Kentucky Football: Is New Head Coach Mark Stoops The Answer?
Why Mark Stoops?
I won't bore you with too many details about Stoops' career, that's why we have Wikipedia, but I will tell you what makes him an attractive prospect for the Wildcats in the defense-focused SEC.
For those who don't know, Stoops has been a defensive coach for the last 20 years, focusing mainly on the secondary, and has had stops (among others) at Miami (Fl), Arizona and most recently at Florida State, where he has orchestrated one of the top defenses in the country. As the secondary coach at Miami, he had a hand in the Hurricane teams that made consecutive national championship games, winning one (2001).
This will be the key to Stoops' success at Kentucky, as Lexington has long proven to be a tough place to bring in top recruits. Stoops has proven to be an excellent recruiter over the years, and has brought in future all-pros such as Phillip Buchanon and Ed Reed, showing he not only has a talent for recruiting, but the ability to turn them into NFL talent, which is an extra draw.
Recruiting brings me to my next point, as Kentucky has struggled to beat it's in-state rival both on and off the field, something that irks the fanbase. This season, they even managed to lose to little Western Kentucky. Stoops has to start rolling up the wins against the Cardinals (and Hilltoppers), both on the field and in recruiting, even more so now that UL has joined the ACC, increasing its profile.
It may sound like a no-brainer to suggest that Stoops needs to surround himself with a quality coaching staff, and the Kentucky AD needs to help out here too ($$$), but there is a temptation for quality coordinators to attempt to look after their chosen field themselves. This might work for some (and I mean a few) experienced head coaches, but when you're learning on the job, the less you have on your plate, the better. An outstanding and creative offensive coordinator is also a must.
Change the Culture
I'm not going to be so crass as to suggest that the Wildcats have a deep-seated culture of losing, but there is definitely a sense of merely competing for bowl games and not trying to knock off the big boys of the SEC. Working towards changing this belief will go a long way to image of the university as well on the recruiting circuit. Mississippi have been mocked for believing they belonged at the top, but I can't say I blame them. It sure won't happen overnight, but it has got to happen.
So with all this in mind, it remains to be seen if Stoops is the right man for the job. He's certainly qualified, lack of head coaching experience aside, the biggest concern is whether he sees the Kentucky job as a stepping stone, or is he here for the long haul.