Other than a few pit stops on his way to and from his home state of Ohio, Mark Stoops never spent much time in Kentucky before he became UK's head coach.
Just a little more than a year after being hired, Stoops will become part of a Kentucky icon: Maker's Mark bourbon.
Stoops will be the latest celebrity to have his face (or in this case, his body doing the joyful "Y" in Rupp Arena) put on the commemorative bottles, which help raise money for various charities.
This is the third year that proceeds from the popular Keeneland bottles will benefit the Gill Heart Institute at UK HealthCare.
It's a special charity to Stoops, whose father Ron Stoops Sr., died in 1988 of a heart attack shortly after coaching a high school football game in Youngstown, Ohio. He was 54 years old.
The success of places like UK's Gill Heart Institute is a big deal to Stoops.
"It's something that's very important to me," Stoops told the Herald-Leader last week. "I'm very happy to be a partner with Maker's and with Gill."
Because the bottle hasn't been released for public consumption yet, Stoops didn't want to say too much. He plans to say more at a news conference about its release.
"It's something that's very dear to my heart and so I'm proud to be a part of that," he said of the charity.
Previous bottles that benefitted the Gill Heart Institute included Tim Couch in 2012 and Dan Issel in 2013.
The bottle's label makes mention of Stoops' commitment to the cause: "Having tragically lost his father to a heart attack, Coach Stoops is strongly committed to the fight against cardiovascular disease, where proceeds of this year's bottle are being directed."
Usually, Maker's Mark produces about 20,000 of the commemorative bottles, which raise about $200,000 for charity. The bottles have raised millions for local charities.
This is the 18th year of the deal between Maker's Mark and Keeneland to produce the special bottles to be signed at the track before the running of a race sponsored by the distiller.
Stoops likely will sign bottles along with distiller Rob Samuels and others at Keeneland on April 11, the day of the Maker's 46 Mile. More details will be announced in April, when bottles go on sale.
It will be a busy time for Stoops, who has a spring practice already scheduled for that morning as well as a possible closed-door scrimmage the next day as a part of spring workouts.
Food for thought
Much like Monica Fowler has helped Kentucky football players cut calories from their diets, I had to cut for space reasons some of my favorite morsels from the story about UK's dietician that was published last week, but here are a few of them:
■ While Fowler has been able to get the players to eat and mostly enjoy lentil soup, she still can't convince them to eat split pea soup. "Nobody touched it because it's green."
■ Speaking of soup, defensive tackle Christian Coleman's mom sent in her recipe for taco soup, which the junior loves to eat at home. The rest of the team loves it, too, and the soup, which includes tomatoes and corn, is a staple at UK's Training Table.
"It was a great recipe, good healthy soup, tastes really good," Fowler said.
■ Fowler has learned that sometimes it's all about packaging. After seeing fruit and yogurt get lukewarm reception from players, she now puts the yogurt and fruit together with some granola and calls it a "parfait." She makes about 50 of these a day now and they fly off the team refrigerator shelves.
■ She heard a story recently that a player went home and looked at the plate his mother made him before dinner and sighed: "'Mom, you've got way too many carbs on that plate.'"
This made Fowler, who also is a mother, cringe and smile at the same time.
■ Running the food program and kitchen area for more than 100 college-aged boys is rewarding, but sometimes a little gross, too. Fowler: "I've had a few days where I'll be like, 'Whose shoes are these? They don't go here.'"
Contracts and clauses
It didn't take long for Kentucky to finalize its contract with new special teams coordinator and safeties coach Craig Naivar, who replaced Bradley Dale Peveto.
Naivar, defensive coordinator at Texas State and former colleague of UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, signed his contract on March 6, just five days after reports from the Austin paper surfaced that he was taking the UK job.
Naivar's two-year deal is for $240,000 a year, which is $60,000 less than Peveto, who had previous head coaching experience. Peveto left Kentucky to return to LSU. Details of that contract have not been reported yet.
Naivar's contract includes incentives and bonuses that are a part of the other football coaches' contracts, including bumps for an SEC division championship, an SEC title-game win, non-BCS bowls and BCS bowls.
He also receives two basketball tickets for men's home games and four tickets to each home football game.
Naivar's salary makes him the fourth-highest paid assistant coach on the staff behind offensive coordinator Neal Brown ($550,000), defensive coordinator Eliot ($500,000) and tight ends coach Vince Marrow, who got a bump to $275,000 in January when he was promoted to recruiting coordinator.
As of June 30, per his contract, defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley will see his salary increase to $250,000 after he made $125,000 last season while still finishing out his contract at Tennessee, which was still paying off buyouts.
As of June, the combined salaries of Stoops' assistant coaching staff will be $2.59 million a year, an increase of $280,000 over their predecessors on Joker Phillips' staff.
Best coaching job?
Athlon sports tackled an interesting topic: Ranking the best Division I college coaching jobs in America.
Some of their numbers might surprise you.
Turns out former Louisville Coach Charlie Strong landed at a good spot, rocketing from No. 29 where the Cardinals' coaching job is rated to the No. 1 spot in the nation at Texas.
"Texas offers the complete package: Great school in a great town with great tradition," Athlon says. "Also, it's located in a state that treats high school football like a religion."
Kentucky's Stoops has the 47th-best head coaching job in the nation, but his job pales in comparison to brother Bob Stoops, whose Oklahoma gig is the sixth-best in the country, according to Athlon.
It will be difficult to consistently win at Kentucky even with all of the upgrades and upcoming bells and whistles, Athlon reports. The site also says football always will play second fiddle to basketball.
UK's response probably would be a simple: "#WHYNOT?"
The Kentucky football coaching job is rated 12th out of 14 Southeastern Conference jobs.
Here they are in order: No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Alabama, No. 8 Georgia, No. 9 Louisiana State, No. 13 Texas A&M, No. 15 Auburn, No. 16 Tennessee, No. 19 South Carolina, No. 25 Arkansas, No. 30 Mississippi, No. 31 Missouri, No. 47 UK, No. 48 Mississippi State and No. 49 Vanderbilt.
Western Kentucky is No. 103 out of 128 schools nationally. The worst job in the nation belongs to Eastern Michigan's new head coach, Chris Creighton.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com. Herald-Leader staff writers Janet Patton and Ben Roberts contributed to this report.