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At times college football just doesn’t make any sense

Kash Daniel (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

Sometimes college football just doesn’t make any sense — and I’m not talking about the whole brouhaha over L’s down during the UK and U of L Football game. One which, by the way, UK won 45-13 in dominating fashion.

No, I’m talking about the many coaches in the SEC who are being relieved of their head coaching duties after their season finales. I’m also talking about the Athletic Directors at other SEC schools that seem to think great football programs are grown overnight. The reality is it rarely happens that way.

Like I said, it doesn’t make any sense. At least, not to me. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Arkansas fires Chad Morris after two years as their head coach. Two years. C’mon, it takes longer than that to figure out how everything works in the SEC.

And I know, I realize Morris was 4-18 as the coach over those two years but that shouldn’t have been a surprise to the Arkansas AD because his record at SMU was  14-22 when they hired him. Who did they think they were getting, Nick Saban?

Maybe that one is a little understandable but what about Missouri firing their Head Coach, Barry Odom, after 4 years. His overall record at Missouri was 25-25. That was the best first four year record of any head coach at Missouri in the last forty years. If Missouri had evaluated Gary Pinkel, the coach that preceded Odom, in the same manner they would have fired Pinkel before he had a chance to win three division titles in the Big 12 and two East Division titles in the SEC. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Now that brings me to my real point. What if Mitch Barnhart, Kentucky’s Athletic Director, like the AD at Arkansas or Missouri, had evaluated Mark Stoops in the same fashion? After two years Mark Stoops record at UK was 7-17 with a 6th and 7th place finish in the SEC East. If he had been Arkansas’s coach he would have been fired. After four years at UK Stoops record was 19-30 with one 2nd place finish in the SEC East. If he had been at Missouri he would have been fired. Keep in mind that Barry Odom at Missouri was 25-25 in four years as the Head Coach. His best finish was 3rd in the SEC East. Pretty comparable to Mark Stoops record at UK.

So the real point here is that as cliche as it sounds, if you plant an acorn an oak tree is going to grow. But it doesn’t happen over night. In fact it takes a lot of years to grow into a massive tree that can withstand the adversity of high winds and flooding rains.

It’s the same with a football coach growing a successful football program. It takes time to recruit great players, develop ones that come in as projects and create a culture of winning. That all takes time and as a few good things are occurring what is also occurring are the “high winds” of losing games you feel you should have won and the “floods” of losing players to injury or transfer, assistant coaches to other jobs and just plain mistakes by the players and coaching staff. But if the administration is willing to stick with it and believes they have truly planted an acorn then an oak tree will grow.

Mark Stoops is living proof of that.

Very few people (myself included) ever thought UK could win football games in the SEC by physically whipping their opponents at the line of scrimmage. But it is happening, regularly. Very few people (myself included) thought UK Football could ever overcome the culture that had been created from sixty plus years of mediocrity and losing. And if Mitch Barnhart had followed the path of his current day peers UK would have never seen these last four winning seasons or those two 2nd place finishes in the SEC East or a trophy for winning the Citrus Bowl. They would never have seen Benny Snell surpass Sonny Collins as the all-time leading rusher at UK. They would have never seen an NFL filled with former Kentucky players, including  watching Josh Allen become the consensus Defensive Player of the Year in College Football and No. 7 pick in the NFL Draft in 2019. And the accomplishments go on and on. Four bowl games in a row, most wins over a four year period since the Bear Bryant days, the magical season in 2018 that included 10 wins for the first time since 1977 and we all would have missed an amazing 2019 season that saw Lynn Bowden Jr come within a 100 plus yards of winning the SEC rushing title… as a quarterback… in only seven games.

So many amazing things have been achieved  by the UK Football program in years 5-7 of the Mark Stoops era. At most other SEC schools he would have been fired after his fourth year.

So like I said at the beginning, college football has become a crazy world. One that is filled with athletic directors and boosters that are “get rich quick” thinkers looking for the next Nick Saban clone. What they don’t realize is even Nick Saban, one of the greatest college football coaches of all time, had an overall record of only 25-22-1 in his first four years at Michigan State in his first head coaching job in a major conference.

Acorns don’t grow into oak trees overnight and there is no substitute in the college football coaching world for hard work, dedication to a winning plan and time.

So in this holiday season of thankfulness and giving Kentucky fans should be thankful for an athletic director that had the backbone to stick with a coach who had a winning plan and was working that plan and a group of coaches and players who have been giving everything they have over the past 7 years to turn Kentucky Football into a program that is respected for its toughness, physicality and ability to find ways to win football games. That hasn’t always happened in the past. In fact, almost never.

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  1. Terrific article, on a subject that has been dear to my heart relative to UK football for decades. Only recently has the UK brain trust made the real long term commitments to building a football program at UK rather than perpetual spinning of the revolving door of coaches.

    Kudos to Mitch Barnhart for leading UK to these changes in commitment with adequate coaches salaries, and first class facilities. Kudos to Mitch Barnhart for his commitment to his head coaches, not just in football but all sports at UK, and major Kudos to Coach Mark Stoops and his staff for working tirelessly to bring in quality young men into this program, coaching them and helping them develop into men on and off the field.

    I believe in earlier times, Mark Stoops would not have survived 7 years at UK. The grumbling among the fan base has never really stopped with respect to Coach Stoops despite his steady, annual improvement in this program. As recently as this season, his 7th, I heard many fans I know call for his firing, and openly wish that F$U would take him off UK’s hands.

    I have been a UK football fan since Larry Sieple’s fake punt on 4th and forever to beat #1 Ole Miss in either 1963 or 1964, and I have seen many fine football coaches come and go through this program and not a one of them ever satisfied enough of the fan base to sustain their tenure here.

    Someone recently asked the question, “Have they started to build the Stoops’ Statue yet?” Well, that may be a bit premature, but I have no doubt that someday, such a statue will appear.

    1. Agree 1,000 percent Professor

      1. Stoops has earned these kudos by bringing in good Ohio talent to Kentucky, and better instate talent, and talent across the board. His current staff are locked in, and UK football is in good hands now. Four straight bowl games is the evidence that UK football is for real. What started out as a complete overhaul in 2013 has turned into a program that is on the rise. Future recruiting success is the key to building a future SEC Champion.

  2. I have said in the past that I always thought the football program was light years behind to the elight teams. But now Stoops has narrow that gap to a point with up returning players and the recruiting that the staff has done. It just matter of of time we stay injury free and get the breaks in our favor Stoops will have us knocking on top.

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