By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
“Impatience can cause wise people to do foolish things.” That is a very profound quote from Janette Oke, a nationally known novelist that also helped create the “Love Comes Softly” TV movie series on the Hallmark Channel.
Her quote is so true. And it covers so many areas of life. I think back to how many times I have done something quickly, taken a shortcut, paid less to get what I thought was a great deal, only to find out that my impatience had caused me to do something foolish.
All areas of life, to be successful, require long periods of dedicated effort in the appropriate direction to achieve lasting success. There are no shortcuts. No substitute for hard work. A foundation has to be built. That requires a great amount of effort, attention to detail and the grit and resolve to keep going when the process becomes difficult. Building a successful football program is one of those areas of life that demands a solid foundation be built. It has too.
We’ve all seen football programs that popped up on to the national college scene with flashy offenses and defenses that had various exotic schemes that always took “get rich quick” type chances hoping to create havoc for their opponents. Without naming schools I can think of several right now.
The problem with those “get rich quick” type football schemes — the ones that their football foundations are being built upon — is that they don’t last.
They are like a Lombardy poplar. For those that aren’t familiar with a Lombardy poplar it is a tree that grows very quickly at six feet per year — six feet! — straight up. But the problem with this tree is that it grows so fast that it is very susceptible to setbacks and diseases and usually dies in 15 years or less. Not much of a foundation built with that type tree. Contrast that with a slowing growing Burr oak tree — it grows one foot per year — but can live to be 400 years old. Solid foundation. Great root structure. Year after year it can weather the storm and keep growing.
A football program is the same way. It takes a solid foundation. It can’t grow too quickly. Offensive and defensive schemes have to be fundamentally built on solid play in the interior. A solid recruiting base has to be established. Training facilities have to be built and upgraded. Players have to spend years learning their positional technique from skilled coaches. A pipeline of talented players must be recruited and developed over several years to build a program.
All of that effort leads to a solid football foundation. One that, like the oak tree, can last a long time. That’s what Mitch Barnhart had in mind when he hired Mark Stoops. That’s what Mark Stoops has in mind when he hired Vince Marrow, Eddie Gran, Brad White and the vast number of other coaches and support staff that are building a football foundation at UK.
Recently there has been a lot of discussion in the national media about UK Football. After the graduation of some key players will they fall back to be the old UK football program that has a historical losing record or will they continue to climb the ladder of success that Stoops and Company are building?
Conor O’Gara, senior national columnist for Saturday Down South, believes that Mark Stoops is building a solid foundation. He recently said this about Stoop’s Kentucky program: “I think that Mark Stoops is going to be the next Dan Mullen. I think that what Mark Stoops is going to be able to do at Kentucky is going to be similar to elevating the program in the way that Mullen did at Mississippi State.”
All of it built on a solid foundation. Slow, steady growth. Each year building a stronger root structure that helps the tree to stand for a long time. Doing the right things the right way.
O’Gara went on to say, “I think that Kentucky is going to replicate something like that where we see them in the top 25 on a yearly basis. I think that they really will make that next step forward with Mark Stoops. I think a lot of people look at this program right now and think they’re just a flash in the pan and I think they’re here to stay and I think they’re going to surprise a lot of people in the 2020s.”
Like that oak tree, Mark Stoops is building something at UK that will last. It’s not a flash in the pan. It’s built on solid football fundamentals. Stoops always talks about respecting the game, playing physical and playing strong in all three phases of the game. And it’s not just talk. His teams have been doing that. Last year’s 10-3 record and a Citrus Bowl victory are proof positive of a football program headed in the right direction. So are his recruiting efforts each year.
So at some point in the future, about this time of year, when all the football prognosticators begin to talk about SEC Football and who will be a contender in the East and West Divisions, Kentucky will be mentioned and then maybe even selected as a team to beat in the East. But until that point — and it hasn’t arrived yet — Mark Stoops will continue to stand his ground in a changing football world like a steer in a blizzard and stick with what he knows best — building a winning football program based on solid football fundamentals.