John Clay: Petrino, Brown, Stoops: Recent coaching hires have fans buzzing

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 10, 2012 

New Western Kentucky Coach Bobby Petrino, left, Kentucky's new offensive coordinator Neal Brown, center, and new Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops

Louisville is playing in the prestigious Sugar Bowl against No. 3-ranked Florida on Jan. 2 in New Orleans.

Apologies to Charlie Strong and his Cardinals, but that BCS bowl isn't the future football game everyone in this commonwealth is talking about.

They are talking about the Aug. 31, 2013 tilt in Nashville.

Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky. Mark Stoops vs. Bobby Petrino. Neal Brown vs. Bobby Petrino.

Yes, here in the December cold, football is the state's hot topic. After all, have you heard? Neal Brown is back. Bobby Petrino is back. And Charlie Strong never left.

In the 2012 cavalcade of college football coaching changes, real conversation-starters have taken place in our fair commonwealth and have nothing to do with the bouncing of the orange ball.

A week of comings-and-no-goings began last Thursday when Strong announced he was turning down a tempting Tennessee offer to remain at the 'Ville.

And yet, Strong's strong statement has been trumped on the impact meter by a couple of announcements from the state's other FBS programs.

On Sunday, Brown gave new UK coach Mark Stoops the good word that he was accepting the offer to return home from Texas Tech, where the former Kentucky wide receiver drew the blueprints for the nation's No. 2 passing offense this season.

Then Monday afternoon brought the topper, or Hilltopper in this case. After favorite son Willie Taggart took his coaching talent to South Florida, Western Kentucky announced it was hiring Petrino, the former Louisville and Arkansas coach who was drop-kicked out of Fayetteville thanks to a scandal involving his motorcycle and his mistress.

When Joker Phillips was fired as UK coach, a strident slice of the Big Blue Nation wanted Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart to bring Petrino back to the state. Well, Petrino is coming back, just to a different part of the state.

And, as it turns out, Western Kentucky's first game is UK's first game, the Aug. 31 matchup in Nashville's LP Stadium.

Stoops, who built the nation's No. 2 defense at Florida State, will be making his head coaching debut against Petrino, known as one of the best offensive coaches in all of football.

Brown, the young offensive whiz, will square off against Petrino, 4-1 as a head coach against UK.

So what does this all mean?

The official announcement of Brown's hiring may have been overshadowed by the Petrino news, but signing the former Boyle County star is the most significant Kentucky football staff hiring in quite some time.

Brown has an obvious connection to the state and UK, but he has no previous connection to Stoops.

Yet, following the path of his older brothers, Stoops wanted an offense "that puts defenses in difficult situations" much as Mike Leach's offense did for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and Sonny Dykes' offense did for Mike Stoops at Arizona.

Brown should be able to do just that for Mark Stoops at UK. His Texas Tech offenses ranked among the nation's top 15 in total offense and top seven in passing offense all three years he was in Lubbock. Consider that this year, Kentucky's offense ranked 113th out of 120 FBS schools.

Of course, despite his fall from grace, Petrino knows a thing or two about slinging the football around, as well. His four years at Louisville, the Cardinals compiled a 41-9 record and went to four consecutive bowl games, including the BCS Orange Bowl. During his four years at Arkansas, the Hogs went 34-17 and reached the BCS Sugar Bowl in 2010.

That's the same Sugar Bowl in which Louisville plays the day after New Year's.

On this day, however, it seems like a brave new football year is already here and it's the game in Nashville next August that this state's football fans can't wait to see.

John Clay: 859-231-3226. E-mail: jclay@herald-leader.com. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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