A Kentucky assistant said reporters should be fired for wrong predictions, but his frustration is misplaced
In case you missed it, Vince Marrow is not happy. Like, at all.
If you’re an SEC fan and you don’t know that name, here’s a brief rundown. Marrow is Kentucky’s mild-mannered, 50-year-old associate head coach and recruiting coordinator (I’m basing the “mild-mannered” thing on the one time I talked with him for a story in which he was super pleasant and easy to deal with).
Like Mark Stoops, Marrow is a Youngstown guy. He’s been in Stoops’ corner since he arrived in Lexington 7 years ago. In other words, he’s been there for the lean years and he was there last year when Kentucky put together its best season in 4 decades.
So after all the blood, sweat and tears that Marrow put in playing his part to get Kentucky 24 wins in a 3-year stretch, he’s tired of not getting any preseason love. Marrow went on Kentucky Sports Radio and sounded off on the subject.
“I’m knocking down doors to national media because these guys are really pissing me off,” Marrow said. “It’s pissing me off.
“I was listening to Tom Leach and, those guys — I should stop listening to radio. I guess they said (Kentucky QB) Terry (Wilson) was the last-rated QB in the preseason? We should start a poll, and I’m going to talk to the BBN, just like coaches get fired for wins and losses, when all these reporters come out and say, ‘hey, this team is going 4-8 and this team ain’t gonna do that.’ If they’re wrong, they should get fired.”
On a totally unrelated note, it appears I might be looking for work soon.
Marrow didn’t even mention the fact that Phil Steele has Kentucky projected to miss out on a bowl game, or that none of the major publications have a team coming off a 10-win season starting in the Top 25.
I’m not going to dig too deep into the flaw in Marrow’s argument that reporters should be fired for wrong predictions. It’s just worth noting that there wouldn’t be any sports reporters anymore, and for what it’s worth, tons and tons of former coaches and players make their share of awful preseason predictions, too. Also, what about the oddsmakers? Because they play a part in preseason perception.
But I digress.
What’s noteworthy is that the “nobody believes in us” rallying cry from Kentucky’s historic 2018 season has since carried into the offseason. This isn’t just a fired up Benny Snell looking into the SEC Network camera after a huge win and telling people “keep doubting us.” This is Kentucky coaches saying “what’s it going to take for us to get some preseason respect?”
Yes, it’s Kentucky coaches* who are saying this.
A couple months ago, we had Mark Stoops on The SDS Podcast. Somewhat unprompted, he went on a bit of a rant about the lack of respect he feels his team is getting:
“What kills me now … here’s the beautiful thing this year that I love. Everybody’s doubting us now because ‘oh, we lost 16 players.’ I said, ‘A year ago, you didn’t talk about any of those guys. Nobody gave us any credit a year ago,’” Stoops told us in April. “So who’s the new 16 guys on this team that nobody knows or cares about or doubts?”
It an internal an external message that Kentucky, as the late Rodney Dangerfield would say, can’t get no respect. Clearly, that’s bothering them. Should it?
I can see both sides. On one hand, preseason polls and predictions don’t determine postseason success. Games do. The cliché “we don’t listen to any of that outside noise” line has been used by coaches for the last, I don’t know. Ever?
But at the same time, in a sport with an 8-month offseason wherein the majority of recruiting is accomplished, perception is important. It’s especially important at a place like Kentucky, which needed a perception change when Stoops arrived. That was the case basically in the 35 years before that, as well. The frustration that Stoops and Marrow feel for the lack of perceived perception change is frustrating when the only SEC teams who won more games in the past 3 years were Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Auburn.
Eventually, the “nobody believed in us” mantra turns into “hey, why doesn’t anybody believe in us?” There’s value in people believing in you. It’s easier to recruit, it’s easier to fill your stadium and it’s easier to get money from boosters who have probably been a bit basketball-focused since they’ve been writing checks to the university.
It’s ironic because the “nobody believed in us” mantra was a major reason Kentucky is at its current point. By recruiting and developing overlooked players like Snell and Josh Allen, Stoops is winning in Lexington the only way in which anyone really can win in Lexington. If everyone had Kentucky predicted for 10 wins last year, would they have had that kind of season? We’ll never know that, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Marrow’s comments came from a completely different place than most coaches who gloss over preseason expectations when asked. He’s not Nick Saban, who literally asked media members to start bringing up the negatives so that his team wouldn’t think it was perfect. Marrow isn’t even Ed Orgeron, who coaches at a program that won at least 8 games in each season of the 21st century.
What Marrow should really be frustrated with is that it takes a long time to change perception in college football. Great seasons happen at Power 5 schools all the time. In the past 11 years, Illinois and Kansas each went to BCS/New Year’s 6 Bowls. Two years later, they were each back to being irrelevant programs.
Am I saying Kentucky should be treated like those perennial cellar dwellers? No because I don’t believe the Wildcats are in for nearly as big of a drop as others do, and I think 7 wins is their new floor. But I can also at least understand why some aren’t ready to say a team that just had its first winning conference record since 1977 is suddenly one of the nation’s best after losing 2 of the best players in program history.
Stoops wants to be over that hump.
As much as he embraces the underdog role as this gritty, Youngstown (Ohio) guy, I think he’s tired of feeling like has to prove himself to the world. He exceeded expectations in each of the past 3 years and he took a team that many (including me) believed would win 5 games and he made them a borderline top 10 group. In the same way that elite programs are expected to “reload, not rebuild,” he wants to be in that place where public perception says it doesn’t matter what Kentucky lost because he’ll coach up the next group.
Maybe this the year when that happens. Perhaps 2019 is when Stoops joins the conversation after winning 9 games this year.
If any of us were in Stoops’ and Marrow’s shoes, we’d feel the same way. We wouldn’t all feel the need to publicly blame the media and argue that they should be fired for wrong predictions, but we’d all feel a certain amount of disrespect.
College football change is often a slow, drawn-out process. It’s unique in that regard.
Kentucky is finding that out the hard way.