Mark Story: Stoops, Brown have given UK football a winning argument

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 7, 2013 

UK head football coach Mark Stoops addressed the media on Wednesday December 19, 2012 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

HERALD-LEADER Buy Photo

The question was basic: What pitch were Mark Stoops, Neal Brown and the new Kentucky coaching staff using to sell UK football to recruits? In separate interviews before national signing day, now-UK signees Jaleel Hytchye and Jacob Hyde gave almost identical answers.

Hyde, the defensive tackle from Clay County, explained that new Wildcats head man Stoops coordinated a defense last season at Florida State that ranked among the nation's elite in most major statistical categories. He also pointed out that new Kentucky offensive coordinator Brown, in the same role last year at Texas Tech, had one of the country's most prolific passing attacks.

"If you put those together," Hyde said, then paused. I finished his sentence, saying, "You'll have a good team at Kentucky."

"No," Hyde said, "you'll have a great team at Kentucky."

We're a long way from knowing what kind of team Stoops and Co. will ultimately build at historically football-challenged UK. But what we saw as the new Kentucky football staff assembled its first recruiting class was that UK now has something important.

With Stoops and fellow ex-FSU assistant D.J. Eliot in charge of the Kentucky defense and with Brown and two of his fellow former Texas Tech assistants in charge of the UK offense, Wildcats football now has a credible argument for why Kentucky can succeed in the brutal SEC.

Last season, his third running the FSU defense, Stoops directed a Seminoles defensive unit to the No. 2 ranking nationally, a transformation from No. 108 in the country in total defense in the season (2009) before he arrived.

In Lubbock last year, Brown's version of the Air Raid offense was second in the nation in passing.

"You take the coaches who had Texas Tech's offense and Florida State's defense and put them together, you can build a (winning) team at Kentucky," said Hytchye, the cornerback from La Salle High School in Cincinnati who did so much via Twitter to promote Stoops' message.

Amid the rampant exuberance that has taken hold around Kentucky football (and it's fun to see people excited again), it is good not to lose all perspective.

The recruiting service Rivals might have Kentucky's incoming recruiting class ranked No. 28 in the country, but that also puts the Cats 13th in the SEC.

UK might have signed three four-star recruits, according to Rivals, but that's two fewer four-stars than Vanderbilt signed and one fewer than Indiana inked.

Still, UK got the one in-state recruit, dynamic Franklin County playmaker Ryan Timmons, that it had to have and another one, defensive end Jason Hatcher of Trinity, who no one thought three months ago it could get.

The latter success showed that, even with the success Charlie Strong has brought to University of Louisville football, the Cats can be a recruiting presence in the 'Ville. It also gave Stoops a big score at a school, Trinity, that has been problematic for past UK recruiters.

For the first time since Strong was hired at Louisville, UK, at No. 28, finished higher in the Rivals team recruiting rankings than U of L (42nd).

Long term, to succeed in football at Kentucky, you have to be able to establish a recruiting base outside the commonwealth that you can rely on. In his first go as UK head man, Stoops showed the ability to draw players whom other BCS conference schools wanted from both his native Ohio and from Florida.

Still, the potency of the new sales pitch that Stoops, Brown etc. have brought to Lexington was most on display Wednesday afternoon in Louisville. That is where four-star prospect Hatcher flipped on a long-standing commitment to USC and chose Kentucky.

That was the same Hatcher who told ESPN RecruitingNation last summer that he let Tennessee coaches know he soured on UT's recruiting appeal after the Volunteers lost to UK in 2011.

"I told them 'You lost to the University of Kentucky. You lose to UK, you lose to everybody because UK finishes last in the SEC every year,'" Hatcher said then. He went on to call UK a "bottom of the barrel" program.

Yet on Wednesday, the very same guy doffed a UK blue baseball cap and pledged allegiance to the Cats.

What changed?

"The coaches changed," Hatcher said.

What changed with the coaches is the argument for believing that Kentucky can win in football in the SEC. For now, UK football has a realistic vision of a successful future that it can sell.

To keep that pitch viable going into the 2014 recruiting season, Kentucky needs to play well enough on the field this fall to keep that hope alive.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: Markstory.bloginky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service