John Clay: Mark Stoops' profile similar to those of other successful Barnhart coaching hires

Rising star untried as a head man

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 25, 2012 

Murray St Florida State Football

Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops masterminded the nation's second-best defense statistically.

PHIL SEARS — ASSOCIATED PRESS

No sooner had Kentucky lost its season finale Saturday night than CBS Sports reported, via a source, that UK had interviewed Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops for its open head coaching position.

Now that makes sense.

The 45-year-old Stoops is a rising star, a member of the legendary Stoops coaching family. Brother Bob is head coach at Oklahoma. Brother Mike is a former head coach at Arizona, now defensive coordinator for Bob at OU. This season, Mark was coordinator of the nation's second-best defense statistically.

No confirmation yet on the report's accuracy, but Stoops' profile is similar to three of UK AD Mitch Barnhart's more successful hires.

John Cohen: Barnhart tabbed the former Mississippi State outfielder in 2003 to replace retiring baseball coach Keith Madison. Cohen had been a Missouri assistant and head coach at Northwestern State in Louisiana. He spent two years on the staff at Florida before coming to Kentucky.

Driven and enthusiastic, Cohen led the Cats to their first SEC baseball title and two NCAA Tournament appearances before leaving to coach his alma mater, where he had played for the legendary Ron Polk.

True, Cohen didn't consider Kentucky a destination job, but his pedigree and ambition upgraded the program.

Craig Skinner: The Indiana native had no head coaching experience when hired by Barnhart in 2004 to head Kentucky's volleyball program, but Skinner owned an impressive résumé.

For five years, he was an assistant coach under John Cook at Nebraska, including two years as head assistant. The Cornhuskers won a national title in 2000 with Skinner on staff and went an astounding 97-3 in the Big 12.

Since Skinner arrived in Lexington, UK has appeared in eight straight NCAA Tournaments and reached Sweet 16 two of the last three years. This past weekend, the Cats got their 20th win of the year.

Matthew Mitchell: The Mississippi native had been a head coach for two seasons at Morehead State when Barnhart tabbed him to replace Mickie DeMoss in 2007.

Mitchell had worked as a grad assistant under the legendary Pat Summitt at Tennessee before spending three years on Carolyn Peck's staff at Florida. His connection to Summitt caused DeMoss to hire Mitchell when she became UK's head coach, and he made enough of an impression for Barnhart to bring him back to campus when DeMoss departed.

Another young up-and-comer, Mitchell has taken the women's program to another level, reaching the Elite Eight two of the last three seasons. This year's team began the year ranked No. 6 in the AP before a lopsided loss to Baylor. Kentucky is the favorite to win the SEC this season.

There is no guarantee a Stoops hire would follow the same line of success. Nor is Stoops guaranteed to take the job if offered.

Given his pedigree and the performance of the Florida State defense this season — excluding Saturday's fourth quarter against Florida — he could be in the mix for other openings. Auburn, Purdue and North Carolina State pink-slipped head coaches on Sunday.

But Stoops is an attractive candidate. He has recruiting ties on the West Coast from being defensive coordinator for his brother Mark at Arizona. He has ties in his native Ohio. He obviously has ties in Florida. His name and background would help rally a discouraged fan base.

Here's what I like about Stoops: While fans often crave offensive-minded coaches, his hire would go against that grain. That's fine by me. When was the last time Kentucky fielded a dominant defense? That would be 1977, the last year UK posted a winning record in the SEC.

Some might say Stoops, or any other coach of the up-and-coming variety, would use Kentucky to get to a better job. And the problem with that is? That would mean the coach would be successful. UK football could use some success.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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