Back in 2012 both the Kentucky and Tennessee football programs were in the hunt for a new head coach.
Now some five years later on the same weekend that the Volunteers fired Butch Jones, Mark Stoops got an extension at Kentucky — per his contract — for winning his seventh game of the season, at Vanderbilt.
Jones and Stoops were hired some 10 days apart, first Stoops coming to UK on Nov. 27, 2012, and then Jones at Tennessee on Dec. 7. Jones even previously had been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Cats’ coaching job at the time.
With Jones’ exit, Stoops strangely becomes the dean of head coaches in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
“Is that right?” UK’s coach laughed at the idea. “That’s scary.”
As the head coach at Tennessee, Jones was coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons in Knoxville, and he finished tied for second twice in the SEC East.
But the Volunteers were limping along this season, 4-6 overall and winless in the conference before Jones was let go this weekend.
While not commenting directly on Jones being fired, Stoops said it’s “alarming to see how things can change so quickly.”
That’s where all of the talk about margins for error in the SEC shows itself, Stoops continued on Monday as the Cats prepare to face SEC East champion Georgia on Saturday.
“It’s very small for a lot of us unless you’re, some of these programs have been recruiting at an elite level for 40 years,” Stoops noted. “And you put that one on top of another and there’s still been some ups and downs for those programs with the rich tradition. But there’s a fine line there. The margin is very small. And when you come up on the short end of those, it’s tough.”
As for Kentucky, Stoops hopes the continuity of another guaranteed season with UK — he’s now under contract through 2022 — will help continue to grow the program.
“I hope it helps us quite a bit,” he said of the extra year on the deal. “I greatly appreciate it, as I said in the postgame at Vandy, that I greatly appreciate the support.
“It’s a tough grind and continuity is important. We also understand that we have expectations to meet and it’s very, it’s challenging. But that’s what makes it such a great league and so competitive. That’s why we’re here. That’s why I’m here.”
‘A guy that cares’
Kentucky defensive end Denzil Ware was named the league’s co-defensive lineman of the week by the SEC office Monday, his second honor this season and third in his career.
Ware had three tackles, two of which were quarterback sacks, and he grabbed his first career interception versus Vandy.
Ware has 38 tackles, nine for loss and 6.5 sacks this season. He’s also added the pick, a pass breakup, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, one he returned for a score in the season opener.
Ware was one of the UK players who really took the loss to Ole Miss the week before to heart, Stoops said. It motivated him to work harder and play well Saturday.
“He’s a guy that cares,” Stoops said. “It’s nice to see the production. He didn’t even have as many plays as he normally did this past week. He was a little banged up. He should be fine. He had a little leg injury that’s nothing major, but he didn’t have as many plays and he still had really good production.”
News and notes
There were zero changes on the Kentucky depth chart this week for the Georgia game on Saturday. But Stoops did confirm that punter Matt Panton would return to his duties after being suspended last week after a public intoxication charge.
The head coach was complimentary again of walk-on punter Miles Butler, who punted well against Vanderbilt and helped UK keep a redshirt on backup Grant McKinniss with just three games left in the regular season.
“I was very proud of Miles Butler with the way he punted this past week,” Stoops said of the former Paducah Tilghman standout, who punted three times for an average of 38.7 yards per punt, downing all three inside the 20-yard line.
Stoops lamented that he probably hurt Butler’s average by encouraging him to kick the last one out of bounds when the game looked like it was in hand.
“It was just one of those situations where I didn’t know if they were going to wholesale come after him,” Stoops said. “I didn’t want him to hit a line drive right to him and give an opportunity for a return as well.”
▪ Kentucky’s game against Louisville on Nov. 25 at Kroger Field is scheduled for noon and will be shown on the SEC Network, the league office announced Monday. It is only the second noon start for a UK game this season. The last one was versus Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 9.
Kentucky at Georgia
3:30 p.m. Saturday (CBS)