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Why Does The UK Coaching Staff Struggle To Develop Quarterbacks?

Gunnar Hoak has never really had a chance to show Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow what he can do in a game.

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

It’s an interesting dilemma for the UK football coaching staff, but somehow they’ve got to figure out how to make it work. Make what work, you ask? Player development at the quarterback position.

Their goal of course is to win every game they possibly can. That means keeping the best players they have on the field as much as possible. But they also have to develop younger players to step in for a least a few plays each game — and sometimes for a half or the entire game — to give the starters a rest and to develop those players for future starting roles on the offense or defense. Except in the case of the quarterbacks.

And therein lies the rub.

With the recent announcement that third string quarterback Danny Clark will transfer to a new school next year, the quarterback position once again next season could become that position that has every fan holding its breath every time the quarterback takes a hit.

It would appear likely that Gunnar Hoak — who is on schedule to graduate in the spring — could also transfer to another school in hopes of getting a better opportunity to play. If he did he would have two years of eligibility left as a graduate player and would not have to sit out the mandatory one year for transfers.

That scenario would leave UK with redshirt  junior Terry Wilson as the starter, redshirt freshman Walker Wood as the backup and two newcomers in true freshman Nick Scalzo – who is rehabilitating a knee injury and most likely will redshirt as a freshman in 2019  — and true freshman Amani Gilmore.

That doesn’t seem to be a comforting scenario to be tasked with playing an entire SEC season with one experienced quarterback and yet it seems to continue to happen at UK. Beginning with the transfer of redshirt junior Maxwell Smith in 2015 to redshirt junior Patrick Towles and redshirt freshman Reese Phillips in 2016 and senior Drew Barker deciding to transfer and then giving up on football all together in 2018 there has been a revolving door at the quarterback position at UK.

During the middle of this season after the Vanderbilt game Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said that he wanted to get Gunnar Hoak prepared to step in and play if need be. Stoops said, “We’ll have a plan and we’ll work Gunnar pretty extensively this week and have him ready to play as well.” Unfortunately it didn’t happen. Gunnar was inserted in a couple of games for a few plays but not enough to develop any meaningful experience and in the few plays he was in the game he did not look prepared to play.

Stoops also said that he wanted to get redshirt freshman Danny Clark in the games as well. Clark was a former Ohio State commit who changed his mind as a high school senior and signed with UK. He never really received an opportunity to show what he could do. Stoops said about Clark, “you got a big, strong guy back there where you can do some Q run game but he also has a very live arm. He can throw the football. You could build a little package here and there off of that.” That’s sounds very similar to what Georgia is doing with quarterback Justin Fields and what Alabama did with Jalen Hurts. But it never happened at UK. And now we see another transfer by another Wildcat quarterback and that’s not a good thing for UK Football.

Recent events in this year’s SEC Championship game and last year’s National Championship game have shown that sometimes it’s necessary to have more than one experienced, capable quarterback to play effectively in college football. Georgia has done it, Alabama has done it. They both won their divisions and played in the SEC title game. There is no reason why Kentucky coaches can’t do it.

In fact Mark Stoops said after the Vanderbilt game, “I owe an obligation to the rest of our team to put us in a position to win games so you have to have other guys ready to play.”

But it hasn’t happened yet. It didn’t happen in 2016 or 2017, and it hasn’t happened this year. Until it does, this Kentucky football program will struggle to win games if the starting quarterback goes down with an injury.



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  1. If getting other QBs prepared is what Stoops wants and it has not happened, the Stoops needs to look no further than a mirror.
    Yes, this does fall on Gran, but Stoops has to make sure it is happening.
    I do not think Gran and Stoops are on the same page because if you remember, when Stoops said that about getting Hoak and Clark ready, Gran made the comment, “We’ll see.”
    I would fire Gran in a heartbeat after that comment, even quicker for the fact that his offense has gotten worse every year.
    Gran will be the cog that holds Stoops back if Stoops does not correct the problem.

  2. I don’t see the problem.

    Terry Wilson has developed very well over the course of this season.

    1. The problem is where is the body of evidence that Gran/Hinshaw have really coached anyone up since coming here? Did Wilson improve because of his talent or was he actually coached up by the coaching staff?…we may never know. Is there any other quarterback that has been coached up? I can’t think of any.

  3. All teams struggle with this issue! For every Alabama that has a quality backup, there are hundreds that have an unknown at back-up. Look at Louisville this year, they tried everyone and nobody could help. If you have two quality quarterbacks, the non-starter will most times look to transfer to play. In a perfect world, you have time to develop two quarterbacks! Kentucky is not living in a perfect world.

  4. Clemson has had 4 QB’s transfer in the last 3 years and these were 4/5 star QB’s. Our margin for error in the SEC games we won was thin. We miss the big play explosiveness of Boom, Badet, and Juice. We do have Bowden now and Ali is developing. As one bb coach said, you just can’t microwave the kids. Gran and Hinshaw have done an exceptional job from what I’ve observed. They took a skinny JUCO QB whose heart was bigger than an elephant’s and turned him into a winning SEC QB. The game Gran called when we were 28 pt underdogs to that Louisville team, with a Heisman QB, was masterful. How can you fault the calls and execution on the winning drive at Mizzou? We are adding explosive playmakers this next year in Robinson and a couple-three of WR’s. Ali and Epps are maturing. We will finally have an experienced QB. What I find noteworthy is that we were able to beat Fla at Fla, Miss State, and Mizzou. These are good SEC teams. It was obvious that Tua was hurt in the SEC championship game. Saban left him in the game until he just couldn’t go at all. Why did he wait so long? The last 3 years the focus has been on doubling down on preparing one QB to win games. It’s worked. The problem has been not having time to get a second QB ready to go with game experience. All I know to do is keep working at it. The mental part of the game at QB can be daunting. Right now I think Wilson is rated as the third or 4th best in the SEC.

    1. Jalen Hurts was the Alabama starter long before Tua was even in the discussion, but their coaching staff had Tua ready when the time came. So, they have two capable SEC QB’s now. That is what many of us are trying to say here. UK did not have a backup with any real experience in 2017 or 2018. Don’t forget Drew Barker, who at one time was a 4 or 5 star QB recruit that turned down Spurrier for Lexington. He quit football altogether. I have my own thoughts on that too. I often ask why after so much promise and fanfare? Yeah I know he was injured, and that did not help his cause, but who else was ready behind Stephen Johnson last year? These UK coaches have done some things well, yes, but developing QB’s is not one of them IMO. Who will the backup be next year? If Wilson goes down early, who steps up? Plus if they sign Nick Skalzo, that just means another piece of the puzzle for Hoak to consider in his decision to stay or go. Clark is already gone isn’t he? The problem for UK football is that every game is a struggle, even against mid majors. They don’t have much of a chance, score wise, to run in a backup in order to get him game experience, with live bullets flying. Don’t tell me experience don’t matter.

  5. Who was the “experienced” qb when this past season began ? There was no one that filled the bill ! Gran and Hinshaw took a failed Oregon/juco kid and turned him into an SEC qb who is more than capable. Be honest with yourselves and admit that the head coaching/recruiting positions, with the exception of the Rich Brooks era, was less than attractive to the five star athletes that other conference schools prior to the Stoops tenure. Stoops seems to be the guy who can, and will, change that. His staff is more than capable and as the Gran game plan vs. The ’17 Louisville bunch was masterful, both in concept and execution (thanx William, I had forgotten ? ) . “Duped by Stoops”or “Ditch Mitch and Rich”! What fools these lesser mortals be.

  6. Next year we all get to see if Stoops can duplicate or exceed the won/lost number he posted in 2018. I think it will be a real challenge. He loses a ton of leadership and talent off this team, especially in the secondary, not to mention Josh Allen. As for developing QB’s at UK, Gran/Hinshaw need to up their game IMO. Hoak never did get a square deal, and Wilson was OK, but not all world. We will see how he develops in 2019. Stoops had no answer for Tennessee, and that seems like an every year affair. I will leave it at that.

  7. This one subject that shouldn’t have been brought up. Just my opinion !

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