Give Mark Stoops credit for showing up.
The Kentucky football coach had originally planned not to do an end-of-season radio call-in show. Considering the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s 44-17 loss to Louisville, however, Stoops changed his plans, delaying a recruiting trip so he could address the fan base Monday night.
His message, however, was weak. Answering questions from host Tom Leach in the show’s opening, Stoops said little to comfort a fan base still upset about the lopsided loss and the undisciplined behavior of certain Kentucky players on the field.
What had Stoops done since Saturday?
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The coach said he’d held a team meeting to talk about “some things that needed to be addressed. There’s no excuse for the way some of that game played out. I’m not very proud of it.”
What did Stoops plan to do with linebacker Jordan Jones, who accumulated one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, three personal foul penalties, shoved an assistant coach on his own team and threw sideline tantrums in which he had to be calmed down by teammates and coaches?
Stoops said he talked to Jones.
How did Stoops address linebacker Denzil Ware, who was seen on video picking up a trash can and throwing it at a Louisville player during the first-quarter near-brawl involving Jones and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson?
Stoops said he talked to Ware.
Will Jones play in the bowl game?
“There’s disciplinary actions but there won’t be anything as far as (missing) game time,” Stoops said.
The coach said the junior does need to do some things between now and the bowl date, to be announced Sunday, to get back in the good graces of the program. But Stoops gave no indication of any current plans to sit his star linebacker.
As for Jones being allowed to return to the game after picking up back-to-back personal foul penalties for unnecessary roughness in the third quarter against Louisville, Stoops said backup linebacker Eli Brown was hurting. Stoops said he didn’t want to risk further injury to Brown or pull a redshirt off a freshman.
Stoops said it would have been “penalizing more people” not to put Jones back into the game, even after what had happened.
So Jones’ “punishment” was to keep playing? And when asked after the game about the matter, Stoops made no mention of a Brown injury. Instead, the coach said he did thought some of the personal foul calls were not “as blatant.”
It would have been far better Monday for Stoops to say he didn’t know yet whether Jones would play in the bowl game, that the linebacker would have to satisfy certain stipulations laid down by the head coach before a decision is made.
After all, this was not a first-offense situation. Remember, Jones was held out of the spring game for missing a meeting. He was caught on cellphone video appearing to spit at Southern Miss fans during the season opener in Hattiesburg. At the time, Stoops said Jones’ discipline would be handled internally. The internal lessons learned then obviously didn’t stick.
And as bad as the first-quarter fight was Saturday, Jones’ uncontrollable sideline behavior afterward — especially a shove of wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas — would have/should have merited banishment to the locker room by some or even most coaches. Instead, Jones was seen putting his arm around Stoops’ shoulder in a “we’re-all-buddies-again” pose. It left people wondering who was in charge.
Then again, Jones was a preseason All-SEC selection and is arguably the best player on UK’s defense. Stoops’ inaction regarding his star player sent a clear message. The better the talent, the longer the leash.
That was reinforced Monday. A fan base surely hoping to hear the head coach lay down the law instead heard Stoops do a lot of talking about all the talking he had done with his team since the Louisville game.
Sometimes, talking isn’t enough.