Kentucky wide receivers coach Michael Smith’s first meeting with Mark Stoops came under fierce circumstances back in 1989 when the two squared off on opposing sidelines.
29 years later, the two are back on the same field, except this time they’re going to be on the same side.
Smith — a former receiver for Kansas State — played against Stoops when he was player for the Iowa football program. After that time, Smith found himself near the Stoops family as he worked with Mike Stoops on the coaching staff at Kansas State.
Years later, he’s on the staff with another Stoops, this time with the UK football program. He was announced as the new WR coach back on Jan. 26.
“I’ve known the Stoops family since I was 18-years-old around 1989 when Bob Stoops was on the coaching staff at K-State,” Smith said on Monday. “Mike Stoops and I worked together at Kansas state and I played against Mark Stoops my freshman year when he was at Iowa. I was a freshman receiver at Kansas State and we played each other. I got to meet the family and played with a bunch of guys that they knew at Kansas State. I’ve always been really involved with their family.”
Smith talked about his matchup with Mark back in the 1980s. He would line up on the outside and Coach Stoops would be lurking in the back end as a defensive back.
Mark got the best of Smith.
“He was a deep safety. I was in the slot and he was way back. He didn’t want to cover me,” Smith said. “But I will say that they beat the crap out of us that day. It was one of those days where he probably played the first half and then didn’t play much after that.”
This time around, they will be game-planning on how UK’s wide receiver’s will beat opposing team’s defensive backs.
As a new coach beginning his new journey with the Wildcats, Smith is still getting used to his receiving, but his past on the recruiting trail led him to interact with some players in the group already.
The first player on campus Smith met was senior wide receiver Dorian Baker — who missed the entire season due to a leg injury. The next receiver Smith interacted with was Tavin Richardson — who caught 27 passes for 371 yards and one touchdown this past season.
”I brought in Dorian Baker because I’ve heard that Dorian is the older guy of the group. I knew Tavin Richardson from recruiting. I brought him in and I picked is brain about what he thought about the receiving corps and the team because I want to help these guys chase their dreams individually, but I also want to help them realize that we have to do it as a team,” Smith said.
Last year, UK’s strength on offense came from the running game in Benny Snell. Stephen Johnson struggled at times to connect with receivers and the Wildcats had a hard time searching for a wide out that would step up as the go-to guy in passing situations.
Smith is looking to turn the receiving core into a strength for the UK offense.
”My biggest thing with these guys is that I don’t want anyone to ever look at our position group as a weak link,” Smith said. “My deal is to challenge those guys to give me everything that they have both on and off the field to become the best football players and best people that they can become.”
Mark Stoops wants his offense to have the complete package on offense — a consistent running game and the ability to hit open guys down the field. How do the Wildcats improve on that end of the field? The answer was simple from Coach Smith.
”I’m going to challenge them,” Smith said. “This is a team sport. When you’re running down the field to get open, what do you think Benny (Snell) is back there doing for you guys? He’s blocking trying to protect the quarterback so that you can have an opportunity to catch a pass, so it goes both ways and it’s a team sport. You have to really believe that and dig into that and make these guys understand that when your opportunity comes you have to take advantage of it.”
Smith said, when he watched UK play on television, he saw the team playing hard and competing on every down. In the end, he wants his receiving core to simply just fight on every play.
”You see guys out there competing. I think if you can get your team to do that, and to keep making progress each year, I think you’re headed in the right direction and that was something I obviously wanted to be a part of,” Smith said.
Follow UK men’s basketball and football blogger, reporter Jay Siskin on Twitter: @jaysiskin