Marcus Lattimore and players like that. I think at that time you started to see people start playing in the shotgun. Now you look at our league, there’s a high percentage of teams that are playing in shotgun pretty much every play and they have, for the most part, running quarterbacks with at least some kind of mobility that you can make the defense be accountable. You look at Mike Leach coming into the conference with a completely wide-open Air Raid. How long is that going to be in play? I can’t make that judgment or that decision. You’re also look at other teams that are starting to spread out. The University Alabama is in 11-personnel and are in spread sets quite a bit, they have a tight end attached, but they are in spread. The University of Georgia, who used to line up and pound you, they’re playing in spread sets, so you’re seeing that transition. Tennessee is starting to spread out more. You’re seeing all those things take place because the mobile quarterback can make people defend the whole field. Now I think you see more pressure on the defense.”

On his recruitment to play at Kentucky out of high school …

“We had an interesting visit to say the least. We went to Rupp Arena and we stayed in the Hyatt which was connected to the hotel. It was a fancy hotel. This place was nice. My mom loves horses so she was excited about being Lexington. I was really impressed with the facilities and I went over to the training table and I was just so impressed with what Kentucky had back then. This was back in the fall 1988. Jerry Claiborne tried to put the squeeze on me in the office. My high school coach had a rule, this was the old day back a long time ago, that you were not allowed to ever commit on the visit until you get home. Basically, Jerry kind of told me that if I didn’t accept his offer he was going to offer the next kid that he was going to meet with and I really didn’t want to, but things all worked out for a reason. Obviously, the Stoops family, Bob (Stoops) and Coach (Bill) Snyder and his influence on me at Kansas State have been tremendous. It was a unique experience to say the least but I enjoyed my visit to Kentucky.”

On his impressions of Vince Morrow, UK’s tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator...

“I love Vince. I wouldn’t want to get in a wrestling match with him. Obviously, I’ve known Vince for a long time. Vince is great. He’s got a tremendous ability to relate to young men and their parents. He understands the recruiting process. I think that’s a big part of it. I think a lot of decisions are made these days, some about facilities, but more about relationships. I mean at the end of the day I always say this, ‘people make a place.’ Everyone in this league right now has fancy, shiny stuff. Where are the relationships? Mark and his staff have built tremendous relationships. I think also anytime you can jump in your car and drive to see your son play, or your family can, and it’s within four to five hours, have a weekend and go see your son play, that’s a big deal. I think where UK is located also is a tremendous advantage. You get some kids from the northeast, obviously. You get the kids from out towards Virginia and then you get some kids from the south, so you have a nice blend of players along with some Kentucky players there. That gives a nice blend of a football team.”

On how Kentucky’s defense has progressed over the last three seasons, specifically the defensive line...

“I can tell you this this, last year was the first year I really felt like we could compete with those guys up front. Last year we were fortunate. We were able to have some success and were able to run the ball 250 yards and that’s really how we were able to win the game. They are big guys up front. I think they’re well-coached, they’re strong. Their depth is strong, two or three guys can come in and there’s not a big drop off. This year has been different with the Covid situation. I think their ability to line up and stop the run is as good as anyone. I watched them against Alabama this year. Alabama’s a tough group to deal. I thought for most part fit things up and did a good job. When we played you guys, we couldn’t throw the ball so we just had to try to run it and you’ve got to find creative ways to try and run the ball. Their linebackers play well. They fit things. You can tell that schematically they know exactly what they’re doing. It’s very difficult to throw the ball. I think their defensive backs/secondary do a great job of playing with their eyes. When you factor all that in, I think there’s a reason why Mark’s (Stoops) considered to be one of the best in the country as far as defensive coach and head coach. At the same time, his staff does a wonderful job of finding the right guys and putting them in the right positions to be successful. It’s been impressive. I know when we play, it’s a pain. I don’t always say that when you line up and play something. It’s a pain schematically. Anytime you can line up schematically and take away people’s angles of the things they like to do, that puts more stress on your offensive linemen and they put stress on you. That’s the easiest way I can say it. I’m glad I’m on your guys’ team now. I’ve got to deal with it in practice but still I don’t have to deal with it on game day.”