Mark Stoops’ name isn’t near the top of any “coaches on the hot seat” lists yet.
But several callers to his weekly radio show made the Kentucky football coach squirm in his seat on Monday night.
One caller in particular, Dale from Frankfort, said he was “speaking for probably half of Big Blue Nation, who’s just afraid to say it” when he asked some pointed questions of the coach, whose team is mired in a five-game losing streak.
“You need to get the defensive coordinator on the same page with you; you need to get the offensive coordinator on the same page with you,” Dale yelled into the phone. “And you need to get involved in the ball game.”
Dale continued to pepper Stoops about player development and decision-making.
Adding: “You’re getting better recruits and you start the season off saying we’re bigger, stronger, faster. How much bigger, faster, stronger do you need to get?”
After the first line of questions, the show’s producer started to mute Dale’s line so Stoops could respond, but the coach stopped the producer.
“No, let him go,” Stoops urged. “I can take it.”
And he did for another minute or two.
You need to get the defensive coordinator on the same page with you; you need to get the offensive coordinator on the same page with you. And you need to get involved in the ball game.
A caller to Mark Stoops’ radio show
Nearly the entire hour was filled with questions about Saturday’s loss at Vanderbilt. Stoops discussed two empty trips inside the 5-yard line, a fumble near the end zone, a pick-six, an ill-advised fourth-down call, special teams gaffes and an unguarded Vanderbilt receiver who scored on a deception play.
“This is the first time I’ve felt like we were a better team and went in there and lost,” Stoops said. “That puts the frustration at the highest point.”
The coach urged fans to show patience for the rebuilding process of a program that is going up against Southeastern Conference heavyweights regularly and on the recruiting trail.
“How long’s it going to take? I don’t know,” Stoops said.
That’s been the multi-million dollar question for many coaches in the league, including Tennessee’s Butch Jones.
“It takes six to seven years in the SEC to really build a program," Jones told a caller to his show three weeks ago.
Jones talked about those frustrations before Tennessee faced Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma program early in the season.
“I see us making progress and it is extremely hard because you are in an instant gratification society,” Jones said. “I want it as fast and right now as much as anybody, it drives me every day. But ... it takes time, it is a process.”
Bob Stoops’ success at Oklahoma is a blueprint for coaches like the ones at Tennessee (and Kentucky) who are trying to build something from the ground up.
When asked about Jones’ six- to seven-year timeline recently, Stoops said it’s something head coaches around the league and the nation talk about privately.
“I don’t want to divulge all the things that myself and other head coaches talk about all the time or whatever, but let me tell you, there’s some growing pains when you’re trying to rebuild a program in this league in particular,” Stoops said.
Many of Stoops’ callers demanded timelines for success. One pointed out that former coach Rich Brooks was here nearly a decade and only got UK to “mediocrity.”
“It does take time,” said Stoops, whose 4-6 Kentucky team is 11th in the SEC in total defense and total offense this season.
“I’m not an excuse maker. I don’t like sitting here begging for time. But I said it over and over again, I know very clearly what I was getting into when I took this job and I know very clearly what we’re into right now.”
Football is not like other sports where one or two recruits can win a national championship, the head coach said.
“In this sport, it takes guys to develop year after year after year, top-20 recruiting classes five years in a row and then you’re going to be an SEC heavyweight,” Stoops said.
“Can we contend? Can we play better? Can we win some of those games? Absolutely. Should we? Yes. We’ve been close.”
But as his callers were quick to tell him, close isn’t enough.
And losing games that the coach himself said Kentucky should have won isn’t acceptable.
Multiple times on Monday night, Stoops said he was heading back to the office as soon as the show was over.
He was going back to work.
And while pleading for patience, he also urged fans to show up at Commonwealth Stadium the next two Saturdays for games against Charlotte and Louisville.
“I’m asking you to still hang in there because it’s not built overnight,” he said. "Don't give up on these players and this team.
They're playing their hearts out."
Charlotte at Kentucky
7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Records: Charlotte 2-8; Kentucky 4-6