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Jemal Singleton introductory press conference

Kentucky adds another assistant from the NFL ranks.

Jemal Singleton UK Athletics

The Kentucky Wildcats have a new special teams coordinator and running backs coach.

On Thursday, the school officially announced the hiring of Jemal Singleton, who spent this past five years coaching running backs in the NFL with the Bengals, Raiders and Colts.

Shortly after, Singleton hopped on Zoom to meet with local media for the first time. Here is a recap of what he had to say via UK Athletics.

Jemal Singleton

On what attracted him to the Kentucky position…

“Obviously, some of the connections that I had down here. Brad White is a guy that I respect and have worked with in the past and know what he’s been doing down here. Two years ago, I came down to a pro day. I think (Benny) Snell was working out that pro day, came down and worked him out and I remember walking through these facilities and didn’t realize Kentucky had what they had going on here, so there’s just a lot of really good things that made me want to come down here. It’s going to be the easiest move I’ve ever made in coaching, which obviously is a bonus but just talking with (Coach Mark) Stoops and what he’s got going on down here it was definitely something that I wanted to come be a part of.”

On the transition from working with one Sean McVey protégé with the Bengals to another in Liam Coen at UK…

“I think there will be some similarities of course with different terms that are used but then there’s also going to be adjustments that are made to each system. We made adjustments in Cincinnati and there will be adjustments that are made here but just the basic concept and some of the schemes that we’ll be doing, definitely there are going to be some similarities. So that part obviously was intriguing as well. Understanding the system, kind of knowing what the system was going to be installed down here definitely helps to kind of have some background in that already.”

On his special teams philosophy…

“I think the first step you always take is really assessing the personnel that you have as they allow you to do certain things. Being a special teams coordinator in the SEC is fun but also at all my stops in the NFL I have always been kind of involved with that whether it’s the returners, whether it’s just different aspects of the special teams, it’s just something that I’ve really enjoyed being a part of in the past and excited to be able to continue to do that here. Specifically, schematically what will we do? When we get through those evaluations and process of kind of what we have already here in the system, what we’ve got coming in, I mean obviously we’re losing a really good punter that was pretty impressive to watch. I think what he did in the bowl game is still one of the top highlights, to be able to step aside from that and avoid a block, but there will be some things that we do. There’s some very good schematic things that have been done here already and obviously we want to build on those and continue those things going as well.”

On UK’s returning RBs and what type of skill set he looks for in RBs…

“I know that guys that are in the room and I got a chance to watch them play in a bowl game and in some other games as well. That was an intriguing part of it, knowing that the room is pretty solid. I’ve been fortunate in my career to be in some pretty good running back rooms both in college and the NFL and seeing the traits that this room has here was exciting and I can’t wait to work with these guys. As far as what I look for in a running back that’s probably one of the things that I love the most about this position, it comes in so many different sizes and shapes. I don’t care if you’re 5-9, I don’t care if you’re 6-1, you can be an effective running back and be very explosive and do a lot of those things. Just at my last stop you had Joe Mixon who’s a 6-footer, big strong guy and then there’s (Giovanni) Bernard right behind him and he’s a smaller scatter type back so it really a lot of it just depends on that type of player. There’s some specific skill sets that I look for. For me, short area quickness is huge I think, being able to make a guy miss whether it’s running over or shake him is extremely important. How do you get those extra yards on a carry? If you say yeah well what height do you look for? I don’t look for any of that I look for football ability, football movement and there isn’t one specific trait that I think lends itself to success more than another. A good example I like to use is Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a player that got drafted first round to the Kansas City Chiefs. If you want to base it off of his 40 time you probably don’t touch him. I think he ran a 4.6-plus 40 time but he can make a guy miss in a phone booth and I think that’s the part is how do you make guys miss and do you have a skill to do that? It can come in a lot of different sizes and shapes.”

On using his NFL experience in recruiting…

“I’m a better recruiter by trade now. The fact of the matter is a lot of these young men, that’s what they aspire to do. They aspire to go to the NFL and now I have that understanding and that knowledge of the entire process. I’ve sat in the draft room, I’ve sat in the official interview rooms with guys, I’ve sat at the train station and talked to them, I’ve been on the field during the drills at the combine multiple times, so I know all those steps in this process. I also know some of the things success-wise you have to have in order to gain that success so I think it just helps me in recruiting a lot more, just builds on kind of the type of recruiter I am that now I have this whole other part of recruiting known that maybe some other position coaches don’t.”

On whether he had a previous relationship with new OC Liam Coen…

“Our paths haven’t crossed but we’ve worked with some common people. Obviously where I was last year with Zac (Taylor, Bengals coach) and he worked with Liam, and then our assistant o-line coach knows him from his Maine days but, no, our paths never really crossed. We’ve talked obviously before this actually transpired and we kind of got our thoughts together and just kind of get a feel to see if we can definitely match so that we will obviously schematically there’s some common ground there that becomes very important when you’re talking about installing a new offense. It’s maybe one less guy that has to learn the system in that regard. I’m really excited to work with him. I hope it’s later than sooner if I’m being honest let him make a good run there in the playoffs and then get here as soon as he can but just really excited to be able to work with him.”

On specific things that caught his eye about what Stoops has done at UK…

“I think it goes even further back than (my NFL time) to when I was a position coach at Oklahoma State coaching running backs there when Mark kind of got the job and I just remember looking at what he started doing recruiting wise and just some of the social media aspect. This is years ago now, we’re talking the 2011 kind of time frame where I was at Oklahoma State kind of moving on so early in the whole social media outlook and I saw him doing some things that really stuck out to me even that far away and then come down on the pro day and in seeing the amount of players that were definitely NFL talent that he had built together and put together and you don’t get that done if you aren’t recruiting well, coaching well and you aren’t doing things in the building. You looked around at the facilities and that’s one of the good things, I’ve traveled all over to different campuses, to different pro days so I’ve been through a lot of college campuses throughout the past few years in the NFL and I was kind of blown away by what’s going on here. If I’m being honest, I didn’t know much about Kentucky football at that time and definitely my eyes were opened at that point. When you look at those things whether what administration is doing, providing the facilities for the players, providing the outlets for them on social media, the recruiting aspect of it and then you talk about the wins, I mean the things that he’s been able to do since he’s been here has been awesome. I think being up the road - I actually live in Northern Kentucky - hearing a lot more about Kentucky football just made opened my eyes even more.”

On what made him want to return to college coaching…

“I’m a college coach at heart. There’s a part of coaching college football that really appeals to me. (It’s) the recruiting process, the helping a young man develop not only as a football player but as a person, meeting families and those type of things. So deep down, that’s always been something that I love and enjoy. Really, my opportunity go to the NFL, was to be able to become a better college coach, a more productive college coach and really spend a little bit more time on the football side in the X’s and O’s aspects of it. You mentioned what brought me to Kentucky and it was just the opportunity here. My family has fallen in love with Kentucky and you’ve got to understand, I’ve lived everywhere in the world. I was born in Turkey, my mother was British, I lived in England for about 10 years, lived in Germany, spent some time in Italy, lived in Texas, bounced around a bunch of places and Kentucky hit us. Now, my wife and daughter are big into horses so obviously that’s a big factor but you know just the state of Kentucky in itself was amazing and then as I mentioned before I came down here to a Pro Day two years ago and was just amazed and the fact that Brad White was here and we worked together with the Indianapolis Colts and actually back in my alma mater at the (Air Force) Academy and just listening to him talk about the structure of things it was like ‘man, they got it going on down there.’ When this opportunity presented itself I said ‘hey, I think maybe it’s time to get back into college ball and do something that deep down you truly love.’

On how his military background incorporates into his coaching...

“I just I think when you look at the environment that I grew up in and I’m talking just at home, I just think it’s such a unique dynamic. My father, an African American man from Baton Rouge, Louisiana down in South and then there’s my mom, this posh British lady from England, and you just talk about the dynamic in that itself and then you start adding my moving around and all that. I had to learn how to make friends quickly and I think that happens for military brats, as that’s what we call ourselves, as you move around, you learn that come about three years, you’re moving and you’re going to a new school and you’re going be in a new place. I loved it. Some of the places that I’ve seen and that I’ve got to view in person as a kid growing up, is unbelievable. I think really that’s helped me with players from a lot of different walks of life. I’ve experienced a lot of different things and I think it just allows me to connect to each player individually on a different level no matter what their background, no matter what their upbringing. I just really feel it has been giving me that opportunity to communicate with those guys and build those relationships. Obviously, the foundation of the military life, of traveling and moving and the foundation of my home, and really, not by anything that I did, but just that environment that I was able to grow up in, has lend itself for me to be an effective football coach.”

On if he has a specific recruiting area he’s would like to focus on...

“Everywhere you go there’s different systems. I’ve positioned recruited, I’ve area recruited, I’ve done a mix of both in my years coaching. Obviously, starting at the Air Force Academy, a national program, you have to recruit the entire nation in order to get the amount of viable candidates you need that can get into school academically, let alone capable of playing Division I football. I like the process. I think at the end of the day, I don’t care where you recruit. I don’t care how you recruit. It will always be about the relationships you make, from the family, from the young man, from the high school, from the counselor from anybody that touches that young man’s life, it’s part of it. Throw me in South Dakota. I’m going to recruit South Dakota. Throw me in California, I can recruit California. Again, at the end of the day, it’s really about building relationships.”

On how he envisions the special teams coordinator piece of the job...

“The return game is are always going to come down to the return. If you’ve got a great returner, chances are your return game is good. It’s really not unlike any other position group. If you’ve got a really good player, you find different ways of how to highlight them. Really, you highlight them with the 10 other players that you surround them with. So, you look at the skills, the skill set, the install, the basic schemes of the return game, how to block, how to be in position, those details that sometimes get overlooked but fundamentally are so important into that return game. It’s building that system that you have. It’s finding a guy that’s capable of doing it. I don‘t care what level you’re at, returners are hard to find. The NFL level, as you go through and you evaluate at all the college players, punt returners are different animals. I think part of that is in recruiting. It’s having an eye for not only that this guy is a great receiver, or this guy is a great running back, but it’s, he’s got some special-teams ability as well. I think that’s the biggest thing and the biggest point I hope to make to guys on the team is at the NFL and if that’s the level you want to play at, you’re going to play special teams. That’s part of it. When you look at the number of players that are activated on game day well, if you’re the No. 2 or the No. 3 on any position group, you’re going to find your way on one of the teams. I think it’s just getting those guys to buy in. I’ve been that college guy where I said ‘I’m the starting running back. I shouldn’t have to do this return game.’ It’s changing that mindset and realizing this is another piece that makes me valuable not only to my current team but potentially to who I may get to play for in the future. It starts with your returner and working with those guys and helping them build the fundamentals that they need to have and then obviously the 10 guys that you surround them with and how they do fundamentally.”

On the offensive line ...

“I’ve played the position obviously and coached the position for a lot of years. One thing will never change, those guys up front are the most important piece of the run game. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. You can have some great backs that can do some really good things but when you’ve got a great o-line that’s up in front of him, it hands down makes the run game go. Obviously, my excitement level with that, watching those guys move around and seeing them move guys off the ball, it is huge. I mean, I’m a running back. I’m a running back by trade. I love running the football. I love my guys having success running the football and it all starts with those guys up front. You’ll see me giving those guys as much love as I possibly can because I know they make this engine move.”