Former Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson will be back on the Commonwealth Stadium sideline to open the season Sept. 3, but he’ll be coaching against the Cats.
Dawson, who was dismissed by Coach Mark Stoops after one season running the Cats’ offense, confirmed to the Herald-Leader via text message that he has accepted the offensive coordinator job at Southern Miss.
He has not signed a contract with the Golden Eagles yet.
Kentucky also is scheduled to face Southern Miss on Sept. 2, 2017, in Hattiesburg for its season opener.
When he was dismissed by UK in mid December, Dawson told the Herald-Leader he wished he “could have done a better job. No hard feelings. I support Mark and will root for them to be great next year. I appreciated the opportunity.”
Under Dawson, the UK offense took a step back in several categories, including finishing 10th in the Southeastern Conference, averaging 24.7 points a game compared to 29.2 points in the previous season under Neal Brown.
That 2014 total was significantly higher than during Stoops’ first season at Kentucky, in which the Cats averaged 20.5 points a game.
In 2015, the Cats passed for 262 fewer yards than the season before and went from 14 touchdowns to 10, with 16 interceptions.
The offense saw a slight increase on the ground (114 total yards) from the season before with one more rushing touchdown (22).
Since Dawson’s departure, Stoops has taken a different direction with the offense, hiring Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw as co-offensive coordinators. The two ran a “multiple, pro-style offense” while at Cincinnati.
Brown and Dawson both came from an Air Raid coaching background.
When asked in January what happened offensively last season, Stoops said, “I was disappointed in the outcome and I just felt like again, you know I don’t like to talk negatively about people or whatever, but I just wasn’t comfortable with the overall direction and leadership on that side. X’s and O’s were good. But our players need to play better. That starts obviously with me and getting the assistant coaches to get the players to perform at a higher level. We’ve got to put it in position to be successful in all areas.
“I really stressed halfway through the season critical situations and being able to execute in critical situations, and I just don’t feel like we made the growth in certain situations. ... I just felt like there was change needed at that position.”
Dawson’s Kentucky contract, signed Dec. 19, 2014, was for $550,000 a season and is set to run through 2018.
Under the terms of his deal, Dawson will be paid the remaining portion of his contract unless he retains other employment.
Now that that has happened, the contract stipulates UK “has the right to reduce continuing payment obligations … to the extent that he earns other salary and additional compensation.”
So UK probably will be paying a large portion, but not all, of Dawson’s salary while he’s coaching at Southern Miss. Terms of that agreement likely won’t be finalized for several weeks.
Two Cats invited to Combine
Kentucky seniors Josh Forrest and A.J. Stamps have received invitations to the NFL Combine, according to a list posted to the NFL website Thursday.
Other seniors vying for a chance at an NFL glance, including injured nose guard Melvin Lewis, will have an opportunity to work out for scouts at Kentucky’s annual Pro Day on March 4. That event is not open to the public.
Forrest, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound middle linebacker, led the Cats in tackling each of the past two seasons with 110 in 2014 and 93 in 2015. The Paducah native also had two interceptions in each of the past two seasons as a starter.
Lance Zierlein, a draft analyst, wrote that Forrest would work best as a weak-side linebacker in the NFL and had the “size and range teams look for.
But he noted that “his combination of average instincts and wasted movement in space could be an indicator of up-and-down play in the pros.”
In his two seasons at Kentucky, Stamps recorded 123 tackles with five interceptions and 13 pass breakups. The 5-foot-11, 193-pound safety finished second on the team in tackles last season.
The NFL Combine runs Feb. 23 to 29 in Indianapolis. Linebackers are scheduled to go Feb. 28 and defensive backs Feb. 29.