Won't be much longer before Stoops is pursued by others
One could argue the head football coach at the University of Kentucky has one of the toughest jobs in the FBS, tasked with leading one of the nation’s biggest basketball schools in the nation’s single best football conference.
It’s a perpetual uphill battle, and no coach has covered more ground in less time than current UK coach Mark Stoops, who has UK at 5-1 midway through his second season in Lexington.
If you thought those results would go unnoticed, you’re either naive, unintelligent or in denial. Stoops has turned the program from perennial laughing stock to legitimate contender in the blink of an eye, and schools with greater resources and worse results on the field would love for Stoops to do the same for their programs.
It’s only a matter of time before schools come knocking at Stoops’ door trying to sell him on a change of scenery. And not just any schools either — schools where football is the top priority, and where Stoops could be the most recognizable man on campus for a long time. Stoops has all the makings of an elite head coach, which, again, will make him hard to ignore for much longer.
He’s a dominant recruiter, which is a skill that translates to any level of the college game. The Youngstown, Ohio native has strong recruiting ties in Ohio, one of the premier prep football states in America. He also has strong ties in other football hotbeds like Georgia and Florida, and many of his best recruits over the last two years (such as Jojo Kemp, Boom Williams, Dorian Baker and transfers Javess Blue and Braylon Heard) have come from those three states.
Stoops also has name recognition thanks to his family’s personal coaching tree. Mark’s father, Ron Sr., was a football coach for many years in Youngstown, and his brother, Bob, has been the head coach at Oklahoma since 1999. Bob led the Sooners to a national title in 2000 and has been considered one of the premier coaches in America ever since. Even their third brother, Mike, has head coaching experience at Arizona in addition to years as an assistant at some of the nation’s biggest and best programs.
The Stoops family is known for its coaching success, and Mark has been no exception since arriving in Kentucky. He’s already confirmed he’s not the weak link in the family, and that alone will have other programs showing interest in his coaching services.
The Kentucky head coach has had success everywhere he’s been, be it at UK, as the defensive coordinator at Florida State, or as a defensive assistant at Arizona or Miami. There’s no reason for other schools to believe he can’t handle running their programs, and those schools know to trust Stoops before even gauging his interest in leaving UK for a new job.
Lastly, Stoops is a proven leader. He hasn’t just coached the Wildcats in terms of X’s and O’s, but instead has completely overhauled the culture surrounding the Kentucky program.
At the conclusion of his first spring practice in 2013, just four months after he was hired as head coach and before he’d ever coached a regular season game in the SEC, Stoops drew more than 50,000 fans to the Wildcats’ annual spring game. Kentucky hadn’t even pulled 10,000 fans the year before.
And after a 2-10 season last year, he still drew more than 35,000 fans to this year’s spring game thanks to his stellar recruiting and enthusiasm as Kentucky’s leader.
Suddenly, Kentucky is an emerging threat in the SEC East, and the school has rallied around its football program even as John Calipari and the nation’s No. 1 basketball program prepare to begin another national title chase. Kentucky will never cease to be a basketball school, but for the first time in a long time it’s willing to share its interests between the two sports.
That’s an incredible accomplishment for Stoops, who has brought dynamic athletes and an exciting style of play to Lexington to invigorate the fan base. And if he can do it at Kentucky and in the grueling SEC, he can absolutely do it at a school where football comes first in the realm of athletics.
Does Stoops want to leave Kentucky? If he does, he’s done a great job of keeping it a secret. There have not been any reports or even rumors of other schools eyeing him as a coaching candidate, but that won’t last for much longer. We don’t know what Stoops will do if and when that day comes, but if the day never comes it would only mean his success at UK came to a screeching halt.
Kentucky’s success under Stoops is unlikely to waver in the coming years, which means he will only become more appealing as a candidate on the national coaching carousel. Kentucky fans should be thrilled to have a coach other schools want, but it should also be prepared for his possible departure down the line. UK has the money to pay him, but he’ll never be equals with Calipari on UK’s campus.
Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Yes. After all, there’s still half of the 2014 season remaining, and Kentucky still has a lot at stake on the field. However, the phone calls from athletic directors are not far off, and the Big Blue Nation should enjoy its success on the gridiron now, because it might not last forever.