Other than birds and daffodils there might not be anyone more excited for the start of spring than Kentucky's Mark Stoops.
When asked about the idea of getting out on the field with his first team as a head coach and getting to do actual coaching, Stoops' face lit up in an exclusive interview with the Herald-Leader last week.
"I can't wait to get going with the players, helping them, developing them, working with them together," he said.
The highest priority for him as a head coach so far has been recruiting, which has taken up a large chunk of his time.
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"That's what I tell the players when I see them. It's almost like apologetic, like, 'Hey man, I promise you I'm your head coach.' This recruiting is very important, but hey guys, appreciate all the work you're doing and I'm hearing good things and checking up on them and all that," Stoops said.
When asked specifically about the returning players, Stoops seemed pleased overall.
"I feel like there's some talent," he said. "I really do. There's some good players here. We need to develop some guys and we need to recruit guys."
Of the current crop of Cats, Stoops said they seemed to be buying into what he and his staff have been discussing. He said the days of: "We're going to lift you and run you until you puke or whatever," are gone.
UK's staff is trying to use a more detailed approach to making the players stronger and faster.
"We try to be really skilled in our approach in what we're doing," he said. "They're seeing that, yes, it's hard work. There's no getting around that, but they're seeing there are people that are working hard to make them better in every way."
A key component so far has been strength and conditioning changes as well as dietary adjustments, which already are showing on some of the players' bodies.
"They've embraced that," he said of the nutritional adjustments. "They may not like the taste of it every time, but they're learning. They're getting educated on things we feel can make a difference. ...
"That's where we're at; that's step one; that's phase one. We need to get bigger, faster and stronger and we need to change their bodies. We'll do that through nutrition and having a great meal plan for them and through the strength and conditioning program."
While on the subject of the current players, Stoops was asked if he'd watched much game film from last season.
"Not enough," he said. "I've watched individual players."
When coaches were evaluating talent early on, they cut up practice tape, spring practice, fall practice, anything on film that they could see.
"We watched everybody that way. The whole game tape and all that, I haven't put much time into, honestly."
Contracts are out for the Cats' final hires, announced last weekend. They include defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley, who will make $125,000 this season and double to $250,000 starting on July 1, 2014. Ansley's deal runs through the summer of 2015.
Wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord's deal also runs through June 30, 2015, and pays him $200,000 a year.
UK's deal with special teams/safeties coach Bradley Dale Peveto will pay him $300,000 a season.
Just in assistant coach salaries and newly created support staff position salaries, UK is investing nearly $500,000 more a year in football.
That includes salary upgrades of $115,000 plus the new performance ($210,000) and recruiting ($135,000) coordinators.
Recently, UK also has posted an assistant recruiting coordinator opening on its job website, so that support staff number is going to increase even more.
Stoops also discussed some logistical changes for spring practices, including having an extra session after the actual spring game on April 13.
"Just to clean things up," Stoops explained. "If we could use that practice to possibly just structure summer and some of the things like that, throwing them on their own and giving them some different ideas and help organize some things and clean up the spring."
The first two weeks of spring practice, UK only will go three times a week instead of four days to give the players more time in between to study film as they learn new offensive and defensive schemes.
"I wanted to use what the NCAA allows us to use in hours per week the first two weeks to do as much learning as we can and studying film and all that," he said.
"It will cut down on injuries as they learn to practice at the tempo that we want them to practice at."
The second two weeks of spring will be four days a week.
Other tidbits picked up from interview:
■ Unlike the past two coaching staffs, Stoops will move to more typical afternoon practices in the fall.
■ The new head coach is fine with allowing his assistant coaches to be interviewed by the media, unlike on his previous staff at Florida State, where head coach Jimbo Fisher only allowed coordinators and assistants to talk once a year on the team's Media Day. "In season, your message and where you want to steer the message and all that, there may be a few limitations here or there, whatever, but in general there will be access," he said.
■ As of right now, UK does not have an associate head coach, but that may change.
"I have two coordinators I have great faith and confidence in and I've been very happy with them and they're both just what I want," he said of offensive coordinator Neal Brown and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot.
■ Stoops is still living in a downtown hotel until his family can come up from Florida and likely move into rental housing in early February.
Ex-Cats in All-Star games
A few former UK players have accepted invites to play in various national all-star games. Offensive linemen Larry Warford and Matt Smith, wide receiver La'Rod King, defensive back Martavius Neloms and defensive lineman Collins Ukwu will take part in Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game on Feb. 2.
Kicker and Lexington native Craig McIntosh was part of the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Saturday night in California.
Former coach Joker Phillips will be making his return trip to Kentucky as a wide receivers coach when Florida plays at Commonwealth Stadium on Sept. 28. Wide receivers coach Pat Washington will be back on Nov. 9 in the same position at Missouri.
Where did the rest of his staff end up?
Here's a rundown so far: offensive coordinator Randy Sanders is now coaching running backs at Florida State; offensive line coach Mike Summers and defensive backs coach Mike Cassity are now in the same positions at Western Kentucky; defensive line coach David Turner will see UK on Oct. 26 when the Cats take on his Mississippi State team. It's Turner's second stint as defensive line coach at the school.
Still no word on hirings of defensive coordinator Rick Minter, who expressed interest in going to the NFL, special teams/tight ends coach Greg Nord, running backs coach Steve Pardue nor linebackers coach Chuck Smith, but I'll keep you posted.
UK football's assistant coaching staff
Salary of person
Name Position Salary replaced Difference
Neal Brown offensive coordinator/quarterbacks $550,000 $338,000 $212,000
D.J. Eliot defensive coordinator/linebackers $500,000 $338,000 $162,000
Bradley Dale Peveto safeties/special teams $300,000 $220,000 $80,000
Chad Scott running backs $200,000 $158,000 $42,000
John Schlarman offensive line coach $200,000 $293,000 ($93,000)
Tommy Mainord wide receivers $200,000 $220,000 ($20,000)
Jimmy Brumbaugh defensive line coach $175,000 $293,000 ($118,000)
Vince Marrow tight ends $175,000 $230,000 ($55,000)
Derrick Ansley defensive backs x-$125,000 $220,000 ($95,000)
Total $2.425 million $2.31 million $115,000
Newly created positions
Erik Korem High performance coordinator $210,000
Dan Berezowitz Recruiting coordinator $135,000
TBA Assistant recruiting coordinator Not filled
x-per his contract, Ansley's salary increases to $250,000 in second season