UK Football

Kentucky’s Shannon Dawson won’t return next season

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, out after one season at Kentucky, instructed quarterback Drew Barker during the first quarter of the UK-Louisville game last month at Commonwealth Stadium.
Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, out after one season at Kentucky, instructed quarterback Drew Barker during the first quarter of the UK-Louisville game last month at Commonwealth Stadium. Herald-Leader

Shannon Dawson confirmed Thursday that he is out as Kentucky offensive coordinator.

“Wish I could have done a better job,” he said via text message. “No hard feelings. I support Mark and will root for them to be great next year. I appreciated the opportunity.”

And now for the second time in as many seasons, UK and Mark Stoops will begin a search for a new offensive coordinator.

Despite having many key players return, the UK offense took a step back in almost every statistical category this season under Dawson, finishing 10th in scoring in the Southeastern Conference, averaging 24.7 points a game compared to 29.2 the season before under Neal Brown.

That 2014 total was significantly higher than in Stoops’ first season at Kentucky when the Cats averaged 20.5 points a game.

This season, the Cats passed for 262 fewer yards than a season before and went from 14 touchdowns in the air in 2014 to 10 with 16 interceptions.

The offense saw a slight increase on the ground (114 total yards) from the season before with one additional rushing touchdown (22).

In an interview Tuesday, Stoops said UK was looking at what it was doing “with X’s and O’s and coaching” when asked about the offense regressing this season.

“I talked about the mental, I talked about the physical, and then it’s coaching,” Stoops said. “You put those three things together, and I think we’ll improve. And I think there’s probably equal share in those three areas.”

Stoops didn’t fully answer a direct question about whether the Air Raid, which is the style most often associated with Dawson, was a good fit for what Kentucky wanted to do.

“We’re trying to find that balance of what is best to help us be successful,” Stoops said. “Again, I know, sometimes if feels like you’re way off and sometimes it feels like you’re not. So, that’s where that inconsistency is frustrating to the fans and to us.”

Dawson’s contract, signed less than a year ago, on Dec. 19, 2014, was for $550,000 a season and is set to run through 2018.

Under terms of his deal, Dawson will be paid the remainder of his contract unless he retains other employment. When that happens, the contract stipulates UK “has the right to reduce continuing payment obligations … to the extent that he earns other salary and additional compensation.”

As of late Thursday, a Kentucky spokesman had not confirmed the Dawson departure — as first reported by WKYT — or indicated if a buyout of some sort had been worked out.

After Kentucky’s offense struggled during the second half against Louisville in the Cats’ final game of the season, Stoops was asked directly about his confidence in Dawson as offensive coordinator.

“I absolutely have confidence in Shannon Dawson,” Stoops said just after the loss. “He’s a very good coach, very knowledgeable. It gets frustrating for him, believe me. It’s the same way, as a defensive play caller, when things aren’t going well. It gets difficult. Let me put it to you that way. It gets hard and it gets frustrating, and guys need to step up and make plays.

“Whether you’re an offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator, there’s only so many good play calls. At some point, you have to win some one-on-one battles. I have a lot of confidence in Shannon. He’ll get the ship corrected and straightened out and get the guys competing at a higher level.”

Aside from quarterback Patrick Towles, who announced he was transferring under the graduate transfer rule a couple of weeks ago, UK will return almost every key player on offense next season, including all four running backs: Boom Williams, Jojo Kemp, Mikel Horton and Sihiem King.

Every player who caught a pass last season — with the exception of a pass batted back to Towles statistically recorded as a catch by Towles — is set to return next season as well.

The Cats’ offensive line loses starting left tackle Jordan Swindle and left guard Zach West, who started at times.

In the interview Tuesday, Stoops confirmed that Drew Barker would be the Cats’ No. 1 quarterback going into spring practice and that Reese Phillips was healthy and able to serve as a backup.

Towles, who has not said where he plans to transfer next season, tweeted that Dawson was “one of the greatest offensive minds I’ve ever been around. Would love to sit in the same meeting room with him again!”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader