Mark Stoops arrived at Nutter Fieldhouse to adoring fans, a 70-foot high banner, inflatable Kentucky football helmet and a digital video screen bearing his likeness towering behind the podium where he addressed his new home for the first time. It was quite the production for Kentucky's new football coach.
Neal Brown could be considered for Kentucky's offensive coordinator position
But one thing the first-time head coach made clear over his 45-minute introductory press conference was he knows his success will ultimately be determined by the staff he surrounds himself with and the players they can lure to what has historically been a challenging place to win.
“I believe I can bring a strong staff that will help building and recruiting,” Stoops said. “I believe in this administration to the commitment they're willing to make to the football program. With recruiting, quality staff, development, develop the players that are here, that we can take it to another level.”
The coming days and weeks will be filled with speculation about Stoops' staff. The rumor mill has already worked overtime focusing on his previous stop – Florida State – where Stoops could pillage the Seminoles' staff for both an offensive and defensive coordinator, as well as several position coaches. The former Florida State defensive mastermind declined to speak in specifics about names or anyone he might bring with him from Tallahassee, but said he would set out immediately to put together a quality staff.
That quest will begin on the offensive side of the football, where much of the speculation has centered upon Florida State offensive coordinator James Coley and Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who played at Kentucky in the late 1990s. Coley does not call plays at Florida State, but cedes that duty to head coach Jimbo Fisher.
“I'm planning on going out and interviewing a few offensive coordinators here real soon,” Stoops said. “I've been in conversations. I feel real good about the prospects for the offensive coordinator. So I'm going to head out on the road and talk to a few people, put together the offensive staff first.
“I feel very good about the defensive staff. I feel like I have my defensive coordinator targeted, onboard and ready to come. From there, it will really concentrate on the offense. I realize with my background in defense that the offensive staff and the offensive coordinator will be critical to our success. That's priority for me right now.”
Brown is an intriguing candidate, having lettered at Kentucky in 1998 and 2000. His current team, Texas Tech, finished the 2012 regular season second nationally in passing offense (361.9 yards per game), 12th in total offense (501.4 yards) and 16th in scoring at 37.8 points per game. Brown was a teammate of Tim Couch, who was part of the hiring process and who Stoops said he'd reach out to for advice.
“I think Neal is a hot candidate at a lot of places and I think especially with him being a Kentucky guy,” Couch said. “Neal was an old teammate of mine and he's went on to do great things. He's one of the hottest young offensive coordinators in the country right now. He does a great job so certainly if that's a route Mark wants to go I'd fully support that.”
Stoops' defensive prowess is well known in coaching circles, which is why he plans on taking his time making the right hire for the offensive side of the ball.
“We'll get out there and rip it around it a little bit, we are going to throw it,” Stoops said. “But you have to be creative. I'm a defensive guy. This is the SEC. It's a physical conference. I realize that. I want to be tough and I want to be physical. We have to build this foundation with great defense. There's no way around it. If you don't play great defense, you're not going to win consistently.
“But with the offense, again, I want somebody that has a plan, that's been successful, and we have to be creative. We will have a physical presence about us, but we will spread it out and use some bells and whistles, get the run game going and, again, be a little bit creative.”
When asked whether he would consider any assistants from former coach Joker Phillips' staff, including offensive line coach Mike Summers who was a nominee for the Broyles Award given to the nation's top assistant, Stoops said he'd evaluate that possibility.
“Absolutely you consider them,” Stoops said.