There are certain family names that carry weight in sports. Griffey or Ripken in baseball. Ryan, Manning or Harbaugh in football. Thompson in college basketball. Earnhardt in NASCAR.

So it is with Stoops in college football. Mark, in his second season at the helm in Kentucky, comes from a strong lineage of coaches. If anyone is “born” for a certain occupation, it’s Stoops.

His father, Ron Sr., was the coach at Cardinal Mooney High School in the football-crazed town of Youngstown State. The eldest brother, Ron Jr., is currently the linebackers coach at Youngstown State. Bob is currently the head coach at Oklahoma, where he’s been since 1999 and has won a national title. Mike is currently the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma, but prior to arriving in Norman, he was the head coach at Arizona where he took the Wildcats to three consecutive bowl games.

Now Mark gets his shot.

It’s often been understood, though, that it’s basketball first in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky, with the exception of a few bowl appearances under Rich Brooks in the mid-2000s, have been a perennial doormat in the SEC for the better part of two decades.

On Dec. 2, 2012, Stoops took over a Wildcat program that had seemingly been run dry under Brooks’ successor Joker Phillips. Even at Kentucky, fans appeared to have had enough.

Stoops’ mantra is “attack every day.” He’s done that in his two seasons with the Wildcats. He’s an intensely-focused man, yet a man with vision. He sees the big picture.

His first coaching gig was as a graduate assistant at Iowa, his alma mater. Later coaching stops included a four-year stint in the prep ranks followed by stops at South Florida, Wyoming, Houston, Miami (Fla.), Arizona and Florida State. Stoops engineered defensive turnaround at each of the last three stops, where he made his name as one of the best coordinators around.

But this is Kentucky. No coach has succeeded there since Bear Bryant. Stoops looks like he could be the guy to restore pride in Kentucky football and actually keep fans’ attention on his program even after basketball season starts.

Stoops and his staff have recruited in a way no one in Lexington has ever seen. Director of athletics Mitch Barnhart and the administration has pledged money to the program in what feels like the first time ever. But there’s a number hanging over Stoops’ head, and subsequently that of his program.


As of Saturday’s matchup with Vanderbilt, it will have been 1,032 days since the Wildcats won an SEC football game.

It’s already hard enough to win at Kentucky. Extending that number to 1,033 will only make it more difficult.

Stoops is changing the culture, though. He embraces the love of basketball; he builds Junior Days and recruiting visits around the success of Wildcats basketball coach John Calipari. Kentucky fans, for the first time since heralded quarterback Tim Couch signed his letter of intent, anxiously await National Signing Day in February.

The youngest member of one of the premier football families understands basketball is king at UK. But he also knows Big Blue Nation has been faithful to a football team that has not rewarded its patience.

“Basketball deserves the attention,” Stoops told Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples in a February interview. “They’ve been good for a lot of years. But at the same time, our fans are still starved for football.”

Let’s see what kind of chef you are, Coach.