Based on the timing of the discontent — two Kentucky defensive linemen had just gone down with injuries — and the direction of Mark Stoops’ obvious frustration, most watching the game assumed the Cats coach was angry with Georgia Tech’s blocking technique and perhaps its head coach.
That was not the case, Stoops said after the 33-18 UK loss in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Saturday.
“I was upset with somebody saying something to me,” Stoops said afterward. “I have great respect for Coach Johnson, but nobody else over there is going to say a word to me.”
When asked to expound on perhaps what was said or what upset him, Stoops was vague.
“I will say this: I care about my players and I’m going to check on them,” Stoops said. “I didn’t accuse anybody of doing anything illegal. I have great respect for Coach Johnson. I will talk to him. We have a great relationship. But, again, nobody else is going to say a word to me.”
When Johnson was asked about the exchange, the Georgia Tech coach seemed perplexed.
“I have no idea,” Johnson said. “On our sidelines? You'd have to ask him. He didn't say anything after the game or whatever. I wouldn't have any idea.”
It wouldn’t be the last time Kentucky’s coach was upset in the first half. He had several on-field meetings with the officiating crew in the final minute leading up to a late Georgia Tech field goal to give the Jackets a 20-3 lead at the break.
“I was getting conflicting reports,” Stoops explained. “The bottom line is, (the receiver) was inbounds. They later told me he was inbounds. I couldn’t understand why they were waiting at that point before they reset it to three. This was one second left. It was like a timeout or something.
“I mean, he was inbounds. I just didn’t understand why they just let them have as much time as they want to set it up. … I just couldn’t understand why they would, with one second, give them as much time as they wanted to line up. I thought if you’re inbounds, you got first down, the clock winds. I just wanted clarification.”
No matter the reason, Stoops’ boss didn’t mind seeing his coach showing some fire on the UK sideline.
“I think that’s what got us to this spot, frankly,” Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said. “You want to be able to find the fine balance between controlling your emotions and being the general you need to be on the sidelines. I thought Mark has really grown in that as a football coach this year.
“I love his heart and his passion for what he does and I think he’s found the right way to temper that.”