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Can losing streaks be contagious?

Kentucky’s defense had trouble stopping MIssissippi State early in last week’s loss. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

A lot of coaches have trademarks in their careers that for some reason seem to follow them around. Like, for instance, some coaches are involved in a lot of overtime games or they seem to always have teams that build a big lead and then have to hang on to win. Or maybe they seem to have a knack for losing to undermanned opponents that they should easily beat. You can probably think of your own examples of each type of coach.

Well, I was thinking about Mark Stoops and this Kentucky Football team’s recent three game losing streak and it struck me that Mark Stoops, as a head coach, attracts losing streaks. He just does.
If one were to look back at his record at UK one would see that Stoops had a four and five game losing streak in 2013, his inaugural season at Kentucky. In 2014 his team finished the season on a six game losing streak and in 2015 he experienced a five game losing streak during the last seven games of the season.

The 2016 season was a little bit of an anomaly in that only two losing streaks of two games each occurred but in 2017, that bowl team finished the season on a three game losing streak. Even the 2018 team that won ten games had a two game losing streak — losses to Georgia and Tennessee back to back — during the middle of the season.

Now, in his seventh season, Stoops is again in the throes of a three game losing streak. It seems like too much of a coincidence to think that there is not something going on there that attracts losing games in bunches.
So I wondered, does it happen to other programs in the SEC?

I checked South Carolina, a team similar to Kentucky. They play in the same division and attract similar type recruits. Only in one season, 2015, did South Carolina have a losing streak of more than two games. That time period covers the last two years of coach Steve Spurrier’s era and the first three years of Will Muschamp’s time as the Gamecocks head man.

I also checked Missouri, a team that has been up and down over that time period with two coaches – Gary Pinkel and Barry Odom. In only three seasons has Missouri experienced a losing streak of more than three games – all during Barry Odom’s coaching tenure.

Last of all I looked at Mississippi State, a team that is similar to UK in its recruiting and overall standing in the SEC. Over that time period of 2013 to 2018 Mississippi State had two coaches – Dan Mullen and Joe Moorhead. During that six year time period Mississippi State has only experienced one season with a losing streak of three games or more and that was in 2016 when Mullen’s team finished 6-7. That team had a three game losing streak in the middle of the season.

So what gives? It’s easy to see that Kentucky under Stoops has had more than a coincidental amount of losing streaks of three games or greater over the seven year Stoops era (I am including 2019 because UK already has a three game losing streak this season). Is there something about his coaching style that causes players to lose confidence once the team loses a game? Does he press too hard after a loss and that leads to more losses? Maybe because he seems to be a risk-averter he begins to pull things in much tighter, take less chances and players feel that and begin to feel the pressure of losing.

I’m not sure what the answer is but it seems like each year Kentucky fans should expect to experience some type of losing streak during the season. Even the phenomenal team from 2018 couldn’t avoid it when they lost to an abysmal Tennessee team after losing in a home blowout to Georgia.

Hopefully as Mark Stoops gains more experience as a head coach he will see clues about why his teams tend to hit rock bottom after a big loss and can’t seem to get going again and figure out how to stop the slide. In the interim, as fans, the best we can do is not lose heart when it happens, continue to support the players and hope that they figure it out more quickly this time than they have in years past.

1 comment

  1. I think certain coaches are just gifted. Some have it and some don’t. Football is X’s and O’s teaching, but a huge part of the game is passion, desire, and motivation. Also holding players and assistant coaches accountable every day, every game.

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