11 reasons this UK staff could be special

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 24, 2013 

Eleven reasons why this coaching staff at this place and time in Kentucky football history could be different than all the rest, in no particular order.

1. The youth of the coaching staff: The average age of Mark Stoops' first coaching staff at Kentucky is a mere 38 years old. Safeties coach Bradley Dale Peveto is the old man at 52. Cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley is the young pup at 32. Stoops is 46. The staff is full of youthful energy and exuberance, which has already translated into a tireless effort on the recruiting trail.

2. Combining the Air Raid with a defense: Hal Mumme brought the prolific "Air Raid" offense to Kentucky in 1997, setting records with Tim Couch and Craig Yeast, plus earning a trip to the 1999 Outback Bowl. But Mumme didn't care too much about defense, and it showed. That always left the question, what if the "Air Raid" was combined with a good defense. In new offensive coordinator Neal Brown, Stoops is bringing back the "Air Raid." And the head coach will make sure there is also an emphasis on good defense.

3) Recruiting Ohio: One of Kentucky football's bigger recent mysteries has been why the program didn't make more of an effort to recruit Ohio. It's a northern neighbor. There are plenty of UK fans in Ohio, especially southern Ohio. Kentucky offers a chance to play in the SEC. And there are a ton of football players in that state. Enter Stoops, who grew up in Youngstown and still has deep ties there. Enter ace recruiter Vince Marrow, the UK assistant who has already made deep in-roads into the Buckeye state.

4) Stadium upgrades: After years of thinking about doing something new with Commonwealth Stadium, AD Mitch Barnhart and Co. are actually putting theory into practice. Upgrades are planned. Commitment is confirmed. The school hasn't done any significant work on the stadium since the expansion of 1999.

5) SEC TV Network: What does a new SEC television network have to do with Kentucky football? More revenue. More exposure. More publicity. There's a good chance that a good number of future UK football games will be shown on the SEC Network.

6) High-performance emphasis: Kentucky has never had a "high-performance coach" in program history. It does now. Erik Korem has brought a data-influenced, target-based approach to nutrition and conditioning that Stoops believes will pay dividends.

7) Stoops' football background: Previous UK football head coaches had fine football backgrounds, of course, but none had the Stoops bloodline. His father was a famous high school coordinator in Youngstown. His brother Mike was head coach at Arizona. His brother Bob is head coach at Oklahoma, where he won a national title. Mark himself played at Iowa and has coached at Wyoming, Miami, Arizona and Florida State.

8) Defensive mind-set: Kentucky hasn't had a great defense since Art Still helped Fran Curci's team go 10-1 in 1977. Mark Stoops is the first head coach with a strong defensive background since then. About time.

9) Neal Brown: Most of Kentucky's previous offensive coordinators were either promoted in-house or journeymen from other jobs. None had Brown's track record. His offense was ranked 15th in the nation or higher in total offense each of the past three seasons at Texas Tech. He brings some cred.

10) Unmatched enthusiasm: The UK fan base was excited when Bill Curry arrived from Alabama in 1990, but I'm not sure even that matched the level of the current Stoops surge. There were more than 50,000 fans at the Spring Game in Commonwealth Stadium. That was a record.

11) Back from rock bottom: There was one good thing about the crowd of 18,000 or so who showed up to watch UK lose 40-0 to Vanderbilt last season. It made the administration take a long, hard look at what it was doing in football. The string of five straight bowl games produced an apparent air of complacency that led to a bottoming out last year. There is nowhere to go but up.

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

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