Like most football people from northeastern Ohio, Dean Hood was plenty familiar with the Stoops family name.
“I took a lot of pride, just kind of keeping track of the guys that came from that area that were successful in coaching,” Kentucky’s new special teams and outside linebackers coach said during his first meeting with the media since joining the staff of Cats head coach Mark Stoops.
“You know, the Pelinis, the Stoops, Urban Meyer. I just took a lot of pride in that, hey, this is my home area and here’s these guys out there being successful at the highest level of college football.”
The former head coach at Eastern Kentucky University kept track of Mark Stoops from afar over the years, including watching him take over the defense at Florida State, taking the Seminoles to what Hood called “a whole other level.”
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Then when Stoops took over at UK, just a county over from where Hood was at EKU, the former Colonels head coach saw how Stoops grew Kentucky’s flailing program.
When the two head coaches met on the field at Commonwealth Stadium before the game in 2015, Hood said to Stoops: “Coach, I really appreciate you.”
Mark Stoops probably thought it was because of the phone call he made to reach out to Hood to shut down any extracurricular activity during the game between a handful of players on the two teams involved in an earlier bar fight in Richmond.
“I thought he was phenomenal how he handled that,” Hood said Tuesday.
Or maybe Stoops thought the appreciation was because of UK’s kind gesture of putting EKU player Joey Kraemer’s face up on the video boards at Commonwealth after he died tragically in an auto accident the weekend before the game.
It’s a death that still touches Hood, who had to take a moment during the news conference to compose himself as he discussed it.
“Excuse me,” Hood said, rubbing his hands together vigorously as a distraction. Stoops “was great with all that. How he handled that, had (Kraemer’s) picture up on the scoreboard at the game.”
And as much as Hood appreciated all of those things about Stoops, he also said it was about how much he’d watched UK’s program improve under the new head coach in a short time.
I’m really excited that Coach Stoops would reach back out after kind of how that whole thing was presented and say, ‘Hey, I want you on the staff.’ I’m just so impressed with that.
Dean Hood, on turning down Stoops’ job offer last year only to accept it this year
Hood also thought it was clutch that Stoops started recruiting their home state of Ohio, which the special teams coach considers a key piece in UK’s resurgence.
“Why wouldn’t somebody do that: take the SEC brand that means so much and take it to a state like Ohio and get those kids?” Hood said. “I noticed Coach Stoops doing that right away. To me, I thought that was really, really smart. Really good idea.”
Hood’s appreciation grew exponentially as of late when Stoops called him for the second time in a year about an opening on UK’s defensive staff. The Cats head coach didn’t mind that Hood had turned him down a year before to stay on at Charlotte, where he’d just joined the staff.
“That’s really the most impressive thing and maybe one of the things that motivates me the most to want to work for Mark Stoops,” Hood said.
Even though reports made it sound like Hood rejected Stoops at the time, the new coach said that wasn’t the case. He simply stayed at Charlotte because his friend had given him a job when he’d just been fired and he didn’t want to leave that friend hanging.
Stoops could have been upset by the reports and never called back, but he wasn’t.
“I’m really excited that Coach Stoops would reach back out after kind of how that whole thing was presented and say, ‘Hey, I want you on the staff,’” Hood continued. “I’m just so impressed with that.”
Both Hood and new defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc, who also met with the media Tuesday, sounded ready to get started with spring practice Sunday.
Both discussed wanting the special teams and defensive line groups to be more aggressive.
They also discussed where their primary recruiting zones will be moving forward. LeBlanc will be an extra set of eyes on the fertile football ground in Georgia, specifically the northern part of the state.
“Hopefully we can get guys up here to Lexington that want to be a part of what we’ve got going here,” LeBlanc said. “I think we’ve got a great thing going here, and like I said, I’m excited. We’re all stepping in here at the right time.”
Hood, meanwhile, will go back to familiar territory from his EKU coaching days when he splits part of the commonwealth with John Schlarman. Hood will take the eastern part of the state, and the UK offensive line coach, who has had a good deal of success in the Bluegrass lately, will focus on the western part.
It also sounds like the former EKU head coach will open up some new recruiting territories for the Cats, including Charlotte, N.C., where Hood has recruited most recently.
“I’ve made some good inroads with some coaches down there,” Hood said of a state where UK has just one scholarship player in Kengera Daniel.
Hood also will continue to mine Tennessee, specifically the triangle around Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga, like he did as head coach at Eastern.
UK has had sporadic success in Tennessee. The 2017 class has one player from Tennessee in defensive lineman Quinton Bohanna, who is from Cordova, near Memphis.