By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
“I’m done with him.”
“Fire him now!”
“He does the same thing every year … he’s too stubborn. I’m over it.”
Sound familiar? Anyone ever heard these comments from fans about the current UK Football coaching staff? At the games, on call-in shows or social media posts? So have I.
The funny thing is those comments listed above didn’t come from any UK Fans. In fact they aren’t even about the UK coaching staff. They actually came from an article by John D Hunter in the Oregon Sporting News about Mike Leach, the current head football coach at Washington State. For those that aren’t aware, Mike Leach is the quirky “say-anything, do-anything” former UK offensive coordinator under Hal Mumme during the Air Raid era at UK.
As you probably know, those Mumme teams scored points in bunches but they also gave up points in bunches. They always struggled to play defense and get defensive stops against the opposing team but they were fun to watch and helped bring back excitement to a UK football program that had perennially been a doormat of the SEC.
But here’s the interesting part. I remember during the Mumme years after Kentucky fans had had a little taste of winning and going to bowl games they began to complain about the fact that UK wasn’t making much traction in getting beyond the 7 or maybe 8 win seasons.
They wanted to see some wins against arch rivals like the Tennessee Volunteers. Back in those days I heard things like “It’s great to beat the Vanderbilts and Mississippi States of the world but what about the Florida Gators” or “If we could just hire a quality defensive coordinator…”.
Now listen to what John D Hunter says concerning the above fan’s comments about Mumme’s most prolific protégée, Mike Leach. “Those are just a few of the comments, at least ones I can print, that I heard from Washington State Cougar football fans regarding head coach Mike Leach as we dejectedly exited Husky Stadium on Friday. It was yet another resounding pummeling, and the seventh straight time the University of Washington has dominated the Apple Cup.”
Sound familiar? Does it sound like comments made by UK Fans (myself included) after dejectedly watching UK lose another football game — games they should have won — to the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers? It does to me.
Hunter went on to say in his article about Leach that he has turned the football culture around at Washington State (sound familiar?), that WSU is involved now as a relevant part of the discussion of PAC 12 Football and is considered a team to be reckoned with in the PAC 12 North Division.
But then, here is the key statement in his article on Mike Leach. He says, “Should Washington State push him out before he can leave on his own?”, meaning that fans are so upset that the think they could do better by getting rid of the guy that has turned their program around.
I know a lot of you, if you are still reading, are asking, “What does this have to do with UK Football?”. And here’s the answer. Two answers in fact.
First is that it seems that fan bases all across the country that have experienced winning after supporting losing football programs for decades become jaded to the success, they become unhappy with average and they want to compete with the big boys. It’s understandable. Every one wants to be a winner. But they forget where they came from… and where they could easily slip back to. The same goes for UK fans. They could be one coaching hire away from mediocrity or worse. Just ask Tennessee or South Carolina or Mississippi State Fans.
Secondly, in my opinion, as much as I loved watching UK quarterbacks throw the ball all over the field and score points in bunches the Air Raid offense is not one that a coach can build a championship football program around. It is a great offense to help bring a perennial loser out of the cellar and become competitive with its peers but it doesn’t lay the foundation for winning championships.
That’s what’s so great about what Mark Stoops is doing at Kentucky. He is laying the groundwork to put Kentucky in a position to compete for championships.
Stoops always talks about respecting the game, preparing on Monday through Friday to win the game on Saturday and fighting to win, not just fighting to fight. He has built a program on physicality, controlling the line of scrimmage and wearing down his opponent to win the game. The plan is relatively simple, the execution is extremely difficult.
To make it work a coach has to recruit top notch players, develop their strength and skill and get them to all perform together as one unit on offense and defense. Like I said, simple plan but difficult to execute.
So really, for all fan bases, it comes down to perspective, something I’m a firm believer in.
That means remembering where you came from as a football program, celebrating the big wins, mourning the painful losses but always looking at the big picture. It took decades to become a perennial loser and it may take decades to overcome that and build a history as a perennial winner.
It also means understanding that many other football programs across the country are in the same boat as UK – striving to get to the top of the heap – and the only way to do it is to have a successful plan, work that plan and support the coaching staff and players as they work through the process.
That’s why it’s so interesting to me to see other programs struggling with the same issues. If helps me to step back and gain a little perspective. Maybe it will help you too.