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.