UK Football

Mark Story: New UK offensive coaches bring some reasons for optimism to Cats football

UK football coach Mark Stoops talked Monday during a news conference during which he introduced new offensive coaches Darin Henshaw and Eddie Gran.
UK football coach Mark Stoops talked Monday during a news conference during which he introduced new offensive coaches Darin Henshaw and Eddie Gran.

Mark Stoops introduced the third and fourth offensive coordinators of his three-year Kentucky head coaching tenure Monday at a Commonwealth Stadium news conference.

In hiring Eddie Gran as assistant head coach of offense/offensive coordinator/running backs coach, and Darin Hinshaw as co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Stoops did well.

My sense of The Long Suffering UK Football Fan after a dispiriting 5-7 season is that they are sick of happy talk about the Kentucky program that is not backed up with results.

So I’ll give you three fact-based reasons why you can feel positive about Stoops’ latest OC hires.

Fact one. Unlike the deposed Shannon Dawson — who was not the play-caller at West Virginia before coming to UK to run the offense last season — Gran was the man in charge of the attack at the University of Cincinnati.

With one caveat, it was a prolific attack he was directing, too. The Bearcats (7-6) finished 2015 sixth in the nation in passing offense (359.9 yards a game), yet they also ran the ball for 177.8 yards a game.

Put it together, and Gran oversaw a unit that ranked sixth nationally in total offense (537.7 yards a game).

That means Cincinnati averaged 3.5 more yards a game than the Tim Couch-directed UK Air Raid attack (534.2) during Hal Mumme’s free-wheeling days in 1998.

Stoops’ first two offensive coordinators, Neal Brown and Dawson, were both directly out of Mumme’s Air Raid coaching tree. Gran and Hinshaw are not.

Gran describes his system as “a multiple, pro-style offense. ... We want to be balanced. We want to be physical. We want to run the darned ball. We want to get after people.”

Hinshaw said the roots of the duo’s approach can be traced to his time (2010-12) working for offensive coordinator Jim Chaney on Derek Dooley’s staff at Tennessee. (Before you say, oh no, Derek Dooley, Tennessee averaged 36.7 points and 476 yards a game in 2012).

“We took an NFL-style offense and, basically, got it in a position where we can go multiple and still be able to play extremely fast,” Hinshaw said. “We can do all the pro-style passing game and the run game and still be able to do it in a fast-paced environment. That’s the one thing you are going to see with Kentucky: We are going to go fast.”

The caveat to Cincinnati’s success moving the ball this season is that the sixth-most potent attack in the country in terms of yards gained was only the 38th-most prolific scoring offense (33.8 points).

Part of the reason was turnovers, especially interceptions. UC quarterbacks Gunner Kiel and Hayden Moore were picked off 22 times (11 each).

“Don’t turn the ball over, and you can score points,” Gran said. “It really is that simple.”

Fact two. Unlike Brown, who left UK to become head coach at Troy after the 2014 season, or Dawson, Gran comes to Lexington with a pre-existing personal relationship with Stoops.

The two coached together three years (2010-12) as assistants at Florida State under Jimbo Fisher.

One would hope the rapport they have will improve the problems with game management, especially late in first halves, that sabotaged Kentucky in 2015.

Having worked at Mississippi, Auburn and Cincinnati under Tommy Tuberville, a head coach from a defensive background similar to Stoops, Gran said he has learned to call plays with the big picture of the game in mind.

“We’d love to have 90 plays a game. That would be a great goal,” Gran said. “But there’s also a time to know in this league that sometimes you have to slow it down, to run it and try and figure out the defense. ... You’ve got to get an idea of what’s going on out there.”

Fact three. Gran and Hinshaw are familiar with UK quarterback Drew Barker from having recruited him at Cincinnati.

Given that redshirt sophomore-to-be Barker is 1.) UK’s only viable option at QB, and 2.) working under his third (and fourth) offensive coordinator at Kentucky, that familiarity should be a plus.

“Darin went and he evaluated (Barker) and said, ‘Wow, this kid’s really phenomenal and everything we were looking for,’” Gran said of UC’s bid to woo the former Northern Kentucky high school star. “We just didn’t get that relationship going with him because (UK) had him sewn up and he was a Wildcat.”

Said Hinshaw: “(Barker) loves Kentucky, which is a good thing. He’s from Kentucky. It made a lot of sense. But working him out and seeing him, I was really excited about this kid.”

It has been a tough slog these past years, and UK football needs all the excitement it can find.

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