Last week, your humble columnist mentioned that fan dissatisfaction with Kentucky’s 7-3 (now 8-3) season might well be an encouraging sign of progress for the program. So here’s another encouraging sign — people want to hire Mark Stoops.

Again, obviously, all the trappings of success are not pleasant. Kentucky fans, some of whom were recently bemoaning Stoops’ coaching against Mississippi State or Tennessee, will live in fear that Stoops could depart for Baton Rouge or Gainesville or elsewhere. Is it justified? Well, yes … and no.

Why UK fans should be afraid

Stoops came on board at what was objectively perhaps the 13th-best job in the SEC coaching tier in 2012 (and Vanderbilt had James Franklin then, so you could argue UK was the 14th-best job). After a horrific first year that clearly wasn’t his fault, with the exception of a few minor hiccups (2015, 2017), Stoops has improved Kentucky’s program on a consistent basis. He’s outlasted several high-priced head coaches at schools much higher in the SEC pecking order. He has recruited as well or better than Kentucky ever has, has sent more players to the NFL than Kentucky ever has, and generally has given the program an air of respectability.

Stoops’ strong suit might be his adaptability. On multiple occasions (2016 and 2019), Stoops lost his starting quarterback and had to oversee an offense making massive in-season adjustments. He helped both teams make bowl appearances. In that same 2016 season, he transitioned between defensive play-callers during the season and watched the defense that was horrific to start the season finish the regular season by forcing multiple turnovers from the Heisman Trophy-winning QB (Lamar Jackson) in an upset of his Louisville team. Stoops has replaced every member of his staff at Kentucky except recruiting ace Vince Marrow. And on goes UK’s 6-bowl streak.

Why UK fans shouldn’t be afraid

Loyalty is a two-way street. Coming into Week 3 of the 2016 season, Stoops was 12-26 in Lexington. There were a few rumbles, there were moments of frustration when the 2014 and 2015 seasons had multiple early wins only for momentum to fade down the stretch of the season. But Kentucky stood by its man. Two years ago, Florida was in an NY6 bowl. Two years ago, LSU was about to win the national championship. The work Dan Mullen and Ed Orgeron did is now forgotten, which is why either or both schools might want to hire Stoops.

But here’s another thing — Stoops isn’t, well, a sexy hire. An excellent coach? Yes. A superb recruiter? Certainly. But glamorous? Not a chance. He’s a defensive guy who has largely transformed UK’s program by getting the Wildcats into a ton of 1-score games and then finding ways to pull out more than his fair share of those games. That’s not what LSU or Florida are looking for. You could argue that the Tigers or Gators are spoiled. They don’t just want to win, they want to do it scoring 50 points per game and putting up Heisman Trophy winners at quarterback. At Kentucky, that’s very much secondary. The Wildcats have generally been a program that would gladly accept 17-14 wins forever.

And perhaps the final point, which encompasses the others above, is that while there might be a few jobs that would legitimately tempt Stoops to leave, Florida or LSU don’t really fit the profile. Money? Of course, both have plenty. Stoops has been pretty well taken care of in Lexington in that regard — he’s noted to be 15th in the country with his $5.25 million salary. Prestige? Sure. But Stoops seems like the type of coach who if he wants to leave (and that is an if), he’d probably want a culture that would appreciate grinding for wins and would look for long-time stability.

Stoops is an alum of Iowa, and that is the kind of job which could tempt Stoops. Run the ball, play defense, win 8-9 games a year, and in general, the fan base would be inclined to keep you around a few decades — consider Kirk Ferentz or Hayden Fry. Penn State and Ohio State are jobs that are within the footprint of Stoops’ own youth and recruiting base. Granted, the latter is in pretty good shape now, and James Franklin could be around a while (or not).

All in all, Kentucky fans should be aware of the possibility of Stoops at least considering other jobs. But they also should be aware that they have rolled out at least something approaching the red carpet and given Stoops millions of reasons to stay in his new Kentucky home. Will that be enough? There’s reason to think so.