Actor Kevin Bacon once boasted that he had worked with every person in Hollywood.
That claim famously has turned into a trivia game, The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in which a person can name any actor in Hollywood and then link him to Bacon within six steps or fewer.
It's almost as easy to play that game with new Kentucky defensive backs coach Mike Cassity, who has coached in every major conference in the country except the Pac-12.
The Fort Campbell native, whose most recent home was at Marshall, has 34 years of coaching experience, which has included 12 stops from the time he left Kentucky in 1981 to when he arrived back in Lexington in January.
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The coaching journeyman — as so many of them are — is happy to be back in a familiar place.
"I spent eight years here, which is the longest I've ever been anywhere," Cassity said in a recent phone interview while he was on the road recruiting. "I still have a lot of tremendous friends in the Lexington area, a lot of ex-teammates, a lot of ex-wrestlers (which he was previously at UK) and a lot of ex-players I coached."
In fact, he even kept a house in Lexington off Turkeyfoot Road until five or six years ago, Cassity said.
Forming the connections between Cassity and his newest coaching staff (and even some support staff) at UK doesn't require many degrees of separation.
It might be the easiest game of all.
The defensive backs coach is closely linked with almost every coach on Joker Phillips' current staff at UK, including the head coach himself, who was a freshman wide receiver on Cassity's last Cats team in 1981.
Linebackers coach Chuck Smith also was a UK player in 1979-80 when Cassity was coach here.
Some of Cassity's closest connections include Mike Summers, who coaches UK's offensive line; Greg Nord, special teams and tight ends coach; and defensive coordinator Rick Minter.
"To have a chance to coach with some of the guys who also are my best friends in life is even more special," Cassity said.
Cassity was defensive coordinator for Minter when he was head coach at Cincinnati in 1994 and coached again with Minter at Marshall in 2009.
He played with Nord at UK in 1974-75 and they coached together at Kentucky, East Carolina, Georgia Tech and Louisville.
Cassity coached with Summers previously at UK for a season and also at Oklahoma State and Louisville.
But don't count on the close ties creating a bunch of "yes men" for Phillips, Cassity said. This group isn't that type, he said.
Really, coaches in general aren't because their livelihoods depend so much on success.
"Once you're on staff, whether you're friends or not friends, everybody gets their heads together," he said. "In the coaching profession, everybody doesn't always agree, but when you leave the room, the key is everybody's on the same page, rowing in the same direction."
Working together previously creates a familiarity and cuts out some of the "getting to know you" period that could slow down developing a better team.
That won't be a problem with this group, Cassity expects.
The degrees of separation game can extend well beyond the immediate coaching staff for Cassity, who also once had to punish Rodney Stiles (now UK's assistant athletic director for event management) for having an altercation with a fellow kicker.
Cats' director of football administration David Armstrong also played at Western Kentucky when Cassity coached there.
Recounting all of those ties had Cassity a little nostalgic.
"Lexington is a very, very special place," he said. "There's no place like home."
Ohio recruiting boon?
Kentucky's border joins to the north with football hotbed Ohio and it has long frustrated Cats fans that their school loses some of those great players regularly to Big Ten schools.
Cassity may be a much faster bridge to Ohio than the various ones being proposed by legislators.
He potentially may provide an in-road on players like Cody Quinn, a cornerback who committed to Illinois but reopened his search after the staff was let go. Cassity was recruiting Quinn out of Middletown, Ohio, while at Marshall.
"I've been very, very successful in southern Ohio wherever I've been," Cassity said. "I've been recruiting the southern Ohio area for about 25 years for every university I've been at and have developed great friendships with the coaches up there and in recruiting, it's so important to develop relationships with the coaches."
Junior college signees?
One day after Joker Phillips was asked by the media about his take on supplementing some bare spots on UK's roster with junior college players, the Cats signed Kory Brown, a safety who will arrive soon.
The 6-foot, 208-pounder, who has spent the past two seasons at East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss., probably will be added to UK's 2011 signing class (and give it a full class of 25).
He will participate in spring practice and have three seasons of eligibility at Kentucky. Brown sat out the 2011 season with a knee injury he suffered as a freshman.
Phillips said there are no plans to build a team around junior college players, but it's nice to get a select few.
"We are still building our program with four-year players," the head coach said. "We're not going out and having a huge, overall (class) of two-year players. If you look at our roster, specifically on defense, in the two upper classes, there's 10 guys. I just think we've got to balance that off with some older players."
Youth in the secondary
Because of the holiday break, Cassity hadn't formally met much of the players in the secondary he will coach.
They'll all be new faces to him, but they'll also be pretty new faces to UK fans, too.
There is some serious youth in those positions with the graduation of corners like Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley as well as hybrid players like Winston Guy.
But young players are fine with Cassity.
"In this profession, you coach who you have," he said. "I'm used to coaching young guys and a lot of times, young guys have bright eyes, eager ears."
In his post-season teleconference, Phillips indicated that UK could make some moves to bolster that position, including repurposing players like Marcus Caffey or walk-on Jerry Williams.
Phillips also mentioned young players like Daylen Hall and Eric Dixon seeing major snaps in the secondary.
Martavius Neloms will be a key veteran in the pass defense. He was third on the team in tackles this season, getting 71 in 10 games.