HOOVER, Ala. — What a magical run Kentucky had last season — Mark Stoops’ program won 10 games for the first time since the 1970s and beat Penn State in a nationally televised New Year’s Day bowl game. Now it’s time for the Wildcats to crawl back into the SEC cellar.

That’s the narrative many are writing when it comes to Kentucky but every member of the program that came through Hoover for 2019 SEC Media Days on Thursday was quick to downplay that theme as inaccurate based on the progression of the program during their time in Lexington.

“We are the only team in the country in the last six years that hasn’t taken a step back,” Mark Stoops said at Media Days. “We’ve stayed the same or improved each year for six years and we are the only ones that can say that and what are we doing now to make sure that doesn’t happen this year.”

Based on the success of the program, it was only natural that other programs would attempt to raid Stoops’ staff. While the Kansas City Chiefs did manage to lure defensive coordinator Matt House to the NFL, the program found a way to keep offensive coordinator Eddie Gran from leaving Lexington. Even more impressive, Kentucky kept the assistant away from a division rival.

When Jim Chaney left Georgia for Tennessee, one of the coaches Kirby Smart reached out to join his Bulldog staff was Gran. Losing a key assistant is never easy, but losing one to a division rival would have been devastating to the perception of the Wildcat program.

The fact that Gran is back in Lexington for another season to coach and develop quarterback Terry Wilson and a retooled offensive line could prove to be the difference between Kentucky taking another step forward and taking a step backward for the first time in seven seasons.

“I do think that’s important,” Stoops continued. “You have a quarterback that was in his first year and that’s really going to help him. It’s really important to have Eddie back, he’s a fantastic coach, he’s a great leader and he is a great playcaller.”

Potentially learning a new offense could have been tough for Wilson but now that he’s back in Gran’s system, Stoops is expecting his QB to take another step this fall.

“We talk about Terry, he’s set to make a big jump,” the Kentucky coach added. “We had a formula last year that gave us the ability to win 10 games, in position it win some others. This year that may change. You don’t know how it’s going to look. You have to adapt and change to each team you have and Coach Gran does a great job of that.”

In addition to the continuity on the offensive side of Kentucky’s staff, offensive lineman Logan Stenberg claims Gran’s decision to turn down Georgia has inspired the players to play that much harder for him.

“It gives us another reason to work hard and play hard for him,” Stenberg said at Media Days. “Coach Gran is just an awesome person, I could not ask for a better OC. He is there whenever you need him.

“He had an opportunity at Georgia but we are so glad that he stayed here. It really shows how much he loves this team and how much he believes in us.”

That sentiment was echoed by the team’s leading receiver, Lynn Bowden. Having the advantage of continuity combined with the respect level between the players and coaches set up the Wildcats to take a step forward on offense this fall, despite the loss of the school’s all-time leading rusher to the NFL.

“Everything is about chemistry. I think that’s why Coach Gran didn’t leave,” Bowden said. “He had the chemistry with us. He built a bond and relationship and he has with the whole team. That’s my guy. I really respect him for doing that.”