If that holds true, Kentucky must look for a new head coach for the first time in over a decade.
Kentucky hired Stoops in 2012, and UK had some highs and some lows while Stoops was the head coach, but now, a new coach will have to come through the doors to lead the program.
There will be plenty of options for Kentucky, but let’s go through a quick look at some candidates to start out if Stoops does in fact leave.
Another candidate to keep an eye out is Jon Sumrall, who played at Kentucky from 2002-04, along with being a graduate assistant and a part of the coaching staff again from 2019-2021 as the inside linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator for Kentucky. He has since left to go to Troy, where he has been very successful, going 12-2 in his first year is currently 10-2 this season. If Kentucky does this hire, you are more than likely able to keep your defensive coordinator in Brad White, who is another potential in-house candidate.
While it’s still very early, expect Jon Sumrall to be at or near the top of Kentucky’s coaching search list. One key reason is athletic directors love hiring coaches they’ve worked with (i.e. Mark Stoops and Ross Bjork).
Mitch Barnhart obviously worked with Sumrall from 2019-21 and was the AD during Sumrall’s playing days, so Barnhart likely has as good of a feel for what Sumrall can do as anyone.
All of this is why Sumrall to Kentucky makes a lot of sense, but this is merely speculation as of Saturday night.
A second candidate could be Dan Mullen. He had a successful head-coaching run at what was viewed as a lower-tier SEC program in Mississippi State from 2009-17. That stretch included five seasons of 8+ wins, three years of 9+ wins, and a 10-3 year in 2014 that ended with an Orange Bowl loss to Georgia Tech.
Most recently, Mullen had a mixed bag of a stint at Florida from 2018-21. He went 21-5 over his first two seasons with wins in the Peach Bowl and Orange Bowl, then went 13-10 over the next two and was let go. Many people have complained about his lack of recruiting. If he can recruit at a high level, then it would be a great hire for Kentucky.
Mullen is currently an analyst for ESPN.
Say what you will about Mullen, but we’ll say this: Kentucky is probably not going to attract a coach with a better career Power Five coaching record of 103–61 overall.
Kentucky could hire internally and make Liam Coen, who is the offensive coordinator at Kentucky, become the next head coach. If that happens, Kentucky will have a chance to keep its monster recruiting class from the class of 2024. Plus, a new offense could be born this offseason, if Kentucky does go this route.
Obviously, there are rumors that he could be coming with Stoops to Texas A&M. And hiring someone with no head-coaching experience is always a huge risk. Mitch Barnhart made that mistake with Joker Phillips, but he nailed hiring Stoops when his highest experience was being the Florida State defensive coordinator.
Current Kansas Jayhawks head coach Lance Leipold could be another hire for Kentucky. He has helped to change the program from a perennial loser to a borderline top-25 program in three short seasons while there. He started out 2-10, then 6-7, and now 8-4 in 2023.
Leipold has been able to quickly turn a program around, and that is what Kentucky will have to do with their next hire if they want to stay relevant in the SEC and not become bottom dwellers again.
Hopefully, Mitch Barnhart and the University will make the right hire after what Stoops was able to accomplish here in the 11 seasons at the program. Those are some of the options, but obviously, there are more candidates Kentucky can/will consider.
We will update this post as more names emerge.