It was an interesting juxtaposition hearing an old offensive coordinator’s perspective and a new offensive coordinator’s perspective on Kentucky’s pass catching problems.
Just after the Louisville loss in November, Kentucky’s then-offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson seemed at a loss when asked about how to fix the drops:
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never really had that issue in the past. So that’s a tough question, because I don’t think there’s — if there was a perfect formula to that answer, then there would be people that would patent it and probably make a lot of money.”
Two months later, that question was posed to the passing portion of Kentucky’s new offensive coaching tandem and he broke his plan down in detail.
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Darin Hinshaw, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, rattled off names of NFL receivers that he helped coach at Tennessee like Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers as well as two of the top receivers in Memphis history.
“You talk to them about the same thing,” Hinshaw said when asked about the UK drops. “When the ball’s in the air, it’s your ball. Quarterback’s not meaning to throw a bad ball and if you go in with that mentality, that that ball is my ball, I must go get it and then how do you catch the football.”
It’s not just talk, either.
It’s drills. Lots and lots of drills.
“I talk about the details of the white stripe, hands, tight diamond, eyes to the tuck every single time,” said Hinshaw, who already has been working with former running backs coach turned wide receivers coach Chad Scott on developing a plan.
“We practice those from the moment we get here. We’re going to be able to catch the football a lot better than we have in the past. It’s going to be about coaching, it’s going to be about the details.”
The details of how players do things and why they do things will become a regular discussion point for Kentucky, which returns every player who caught a pass last season with the exception of quarterback Patrick Towles, whose one catch was his own batted-back pass.
The Cats also have two highly touted redshirt freshmen in Tavin Richardson and Jabari Greenwood along with true freshman Dakota Holtzclaw, who will be on campus for spring, and soon-to-be signees Zy’Aire Hughes and Kayaune Ross.
The details and drills won’t just fall on the wide receivers, either, said Hinshaw, whose Cincinnati offenses connected on 62.7 percent of their throws in his three seasons there (UK connected on 56.8 percent in that same timeframe).
“When you want to be good at throwing the football for receivers and quarterbacks, you’ve got to do it all the time,” he said in a recent sit-down interview with a select group of media. “And we’re starting Monday. We’re starting and we won’t finish -- we have a plan to go all the way through -- the spring, all the way through the summer and we’ll go all the way until we go to training camp. …
“We have got to throw thousands and thousands of footballs to get good at throwing the football. You don’t just show up. There’s no magic plays.”
Money, money, money
A recent Washington Post story took a look at severance packages that schools were paying for coaches to no longer coach. The report listed Kentucky as seventh highest among the Power Five conferences in 2014.
Turns out 2014 year was a pricey year — with more than $1.4 million paid out to former coaches, many of whom have moved on to schools that UK directly competes with on the field — but it also was the final year on many of the costliest contracts.
A Herald-Leader open records request showed that a vast majority of the severance payouts for the 2013-14 fiscal year were to former members of Joker Phillips’ coaching staff, including $246,782 paid to special teams/tight ends coach Greg Nord (now at Florida, formerly at Western Kentucky), $216,363 to former linebackers coach Chuck Smith.
A season after winning a national title coaching quarterbacks at Florida State, Randy Sanders still was paid $137,363 in salary and benefits by Kentucky in 2014.
Phillips himself received a lump sum payment when he was fired, a UK official confirmed in 2013, but his staff was paid more than $1.2 million through 2014.
A few other sports were represented in the 2014 payments, including two former women’s basketball assistant coaches — Jeff House ($58,873) and Shalon Pillow ($48,819) — who were fired by Matthew Mitchell.
The severance package payouts decreased significantly after the football coaches’ contracts were completed, with UK reporting that it paid out just $22,258 in the 2014-15 fiscal year to a women’s soccer assistant coach and a women’s golf coach.
There will be two new football names added to the ledger in the 2015-16 round after the firings of offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson and wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord before the ends of their contracts.
Dawson’s deal has him making $550,000 through June 30, 2018. Mainord is scheduled to be paid $275,000 a year until June 30, 2017, per his newest contract, which was signed less than a year ago.
Both contracts stipulate that UK has a right to reduce its payment obligations based on compensation from the coach’s next employer, which in Mainord’s case is North Texas. Dawson has not been hired by another school yet.
It’s hardly a one-way street, though. Kentucky has benefitted from such arrangements as well, including co-defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley, who still had time on his contract after being let go at Tennessee.
In Ansley’s first season on staff, Kentucky paid him just $125,000 while he collected his buyout from UT. Once that was completed, UK increased his salary to the full $250,000 in 2014.
Kentucky’s 2014 buyout numbers paled in comparison to other Power Five schools ahead of it, according to that Washington Post report. The top payers were at Auburn ($4.8 million), Oregon State ($4.1 million), Minnesota ($3.3 million), Illinois ($3.2 million), California ($2.4 million) and Washington State ($1.8 million).
‘Let this thing grow’
With age comes perspective. At age 50, Eddie Gran is now the oldest member of Stoops’ coaching staff and he offered interesting perspective on various fan base’s rush to can coaches that they perceive as underperforming.
Gran had been at Auburn with Tommy Tuberville for four years when the now infamous – in Louisville especially – Jetgate story happened and boosters reportedly wanted to bring in then (and now) Cards coach Bobby Petrino and oust Tuberville.
“You go up and down, and after all that got settled we went the next five years as the fifth-winningest program in the country because we were in our fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth year and we got to build it and they were our guys and you got to develop,” Gran recalled of his 10 seasons on the Plains.
“Thank goodness, because another coaching staff would have come in there and they would have been the heroes. But we got to beat Alabama seven out of 10 years. We had a pretty good run, but it wasn’t because of their patience.”
So when Gran hears fans talking about Stoops being in his fourth season and not producing fast enough, the 28-year coaching veteran groans a little bit.
“My gosh, that’s fans and that’s the SEC,” Gran continued. “That’s fantastic, but let this thing grow.”
He mentioned the new facilities and new money being pushed into football and said success will come.
“I’m excited about it because everything is about timing,” Gran said. “I think we’re coming in right at the right time. I think this place is ready to explode, and that’s exciting for me.”
When Gran was asked if he also had head coaching aspirations one day, he said “absolutely.”
But the new assistant head coach for offense also had another move up his sleeve: “I can see myself in Lexington. If they want to sign me to a 10-year deal right now, I’ll sign it. That’s no joke.”
Every six months or so, I do a quick records request to check into violations that UK self-reports to the NCAA and make sure there’s nothing glaring. A couple minor ones involved football:
▪ There was some confusion about the rules for a football staff member and UK inadvertently paid for hotel rooms the night before an official visit for the fathers of two potential unnamed student-athletes (visits were in September and October of 2014). Because of the misunderstanding, at least one player was declared ineligible and had to donate the $124 cost of the room to a charity of his choice.
The second athlete did not enroll at UK. A letter of admonishment was issued to the director of recruiting, Dan Berezowitz. Also, UK voluntarily reduced the number of official visits for the 2014-15 year by four for that violation.
▪ A prospective player had on-campus contact with a former football player, which UK also listed as a “booster,” on the field for the second home game of the season this year and took a picture with that former UK player. The athlete posted the picture on social media and UK reported the violation. A compliance official contacted the former UK player the next day and “re-emphasized that there could not be any contact between the two.”