John Clay: Preparation at the heart of Stoops' plans for Kentucky

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 17, 2013 

Now that he has the head office, there is nothing in Mark Stoops' office. No personal effects, anyway. Not yet.

There are chairs and a large two-sided window that looks out from the Nutter Training Center, and a big-screen TV, of course, but no family pictures, no memorabilia.

The poor guy hasn't had time for decorating.

"On the run," said Kentucky's still-new football coach on Thursday.

Dressed in a UK zip sweater, sipping on a bottle of Dasani water, he came across relaxed but determined, friendly but confident. Mainly, the former Florida State defensive coordinator came across as the son of a high school coach who thinks like a modern-day college coach.

Back when he was growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, his father, the late Ron Stoops Sr., wasn't just the longtime defensive coordinator at Cardinal Mooney High School. He was also the head baseball coach and kept score for the basketball games. He was always around the school. So were his kids.

And to earn a little extra money to help a household with six kids, Ron Sr. would paint houses in the summer. His sons, Ron Jr., Bob, Mike and Mark were all there to help out.

"It was a second job in the summer," said Mark Stoops on Thursday. "That was a way for us to be around him really, to spend time with him."

Only you can't just paint a house. You have to scrape and chip and wash and repair what needs to be repaired. You have to get a house ready to paint.

That's what Stoops is doing now.

Less than two months into his new job, he's still scraping and chipping and getting things ready.

He's put together a staff. He's been out recruiting. He's put together a spring practice plan. He's done some interviews. He's been on lots of airplanes. At least once he's been on a plane by himself and had time to think about where he is and what needs to be done and what he wants to do.

"There have been some moments when you sit back and (it's like), wow," he said.

As a longtime assistant in his first head-coaching job, he has had that well-I-am-a-head-coach moment. He was joking with the staff, he said, and something came up — Stoops declined to go into the gory details — and, "It just caught me, you know what I mean? 'I guess I am head coach.'"

Breaks have been few and far between. His wife, Chantel, and young sons Will and Zack, won't be here full-time until next month, but they were able to come to Lexington recently to spend a week.

The boys went on to Youngstown to visit their grandmother and "they loved that," said their father.

Then the other night, Mark Stoops was able to pop in to Tallahassee to surprise the boys. That was special.

He wishes he had more time with the returning players, the ones who have yet to really get to know their head coach.

"I tell them, 'Hey, man, I promise you I'm your head coach,'" he said.

Right now, he's showing who he is and what he wants through the conditioning program, weight training, the team meal menu.

He's liked what he's seen from the video cut-ups he's watched of the returning players from last season — "I feel like there's some talent here," he said — but he also knows the players need to get bigger and stronger.

"We've got to change our bodies," he said, and his plan is to do that in a smart, detailed way.

"Again, it starts with education with my dad, it goes back to my roots, it goes back to educating them on what's going to help them and what we're all about," said the coach. "I want a very clear vision of what the program is. And in the end, I think in just a short amount of time in what we're doing, they'll understand."

He can't wait for spring practice. Stoops announced Wednesday that the spring game will be April 13. Getting out on the field, teaching and practicing is what it's all about.

But you can't just paint a house.

"I've painted a lot of houses in my day," he said. "Both inside and out."

There will be plenty of time to decorate.

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

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