UK football: Mark Stoops taking slow and steady approach to hirings

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops called out to his defense in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State on Oct. 25. Mississippi State won, 45-31.
Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops called out to his defense in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State on Oct. 25. Mississippi State won, 45-31. Herald-Leader

Mark Stoops likes to take his time on big decisions like he did in hiring Kentucky's new offensive coordinator.

Slow and steady is his plan again as he seeks out a new special teams coordinator.

In his first news conference since after the Louisville loss that ended UK's season, Stoops answered wide-ranging questions on the state of the program, his hiring of West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson and the status of several returning players.

As for replacing special teams coordinator and safeties coach Craig Naivar, who is leaving for a job at Houston, Stoops said he's looking to bring in as much defensive experience as possible.

But most importantly: "I want the best football coach I can get," he said.

"If you just look around this league, and some things that are going on now and guys that I'm talking to and different things, different hires, it's serious business," Stoops said on Monday.

"There's guys hiring an awful lot of good football coaches. You look at certain staffs, and there's two or three coordinator types on each side of the ball, and really that's what you have to get to."

Stoops said he was happy with the job Naivar had done in his one year on the staff and understood the assistant's desire to be closer to the state where he'd coached nearly his entire career.

It's "where a lot of his roots are from, where he really has a great reputation as a recruiter in the Houston area, and again, I really appreciate Coach Naivar and the hard work that he did," Stoops said.

It was the second staff defection in less than a month. The first was offensive coordinator Neal Brown taking the head coaching job at Troy shortly after the Louisville game.

"I'm very proud of Neal and very happy for him and his wife Brooke and his family to move on and be a head coach," Stoops said.

Brown was invaluable to have on staff as Stoops got acclimated to Kentucky. As much as he hated to see Brown go, the UK head coach was happy to see the coordinator get his shot as a head coach.

"I really appreciate him and thank him for all the hard work he's done," Stoops said of Brown, a native Kentuckian and former UK player. "He has a great work ethic about him, and he'll go on and be a great head coach. I hate to see him go."

As for the hunt to replace Brown, Stoops said he took a step back, evaluated where he wanted UK to go as an offense and then went searching for that coach.

"I really took my time, evaluated to find what I wanted, and set out to find that person rather than just get all kinds of great people with great credentials and then try to change what we're doing and so on and so forth, and what direction I wanted to go," he said, noting that the position drew much more interest this time around than it did two seasons ago when Stoops was taking over a 2-10 program.

Injuries, updates

At least four players will sit out spring practices while healing up from surgeries, Stoops said.

Most notably Ryan Timmons, UK's leading wide receiver last season, had surgery to remove a bone spur in his ankle in the offseason as well as shoulder surgery, Stoops revealed.

"He had his ankle done first, and then he had to have his shoulder," Stoops said. "Ryan was playing very banged up, and I appreciate his effort. We all know there's things that he can do better and will do better, but he really competed all year through some pretty major injuries, so I appreciate his effort."

Cornerback Fred Tiller, defensive tackle Regie Meant and walk-on wide out Charles Walker also had shoulder surgeries after the season and will miss spring.

n UK safety Mike Edwards, who sat out last season after arriving on campus late, will be available next season.

"He's in our program. He's working, and he had a good semester academically, and he'll be good to go," Stoops said. "Let me get some more information on spring (practice availability)."

Stoops 'very committed' to Kentucky

From time to time Stoops' name has come up in coaching search discussions, most recently in speculation that had him as a backup to the backup option in the Michigan search.

"I wasn't concerned at all because I knew what I was doing here and what I wanted to do and will continue to do," Stoops said.

The coach said he didn't mind his name coming up in the future because that will mean things are going well at Kentucky.

"We want to win a bunch of games here. We all do," he said.

But his future plans don't seem to include looking at any other jobs.

"You know, I made some pretty strong statements when I was awarded that contract extension, and I don't say those things lightly," he said, adding that he's "very committed ... very loyal."