Mark Stoops hits the ground running for UK

jsmith3@herald-leader.comDecember 3, 2012 

New Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops, left, spoke with former Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch after being announced as Kentucky's new football coach. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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Since he got to Lexington on Sunday, Mark Stoops hasn't done much sitting down.

On his first full day as the new head coach of the Kentucky football team, Stoops watched film on and met with his current players, spent some time assessing UK's facilities, called commitments and likely hired his first coordinator.

In the few minutes he did stop to sit down on Monday, it was to talk about all of the above and more on his first radio call-in show with Tom Leach on Monday night.

"There's a lot of promise here at Kentucky," Stoops said from his table at Sal's Restaurant.

And there's also a lot of work to be done, he repeated several times during the one-hour broadcast.

It appears Stoops already has been hard at work hiring a defensive coordinator and that it likely will be Florida State defensive line coach D.J. Eliot.

As Stoops was sitting down to talk football, a national website that tracks coaches' comings and goings (www.coachingsearch.com) cited sources that said Eliot had accepted the position and would follow Stoops to Kentucky.

UK spokesman Tony Neely said the school "cannot confirm any hirings at this point because of university hiring regulations."

As a formality, the nine positions for Stoops' staff were posted on Nov. 27 and the deadline to apply is Wednesday, which means many of the announcements could come before the end of the week.

Stoops, who said he'd like to have his coordinators selected by Tuesday, seemed to indicate that Kentucky's defense was going to be run by someone he's known for an extended period of time.

Eliot certainly would fit that description. They met when Stoops was coaching and Eliot was playing at Wyoming. Eliot followed Stoops to Houston and then later to Florida State.

Stoops, the former FSU defensive coordinator, said he planned to leave the play calling to his new coordinator, but would still be hands-on with the defense.

"The person I'm going to hire, I have great trust in and we're very familiar with each other," Stoops said.

Kentucky's new coach, who said on the show that he'd been in touch with a majority of the Cats' commitments and current players, is scheduled to be out of town on Tuesday, likely to interview and hire his offensive coordinator.

A promise of upgraded football facilities likely will help that process along. Stoops was asked by several callers about UK's infrastructure.

"They're good facilities, but obviously we've got some work to do," he said. "(Director of Athletics) Mitch Barnhart was honest with me about that. There's some work to be done and I think the administration is committed to working with us and improving our facilities."

Stoops also was asked to assess the returning Kentucky players.

"I had a chance to watch some tape," he said. "You saw some talent out there. It's our job to put them in a position to be successful. There's good talent here; there's players that need developed."

And even though he watched the tape from this past season, Stoops said players will be judged only by what they do going forward.

"Every position's going to be wide open and we'll give every player the opportunity to give us the right first impression."

His first impression of the returning players is that they're a "good group of guys.

"There's a bunch of kids that want to be led in the right direction and they want to win and they got a good taste of the work ethic that it's going to take," he said.

One thing that will have to be addressed in what he called the "first phase" of rebuilding Kentucky from the 2-10 team that finished at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference is increased focus on strength and conditioning.

"We need more strength, some bigger guys, and that's a big part of our first phase here will be the off-season program, nutrition and getting some things going where the players can eat a little bit better, lift a little bit more, get a little bit bigger, get a little bit stronger."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com

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