It took Mark Stoops 19 years in the collegiate coaching ranks – and four more at the high school level – to get his first shot at leading his own program, but the new Kentucky football coach doesn't intend to alter the approach to the game he honed during those two decades.
Mark Stoops said he doesn't plan to change his approach to coaching very much as head coach
“My brothers told me, 'Be careful what you wish for,'” Stoops said. “But it's been great. It's different and definitely more demanding, a little more challenging on your family and things like that, but it's been a lot of fun. I'm not trying to be anybody I'm not. I'm going to be exactly who I am, try to be very consistent and try to do things right. We know we're not going to be perfect but I'm going to strive to do the best I can every day.”
Stoops began his career as a graduate assistant for Iowa in 1990, went to the high school ranks for a few seasons, then made stops at South Florida, Wyoming, Houston, Miami (Fla.), Arizona and Florida State before landing the Kentucky job. He has spent the past nine seasons as the architect of some of the nation's top defensive units and doesn't plan to veer off course from what has worked in the past.
But Stoops also understands wearing the head coach's cap brings with it a unique set of challenges.
“It's been different for sure,” Stoops said. “Until you get into it and start doing it, it is a little bit different. It is still an adjustment so I'm working extremely hard to stay disciplined with everything that we're doing. We have a plan for what we're going to do, staying with that, staying on track and don't vary from it.”
Kentucky staged quite the coup when it convinced Louisville Trinity (H.S.) defensive end Jason Hatcher to stay home and sign with the Cats instead of heading west to tradition-rich Southern Cal. The change of heart caught the attention of national recruiting analysts and could very well open what has traditionally been a closed door to arguably the state's most talented prep football program.
So how did Stoops and Co. manage to land a young man who openly mocked Kentucky football last summer and as late as December had no interest in the program?
“It's about relationships,” Stoops said. “It's about presenting a plan. How we're going to use him: things we've done in the past, the way our defense works, how he's going to fit into it. And again, we had to make up a lot of time in relationships and we spent a lot of time with Jason and his family, his mother, Donna, so we spent a lot of time and effort into that.
“On our last visit when I went into the home we brought four of us with us and we spent a good deal (of time). They were gracious enough to spend a bunch of time with us and they got a chance to see us and see what we're all about.”
SEIZING THE MOMENT
Kentucky's athletics department has often been criticized for a perceived lack of interest in marketing the football program, but it scored big when it decided to run a commercial during the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.
The spot aired locally – not nationwide – but was the talk of UK's fan base the day after the game. The commercial featured a darkened Commonwealth Stadium being inundated with a torrential rain storm while emergency sirens blared in the background. A recording of selected Stoops comments from his introductory press conference played over the video before information on season tickets flashed at the end.
It was seen as a significant step forward by the school's marketing team.
“I think that's a big part of it, to get it out there what we're doing, what our plan is, what we have going here at Kentucky,” Stoops said. “Our people do a great job. Since I've been here I've been extremely impressed with everybody I've worked with: the administration, marketing, compliance, everybody does a fantastic job. Again, it takes us working together and I want to thank them.”