He’s never been a wide receiver.
He’s never coached a wide receiver.
But Kentucky’s Chad Scott is wide open to the challenge.
With the offseason staff merry-go-round bringing in a running backs coach that also will call plays in Eddie Gran and a co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in Darin Hinshaw, Scott looked like the odd man out.
But Mark Stoops wanted to keep his running backs coach on staff.
It was important to the UK head coach.
“He’s just a quality football coach and I did not want to lose Chad,” Stoops said. “I wanted him on this staff; he brings great value.”
When Scott was hired to be on Stoops’ first staff initially, it was as a wide receivers coach, he said on Thursday.
“I was actually looking forward to coaching the wide receivers then, but it just happened where things didn’t work out initially and I ended up coaching running backs,” he said.
Now Scott will get his chance.
And he can’t think of a better room to be in than the veteran-filled wide receivers room at Kentucky.
“I’m excited for the challenge to coach those guys, especially with the talent we have coming back,” Scott said. “The talent we have in that room makes the transition a lot easier for me.”
The Cats return every player who caught a pass last season with the exception of quarterback Patrick Towles, who statistically caught a pass that was batted back to him in a game. They also have two highly touted freshmen who redshirted in Tavin Richardson and Jabari Greenwood.
But the group, led by Dorian Baker (55 catches, 608 yards, three touchdowns), Garrett Johnson (46 catches, 694 yards, two TDs) and Jeff Badet (29 catches, 430 yards, two TDs), was plagued by drops and inconsistency.
A position group that was supposed to be a strength was a disappointment to its head coach.
“They played some good football, but too inconsistent for us,” Stoops said in a December interview. “That group needs to continue to improve to be difference makers. … Even though we made some really spectacular plays at times, I just think the overall consistency of that group needs to improve.”
“Chad is a very good football coach,” Stoops said on Monday. “He already had a lot to do with the X’s and O’s part of wide receiver and having input with the guys and working with them.”
A good football coach is always prepared, Scott said, which means he’s already dived head first into the position, talking with each of his new charges.
“Obviously, I have a previous relationship with those guys and the player-coach relationship is huge,” he said.
Scott is planning to spend much of his professional development time this offseason going around the country learning from top wide receiver coaches. He’s already leaning on new co-coordinator Hinshaw, who coached that position at Tennessee and Memphis.
“I get here early in the morning and stay late at night,” Scott said. “I always want to be prepared, to go into meetings prepared and make sure all of my guys are prepared.”
Scott worked with former wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord closely developing blocking techniques and route running used at both position groups, which will help in his transition.
More than anything, Scott said he’s going to keep harping on the things that he harped on in the running backs room.
“I’m all about stressing the little things, technique, the fundamentals,” he said. “That doesn’t change with the position group.”
Hopeful of one day becoming an offensive coordinator, Scott sees the position switch as a positive for him, too.
“It comes at a good time in my career,” he said. “It helps me basically become a complete coach, and I think it’s a normal progression for me in terms of my development as a coach.”
More changes coming?
Much of the new Kentucky football practice facility is designed around various facets of sports science and the High Performance program run by Erik Korem.
A Rivals report near the end of the season noted that Stoops was backing away from some of the all-encompassing aspects of the High Performance program.
A recent interview with Stoops implied that he’s definitely taking a long look at the program he brought with him from Florida State, its structure and how it will be used on a daily basis.
While saying he’s “100 percent confident” in High Performance, Stoops added “that’s an area where you evaluate.
“Do I believe in High Performance? Absolutely,” he continued in a recent interview with the Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal of Louisville. “It’s just how much emphasis you put in certain areas and that’s a fair criticism.
“But I don’t think there’s any issue. I know if we all try to dig or whatever, there’s no issue. Are there things, just how high of an emphasis in certain areas do you put on that? You just evaluate how much of the pendulum you’re putting one way or the other.”
That program certainly isn’t the only one Stoops is assessing going into his fourth year as head coach at Kentucky.
“You also have to look in the mirror and constantly be evaluating things and ways to get better in all areas — whether it’s team discipline, accountability and dependability of the players doing right off the field,” Stoops said. “Whether it’s what you’re doing in the weight room, to your offseason workouts. Everything.”
Several times late in the season, Stoops referenced talking to friends around the country about the structure of UK’s practices, the repetitions and time spent on various things.
He didn’t make any significant changes out of that research, but he noted that UK did keep practices much more physical at the end of the season compared to other seasons, trying to build toughness. In past years, he didn’t do much No. 1 offense versus No. 1 defense because of the Cats’ lack of depth.
Big money (no whammies?)
Even with the new contracts of Andy Buh and Derrick Ansley not made public yet — they’re apparently still in university limbo — there has been a large bump in the amount of money being paid to the nine core coaches on Stoops’ staff.
With the new hires of Gran (assistant head coach of the offense/running backs) and Hinshaw (co-offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach), and the already built-in 2016 bump in Vince Marrow’s contract signed last year, Stoops’ UK staff will make $3.1 million next season.
Again, that number will only rise with Ansley’s new deal with the promotion to co-defensive coordinator and Buh’s new deal to replace the one-year deal he had when he arrived last season to coach outside linebackers.
For comparison’s sake, the nine coaches on Stoops’ original staff made a combined $2.43 million. When Joker Phillips’ staff was fired, it made a combined $2.18 million per season.
Rip up the sympathy cards
Whatever you do, if you see Stoops around town, do not tilt your head and ask him if he’s doing OK after the Cats’ second straight 5-7 season that ended in a loss to Louisville.
“What kills me is when I’m walking around town and (fans are) like, ‘Coach, hang in there man. You all right?’ I’m like, ‘Heck yeah, I’m all right. Where you think I’m going? I didn’t die. We’re fine,’” Stoops said this week, maybe half joking on parts. “It’s going to take a lot to get me out of here. We’ll get it done. Believe me, I’m very optimistic.”
It must be a regular occurrence, apparently at Kroger when he’s getting his Starbucks in the morning, because he made reference to that twice.
“That’s the only awkwardness I’ve had: When I’m running around at the grocery store and some old folks are looking at me like, ‘Man coach, just hang in there buddy,’” Stoops continued. “I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m fine, man. I’m going to work. Let’s get it done.’ So, no worries about me or any of these coaches.”
Former Kentucky quarterback Reese Phillips announced on Saturday that he will transfer to Montana. The signal caller told the Missoulian newspaper that his plan is to be at Montana for spring ball to compete for the starting job.
Phillips, who ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in March, likely will have two years to play remaining, but plans to apply for a medical redshirt season. He served as UK’s holder for the final eight games this season.
▪ With the departure of quarterbacks Phillips and Towles (graduate transfer heading to Boston College) as well as the graduations of Daron and Zack Blaylock, Josh Forrest, Landon Foster, Khalid Henderson, Cody Quinn, Jordan Swindle, Fred Tiller and Zach West, Kentucky now has just two players left on scholarship that were not brought in by Stoops’ staff.