UK football notebook: Stoops' tenacity, relationship-building skill on display in recruiting

Herald-Leader Staff WriterFebruary 16, 2013 

UK football coach Mark Stoops

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The time frame is a little jarring when you ponder it.

There were 66 days between Mark Stoops' formal introduction as Kentucky's new football coach and the introduction of his first recruiting class.

And it wasn't just any recruiting class.

According to Rivals.com, UK's class went from 62nd in the nation in 2012 to No. 29 this year.

That remarkable 33-spot jump also happened at Mississippi, which reeled in the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation in Coach Hugh Freeze's second year. But that kind of bounce is rare.

So how did Stoops do it?

Relationships.

It's a word that came up in every conversation with every UK assistant coach interviewed on signing day.

"We did a good job of building relationships in that short amount of time," new defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "We had a vision to sell and we went out there and sold it."

Many of the signees had previous relationships with Stoops or other members of the coaching staff, which helped, wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord said.

"It's really worked out well because the relationships we had showed we had some trust involved with those players already," Mainord said.

When Stoops hired his coaching staff, geography played a part, but so did their prior relationships.

"It's important when you hire guys that they have some connections, so that's a big part of it, guys with relationships that they have had either with players or with coaches," Stoops said when asked about the short turnaround.

"That was a big part of it. Again, we feel we have an awful lot to sell."

One of those things that helped sell Kentucky was Stoops himself, assistant coaches said.

They were able to sell the head coach as a Kentucky commodity.

"He's approachable as a head coach," cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said. "I like the fact that he can relate to the players and that he's been there and done that, that he's produced at a high level and won at a high level. ... He's coached a lot of first-round picks. He's coached a lot of winners, so he's doing something right."

Eliot, who has worked with Stoops at a handful of stops, said high school players, their coaches and their parents relate to the head coach.

"He's such a genuine person," Eliot said. "He's easy to talk to. You know what you're going to get from him."

So has that changed much now that Stoops has gotten the fancy new title and salary?

"Yeah, he's a real jerk now," Eliot said with a sly smile. "He's been the same guy. ... He's always been the same guy. That's what makes him special. That's the reason we're so successful in recruiting because the head coach is so genuine and people can see that."

Chad Scott, the running backs coach who played at Kentucky, said the new head coach's fire is contagious, both to the staff and the players UK is trying to sign.

"The biggest thing is the energy and competitiveness," Scott said. "He wants to win and he wants to win right now. Outside people think, 'Oh, he wants to win there someday and it will take awhile,' but (Stoops) doesn't believe in that."

Defensive shift

For several UK seniors, Eliot's defensive scheme will be their third major adjustment. And many of the younger defenders were recruited to play in former defensive coordinator Rick Minter's 3-4 scheme. Eliot and Stoops run a 4-3.

So how hard will it be for them to make the leap?

The new UK defensive coordinator doesn't think it will be a major adjustment.

In fact, some of the schemes will seem mighty familiar to current Cats.

"We'll need some time to develop some of the techniques up front, but it shouldn't take long," Eliot said. "And we'll be more multiple than you realize. At Florida State, until we had some injuries, we were running some 3-4 schemes."

And if the change feels like too much, the defense will have line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh to lean on. He has experience playing in both the 3-4 and then the 4-3 (under Tommy Tuberville).

"I understand the game and where they need to be and what they need to do," Brumbaugh said. "It's going to be easy for these guys to understand where we're trying to go."

Hard hitting?

Spring football is still a couple of weeks away, but in a recent interview with the Herald-Leader, Stoops indicated that all practices will have an edge to them.

The new coach said he likes to have physical practices. He's not necessarily a save-it-for-Saturday guy.

"I'm not sure what they've done here before, but there'll probably be some physical parts in practice," Stoops said. "There will be some physical practices and there will be probably more good-against-good (first team vs. first team) in-season than maybe some other places."

There will be some seven-on-seven against scout team players and some seven-on-seven good-on-good as well.

A lot of it is about setting a faster tempo in practice. The team will be able to get more out of it, the coach said.

"I just feel like the fastball tempo will help you develop your players at a faster rate."

Immediate impact

Kentucky's Larry Warford will get a chance to show his versatility and speed at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis starting Saturday.

The 6-foot-3, 333-pound right guard got praise on NFL.com's player analysis.

"That size, strength, and those surprising nimble feet should help him nab a draft slot in the top half of the draft and step into a starting lineup at the next level immediately," Warford's player analysis page says.

According to NFL.com's player rankings, Warford is the seventh-best offensive lineman available in this year's draft, which starts April 25.

The Cats' seniors who didn't get a combine invite will have their Pro Day at Kentucky on March 21.

Peeling the orange

Although it probably seems sacrilegious to Cats fans, cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said he had zero trouble going from a Tennessee Volunteer to a Wildcat.

Ansley, who was with the Vols last season, didn't bring any of his orange gear north.

"It was an easy switch," said Ansley, who played in cardinal, silver and black at Troy. "All you do is give away your orange clothes and you replace them with blue ones."

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

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