John Clay: Kentucky's football coaching staff brings new kind of energy

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 23, 2013 

New University of Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown addressed the media Tuesday in Lexington. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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Given the talent level and the ridiculous schedule, Kentucky football might not show much of an uptick in its record next season.

During spring drills, however, there has already been a noticeable improvement in effort.

We're not talking players.

We're talking coaches.

"These guys right here," Bud Dupree, UK's sophomore defensive end, said Friday, "they are all into practice."

By "all into," he means all into energy. This is a staff that grabs practice by the horns.

"They jump around with us. They play music with us, laugh with us," Dupree said. "They want to have fun. They're enthusiastic. When you make a play, they want you to (slap) somebody in the head and get loud."

That's different from last year?

"It's a lot different," defensive back Cody Quinn said.

"I think it's the age difference, probably," Dupree said.

Kentucky's defensive staff last season was older, more experienced. Coordinator Rick Minter had been a head coach at Cincinnati, a coordinator at Notre Dame and South Carolina. Defensive backs coach Mike Cassity was a coaching veteran. Linebackers coach Chuck Smith and defensive line coach David Turner had been around a block or two.

Mark Stoops' first UK staff is demonstrably younger. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown turned 33 on March 11. Offensive line coach John Schlarman is 37. Running backs coach Chad Scott graduated from North Carolina in 2004.

It's much the same on defense. Coordinator D.J. Eliot is 36. Defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh turned 36 in December. Cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley graduated from Troy in 2005.

At 45, Stoops is nearly the old man of the group.

"They are very energetic and upbeat," linebacker Avery Williamson said Friday. "They're very up in your face."

He doesn't mean up-in-your face yelling and screaming. Or maybe he does.

After Monday's first practice, Williamson described the staff as aggressive.

Someone asked, does that mean they yell at you a lot more?

"Well, yeah," said Williamson, smiling.

It's not just words, however.

"They get right out on the field and demonstrate (what they want)," Quinn said. "There's more energy. It's more lively. Stuff like that."

Good stuff?

"Most definitely," Quinn said. "I think it gets the players more involved, makes us more of a team. There's just more enthusiasm."

"They want you to know everything," Williamson said. "If you don't understand something, they want you to understand it. They want you to ask questions. They say, 'Ask questions first before you go out (on the field)."

"Coach Ansley is more laid back," said Quinn, comparing his new position coach's style to his old position coach, Cassity. "But he's still like, if you're doing something bad or if you messed up, he'll correct you."

For instance, Quinn said he had been playing with a "wide base" that isn't what the new staff wants.

"He's corrected some of my errors," Quinn said.

It's not all fun and games, however. The new staff has also made their new players work, starting with the off-season conditioning program.

"The hardest thing I've ever done in my life," Quinn said. "But now I'm in shape and ready to go."

"I would say in some phases it may not have been as hard (as what was done in the past), but it was different," Williamson said. "I enjoyed it a lot."

Maybe the team needed the off-season workouts not for performance on the playing field, but to keep up with coaches on the practice field.

"Those guys," Williamson said, "are constantly running."

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

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