As coaches wander in and out of the Southeastern Conference and around college football, Mark Stoops has been sure to emphasize the stability at Kentucky as he visits with potential commits.
“It’s been a crazy year,” the Cats’ coach said in a wide-reaching sit down with the media on Tuesday to discuss UK’s upcoming trip to the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Dec. 29. “I appreciate where I’m at and the stability that I have here in this program.”
Just days after the Louisville loss, Kentucky’s coach has buzzed around the country trying to finish nailing down the 2018 class, which can sign a bit earlier this season starting on Dec. 20.
In many of those living rooms — and now famously driveways with exotic vehicles nearby — Stoops has met with players who might have been committed elsewhere but have seen their future coach fired or heading to another destination.
“It is a talking point,” Stoops said, “and it is nice to say, ‘You don’t have to worry about that, that I do have a new contract.’ I’m so greatly appreciative of that and it is nice to be able to give those kids some stability.”
The SEC alone has seen head coaching changes at Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi State and Texas A&M in recent weeks. Ole Miss retained its interim head coach, but is battling NCAA sanctions and player departures en masse.
The ever-shifting landscape makes Kentucky a safe landing spot.
That stability was part of the reason that UK put the automatic rollover amendment in Stoops’ contract that extends his deal another year in any season where UK wins at least seven victories like it did in 2017, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said on Sunday.
“Frankly, in this time of instability in the world of college athletics, I think that shows stability in things we want to keep moving forward,” he said of the contract change.
“At the end of the day, look at the lay of the landscape. What we have isn’t broken. It is continuing to try to grow. The stability is important. We’ve got a man that cares about this program deeply. Has invested deeply in it and is continuing to recruit young people to our program that we think can continue to grow it. As long as we’re making progress and getting to postseason and trying to take that next step, it’s worth honoring.”
Kentucky staff talk
Per new NCAA rules, teams can hire a 10th full-time assistant coach and the university already has posted the opening on its jobs board for the hire in January.
The plan is to hire a defensive coach, Stoops confirmed on Tuesday. Right now the Cats’ offense has five full-time coaches and the defense has four (and a half with Stoops).
“In this day and age with the difficulties of defending multiple offenses and the challenge of all that, it just makes sense for me to hire a defensive guy,” Stoops said.
“I am going to be patient on this and see what shakes out with so much turnover going on in college football right now, and there’s going to be a lot of change,” he said. “I’d like to just sit back and see what shakes out with our staff with hiring this 10th assistant. There’s no reason to rush into it right now for me.”
▪ As for his current staff, which includes two coaches whose contracts run out at the end of June (wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas and secondary coach Steve Clinkscale), Stoops said he hasn’t had time to get into that while on the road recruiting.
“I do feel good and appreciate our staff,” the coach said, before adding: “Change is inevitable in certain ways within the turnover of our roster and coaches may get other opportunities and move on, so we’ll see what happens and work our way through that as time goes here.”
Other news and notes
▪ Stoops confirmed he has submitted “some” requests to the NFL seeking draft feedback for an unnamed number of juniors, he said. He did not name those seeking feedback specifically.
▪ Linebacker Jordan Jones is expected to participate in the bowl game, Stoops said of the junior, who had some on-the-field discipline issues during the Louisville loss.
“To what extent or how much and all that? I’m not ready to make any decisions on all that right now,” the coach said.
▪ While quarterback rumors swirl in the 2018 class and the Cats remain without a committed quarterback after Jarren Williams backed out for a second time, does Stoops anticipate signing a quarterback in this class? “I’m not sure,” he said. “I’m not sure.”
▪ Kentucky will be “pushing it” to sign any more than 23 or 24 players in this 2018 class, Stoops said on Tuesday. “We’ll see,” he said. “Sometimes you get some very, very good players down the stretch here that it’s very difficult to say no to. But I’m very pleased with this class. They have great character. They have great talent. I feel very good about it.”
Music City Bowl
Kentucky vs. Northwestern
When: 4:30 p.m. EST Dec. 29
Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville
Records: UK 7-5; Northwestern 9-3
Tickets: Visit UKathletics.com