UK Football

Mark Story: Long-suffering UK fans applaud Stoops hire

Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops instructed Ochuko Jenije, right, during spring practice in March 2010. Stoops was named Tuesday to be head coach at the University of Kentucky.
Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops instructed Ochuko Jenije, right, during spring practice in March 2010. Stoops was named Tuesday to be head coach at the University of Kentucky. 2010 Associated Press file photo

If the trend holds, it appears from early returns that The Long Suffering UK Football Fans are on board with Kentucky's hiring of Mark Stoops in a big way.

Fathers and sons who were united in hoping Kentucky would hire Bobby Petrino to replace Joker Phillips felt good about Mitch Barnhart's decision to instead go with Stoops, the Florida State defensive coordinator and younger brother of Oklahoma head man Bob Stoops.

"It was not our first choice," said Joe Waddell, 66, of Winchester. "But with his pedigree and track record at Florida State, it's probably a pretty good place to start."

Said Nick Waddell, 31, of Lexington: "As much as we wanted Petrino in here, I almost hate to admit this, but I'm pretty excited right now."

Fathers and sons who were divided over the idea of bringing Petrino to Lexington were unified in their initial opinion that getting Stoops for UK football is a good move.

Darryl Shields of Lexington did not want Petrino but said Stoops "seems like he might be a good find. I feel good about this."

His son, Brandon, also of Lexington, wanted Petrino but is fully on board with the 45-year-old Stoops.

"I wanted Petrino, but when I think of Florida State and everything he's done there, I think Stoops is a great hire," Brandon Shields said. "I think Petrino would have been a polarizing hire with the fans. This hire, I think, will have a unifying effect. People don't have the dislike of Mark Stoops like they did (Petrino)."

Though Mark Stoops does not have prior head coaching experience, he does have one of the most-recognized last names in college football.

At Oklahoma, Bob Stoops is one of the elite head coaches in the country; Mike Stoops, the former Arizona head coach, now runs the Sooners' defense for his brother in Norman.

Their older brother, Ron Stoops Jr., is linebackers coach at Youngstown State. Their late father, Ron Stoops Sr., was a well-known Youngstown-area high school coach in Ohio.

"The name, the Stoops name, you can walk into any defensive room in the country, and command respect," said Nick Waddell. "For Kentucky, that makes this a great hire."

Kevin Atwood of Hopkinsville said, "I'm as pleased with (the Mark Stoops hire) as I would be anyone else they could have realistically gotten. Just hearing about it, I think I'm pretty excited."

After three straight losing seasons for Kentucky football, including a slog of a 2-10 campaign in 2012, vast expanses of Commonwealth Stadium's bleachers were empty during games this fall.

So a major challenge for Kentucky going forward is putting some juice back into a dispirited fan base.

With ticket sales in mind, Dave Kempf, a Wildcats fan in Nashville, was surprised UK chose a coach with a defensive background, rather than one known for a high-octane offensive attack.

"We need some excitement to get fans back in Commonwealth each week," he said. "I'm not negative on the hire at all, I just really thought they would go with one of the high-powered offensive guys."

There was scuttlebutt Tuesday that Stoops and UK were trying to bring a high-powered offensive guy to Kentucky. Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown, 31, the Hal Mumme-era UK wide receiver and ex-Boyle County standout, employs an Air Raid-style system in Lubbock. Brown is considered one of the nation's premier young offensive minds.

"Everyone said this needed to be a 'home-run hire,'" said Nick Waddell. "Maybe our home run is Mark Stoops and Neal Brown."

After past disappointments, UK football fans have always come back to Commonwealth Stadium when given the hope of a new coaching regime.

Will the same happen with Stoops this time?

"Maybe not immediately," said Wade Cunningham, a Wildcats backer from Louisville. "But I am confident there will definitely be more at his first game than (at late-season contests this season). If he beats Louisville, then I think it will all come back."

Brandon Shields said members of his family had eight UK season tickets this past season, but after the discouragement of 2012, there had been talk about cutting back to four for 2013.

After Tuesday's news, "we're definitely keeping our tickets now," he said.

For Mark Stoops, that might be considered victory No. 1 as Kentucky head football coach.

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