Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Mark Stoops on season, new hires

UK Football Head Coach Mark Stoops talked during an afternoon news conference held in the media room at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Monday, January 4, 2016. Stoops later introduced new offensive coaches Darin Henshaw and Eddie Gran.
UK Football Head Coach Mark Stoops talked during an afternoon news conference held in the media room at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Monday, January 4, 2016. Stoops later introduced new offensive coaches Darin Henshaw and Eddie Gran. cbertram@herald-leader.com

MARK STOOPS

On quarterback depth: "Yeah, well, as you know, we have one coming in at mid-term, we have one on scholarship and we’re looking to add another if possible. We’d like to."

On disappointments from last season and what he’s most pleased with: "Yeah, well, I think the results. Bottom line is results. We didn’t get the results we were looking for. As I’ve said many times, our margin for error is very small at this point in time. We need to continue to get better in a lot of areas to increase that margin. And when you lose a game or two that you shouldn’t or have some opportunities that you let slip away, it’s very frustrating. It’s frustrating on a lot of people. We need to get those things corrected. We need to continue to get better in all areas and be able to overcome bad things that happen to you throughout the season and throughout certain games."

On his comments on Shannon Dawson after Louisville game versus his decision to terminate their relationship: "I have this question answered for you cause I haven’t really seen you. I took the one-on-one but you weren’t there; you were on vacation. … The bottom line was I wasn’t prepared. It’s not who I am that after a game, after a tough loss to put that on somebody else. That’s on me. I’ll take it. I told you I needed to go evaluate a lot of things in the program and I have. To say, I just don’t think that’s appropriate, not my style to come in here and say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to have somebody take a bullet.’ I’ll take the bullet. That’s the bottom line."

On what went wrong offensively and why such a quick change: "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 as I looked at the state of the program and all areas, I just felt like there was change needed at that position."

On the ‘head coach of the offense’ title: "It’s basically the same title that you see across the country ‘assistant head coach.’ And it just put a slash with the offense because he’s the offensive coordinator. So in all honesty, it’s not much different for the offensive players or defensive players because if players have a problem on defense, they’re going to come see me and if I’m not available, they’re going to go to the defensive coordinator. So it’s the same thing on offense. Eddie will assist with me in assistant head coach duties because he has that kind of experience and expertise and it will be good to have. He’s a seasoned veteran."

On how much he expects the guys who transferred but couldn’t play this season to help next season: "From what I’ve seen, I envision a great deal of help from those guys, starting with Courtney Love and the leadership he brings. And also with De’Niro (Laster), De’Niro was an explosive player on scout team and De’Niro Laster, the transfer from (Minnesota), originally from Cleveland, is an explosive guy, a violent guy. He’s going to be a welcomed addition."

On if there will be any changes on defensive responsibilities: "I am. I was going to announce that at some point as I got into it, but I am, I’m going to promote Derrick Ansley to co-defensive coordinator. That will not, and I emphasize, that will not in any way, shape or form (be) any type of demotion for D.J. Eliot. It will be the exact same title. He is the defensive coordinator. He will make the calls, but Derrick has a lot of responsibility. He’s done a very good job. Just like you see on offense, you have somebody, a passing game coordinator, he handles a lot of that on our side of the ball. Also, I think it was important. Derrick is a guy who was heavily pursued every year I’ve been here. I don’t want to get into specifics -- and I appreciate not everybody is throwing darts and making accusations and assumptions and all that -- we want to battle to keep them here, let’s put it that way. I had SEC coaches calling me; I had SEC coaches flying in here and going to his house. We got him to stay. I appreciate that."

On perception that he’s not on same pages with his offensive coordinators: "I think it’s fair to say, but again, I don’t want to get into all that. I’m into getting first downs and scoring points by any means necessary. Each coordinator that I’ve hired has full autonomy to do whatever they have to do to move the ball. One hundred percent, I don’t interfere. If there’s a game management issue. If things are getting slid one way or another, I’ll talk about it then. Outside of that, they have full control. I’ve said it since I’ve been here. I think it’s very, very important that I fix the things I know I can fix. And that’s defensively, special teams, attitude, there’s a lot of things. But fixing offensive problems, I cannot do. So that is on the offensive coordinator 100 percent and it will be as we move forward."

On need for balance and how Gran and Hinshaw can help: "Absolutely. Balance or the threat of the run game. You’ve heard me talk about it -- and anybody will tell you that -- if anybody is just one-sided, you hear it pro, college or anybody. If you think you’re just one sided or you think you’re predictable run or predictable pass, you’re going to have a hard time winning at the highest level and to win consistently. You need balance and you need the threat of it. With these guys that we hired, obviously, it’s not perfect 50-50 or I’d have hired somebody else. They threw the heck out of the ball and they’re fourth in the country I wanna say in throwing the ball, but still rushed it for roughly 180 yards a game. So that’s a big enough threat and a good enough balance to move the football. But overall, they’ve been statistically in the top of the country just about every year, certainly the past two."

On hiring Gran and why he didn’t get hired a year ago: "Eddie and I did talk a year ago. We talked when I first got the job. We were both at Florida State and colleagues there and neighbors. So I knew Eddie very well and his family. I know what Eddie’s all about and I remember very vividly being at Florida State and going in our first recruiting trips and going down to Florida and I know Florida very well and been through there a whole bunch. There’s not a place that I walked into that wasn’t open arms to see him. He’s been down in South Florida a long time, has a great reputation, a great worker, so he was on my radar from day one. And then he went to Cincinnati, became the offensive coordinator and did very well. Did that for two years and I talked to him a year ago, Eddie wasn’t quite ready to come a year ago. He’d only been there two years at Cincinnati with Tommy (Tuberville) and wanted to stick it out. This year after I made the change, I pursued him and I wasn’t going to let him tell me no."

On if new hire will affect the way UK handles special teams: "It won’t change. With these hires, it won’t change at all how we work on special teams. No. Other than Eddie has great experience in that as well and that’s where I worked with him at Florida State, him being the associate head coach there and special teams coordinator, but did a great job. And that’s where you saw him in front of the whole team as a special teams coordinator, or as we do it here, whoever’s in charge of that phase is in charge, up there in front of the whole team. And you see how he interacts with the whole team, the command that he has of the whole team and things like that. Eddie’s a true professional."

On moving Chad Scott to receivers coach: "I think it was a normal progression for Chad. Chad is a very good football coach. 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. He’s just a quality football coach and I did not want to lose Chad. I wanted him on this staff; he brings great value. So I’m looking forward to him working with the receivers."

On if Scott was brought in as a WR coach initially: "It’s fair to say, yeah, we talked about it. Neal (Brown) and I were on board and as you’re putting together the staff and all that, Neal was completely comfortable with him coaching the wide receivers at that point in time, just didn’t shake out that way."

On if kickoff return duties have been reassigned: "We’ll work on that. I’m still working through a few things. Up until a day ago, I’m sure some of you will ask me about other staff changes. I’m not planning on making any other staff changes, but people are still pursuing our coaches and you never know how that’s going to go. We want to keep them. I’m very confident in this staff. I’m very comfortable with this staff. We had another defensive coach turn down a Power Five defensive coordinator job. Coach Eliot, I’ve had people call and ask me for permission to speak with Coach Eliot and have interviews for Division I head coaching jobs, so I’ve been very fortunate to keep the rest of the guys intact to this point."

On defense last year and where it needs to get better: "I think we worked our way through our identity. I know that gets throw (around) a lot around a lot by you guys, and a lot of it is justifiable. We made the transition 4-3 to 3-4. You’re always trying to fit the best personnel you have and you can get and you can recruit to and put your players in position to be successful. As you get better and better, the more talent you have, you can line up and do a lot of things. And do a lot of things well. We’re trying to get to that point. I think we made it through the transition. I feel very comfortable with who we are and what we’re doing defensively. I’m very comfortable with that. We played three freshmen toward the end of the year in the secondary and I’m very pleased with those guys. You have to be better in the front. I always talk about the front. It starts up there and you have to be good on the back end. To be good and win the games we want to win, you have to be good in all three levels. I didn’t do the research and I meant to before we came in here, but we win eight bowl games in the SEC. Teams we’re playing are darn good. How many teams did we lose to that won bowl games? Probably quite a bit. There’s good teams we’re playing. We’ve got to be good at all levels. I think we’re getting better. Again, I’m comfortable with the staff. I’m comfortable with our identity. I think we’ve made great progress, and as we get better and better we’ll statistically jump up and be able to make those stops when we need to. We’re getting better.

On what kind of dissension there was in the locker room, if any: "I don’t know of any dissension that went on in the locker room. I don’t think anybody should be pleased with the outcome of certain games, and certain frustrations. Where any type of divide or dissension – I don’t see it at all. At all. I’m a pretty observant guy. I don’t see that, and I’ll call it like it is if there’s issues. When you’re dealing with 110 kids and trying to rebuild a program in the SEC, at times you ought to lock yourself up in a room that’s got steel all the way around it and ram your head into it about 10 times. That’s what it feels like. It’s frustrating, it’s hard, it’s tough. Do you think there’s going to be great camaraderie every step in an environment like that? No. There’s not in any major program, but you have to be good enough to overcome things, put it behind you and move on. You’re dealing with 110 personalities, a bunch of guys with strong minds and strong attitudes, which they should, which you need, and there’s going to be some dissension. I don’t – I’m not naïve: I don’t think we’re perfect or that you can’t improve. There’s a lot of areas that we need to improve, and camaraderie and cohesiveness within the staff and within the team is important. But any issue? No, no. Just when you lose it’s this (points fingers), who you going to blame? You all got a job to do."

On how important it is that any quarterback addition can push Drew Barker for the starting job: "I think it’s very important. Competition is the foundation for everything that we do. You’ve heard me talk about that. You need to bring in guys that can compete at every level, at every spot. Certainly quarterback. I think that’s one thing as I talk about Darin Hinshaw and Eddie Gran, that’s what they’re big on. I think Darin, as a quarterback coach, is very big on competition and bringing in guys that compete, bringing in guys every year. I think Darin’s a great evaluator, a great quarterback coach. I like that when I talk to him about bringing in guys to open that up every year.

"I know it was asked to me at the end of the year, ‘Is Drew your quarterback?’ He is, but that’s to take the first snap of spring ball. You know, you’ve heard me say it 1,000 times: Every job needs to be earned every day. You know I’m never going away from that. The first day of spring ball he’ll take the first reps unless something happens between now and then that would put him in a negative situation. All positions will be guys that have to earn their right on the field, earn their spots, and that’s the same at quarterback. So, I think it’s very important.

On new coaching hires: "As I looked for an offensive coordinator, you do what most people do: You look at statistics. The first thing you do is look at statistics and just get a feel for what you want to do. Then you look at the style and all those things, but the big thing for me was the person, was the leader. I know exactly what I’m getting with Eddie Gran. That was the big thing: We had a history. We go back. We worked together at Florida State – you heard me talk about it earlier – when he was the associated head coach and special teams coordinator, constantly in front of the whole team, and I saw his leadership. He’s a great teacher, he’s a great motivator, he’s a true professional. Eddie will work his tail off. He’s extremely detailed, but most importantly he’s a great leader. So, could not be more pleased to have Eddie join our staff. I think he’ll do a great job.

"I think an important piece to that was bringing in Darin Hinshaw, who coaches the quarterbacks. Because of Eddie’s background in calling plays and being a coordinator, he’s got a lot on his plate. He’ll coach the running backs. That’s his expertise. I think hope that helps us: Moving Eddie to running backs with the great talent that we have with a different voice in that room and Eddie’s great experience at running back as well. Then bringing in Darin, who worked so closely with Eddie in coaching the quarterbacks, I thought that was an important piece. As we were trying to put this thing together, I thought it was extremely important to get both of those guys. We were able to do that.

"So, very excited. They’ve had great numbers, but more importantly I know the leadership qualities they have. I know what type of people they are. They are unbelievable recruiters. I think it’s very important that they had SEC experience. Eddie has been around the SEC quite a bit in two different places, two or three, and Darin with the three years at Tennessee as well. I thought it was great experience. He worked with Coach Chaney who I have a lot of great respect for as well. He worked with him for those three years at Tennessee. So, two quality guys, quality coaches, and we’re fortunate to have them. Again, there’s so many pieces that you could talk about, but I think the leadership, the coaching, the teaching and also the recruiting piece is going to help us as well.

"As you guys know, we’ve already recruited at a high level, higher than we’ve seen around here, but I think you all can also tell we need to what? We need to recruit better. You need to recruit more. That’s this league, everything that’s put into this league with recruiting quality players and then developing them and putting them in a position to be successful. I feel very good, I feel very excited about this staff, about where we’re at, about where the program is headed.

"It’s been a lot of negativity, and rightfully so. We were disappointed. I was disappointed. When you look back, you look at things, there’s a game, a game and a half that really frustrates you, that could put you in position. Certainly there were more than that. I’m not saying just a game, a game and a half, but there’s certain pieces that stand out to you, that frustrate you. We’ve got to find a way to overcome those negative plays, negative games and win them. I feel very, very good about the program and where we’re headed. I feel great. Again, people – no offense, but people in the media and certainly fans, they’re going to look at the negative side of things, and I understand that because we all know it’s a bottom-line business, it’s a results business. We have to win games. I know that, and we will, but I feel very good and the coaches feel very good.

"Like I already mentioned – and I’m not going to say exactly where – but there’s two, three, four guys on our staff that could have easily gone to another job, and some of them were darn hard jobs to turn down. And bringing in Eddie and Darin that were getting calls every day to go places. So, I’m very excited about where we’re going, where this staff is and what we have in place. There’s good things happening. It’s a grind. People get tired of hearing about that – I know that. By the time I sat up here from my first press conference to know, people have heard me so many times you get tired of it, and it’s only been three years. I get it. You know, I get it. You know, I really do. I’d be tired of looking at my ugly face too and hearing the same things, but we are going to stay the course. We’re going to make adjustments. We’re always in an environment to make improvements. That’s our business. Everybody that works in this athletic department tries to do their job better every day. We are no different. We’re going to look at everything in our program from strength and conditioning to offense to defense to special teams to leadership to everything that we do. We will look to do it better.

"I feel very good. I feel very optimistic. It was a tough time. You don’t think walking off this field and losing that game and then going recruiting and doing all those things…It was tough. It was tough on me. We play a great first half and then come out and lay an egg in the second half. That’s a tough way to end the season. But, after some time off, after getting these new hires, after being able to retain some of the quality coaches that I have here, I’m extremely excited, extremely optimistic as we move forward. I really feel rejuvenated.

"I walk in the office last night and I’m in there, going to get some work done and putz around. I’m in my office and Coach Eliot was in his, so I was BSing around with him. Then next thing you know I hear other guys coming in and it’s Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw. Eddie’s got the music playing and it put a big smile on my face. I’m excited and energetic and read to go. I really feel good about these guys and where we’re headed. So, it’s going to be a good situation."

On if he thinks 2016 is a ‘put-up-or-shut-up’ season for him: "No. No, I don’t. I feel like I’ve got to continue to do my job the very best we can. I said it in so many ways: It’s a results business. I get it. You know what I mean? So, we’re going to look for better results and more wins, but I know what we’re doing. I know the state of the program, and I know how hard it is. Again, what I’ve told you many times: I knew exactly what I was getting into. I know exactly. That doesn’t make me feel good all the time – just because you anticipate bumps, you anticipate major obstacles. I get it. I’ve been around, but it doesn’t make you feel any better. It’s still tough, but believe me, it doesn’t discourage me one bit. We’ll go forward. We’ll get it done. Look around. Look around. You think I’m the only one with issues? You think I’m the only one that’s got to answer to ya’ll? It’s in our business. We get it.

"What kills me is when I’m around town. You know how I feel about this place: I love this place, I love the people, I love the passion of the fans. They’re angry when we lose. They should be. They’re tired of it. They’ve been around here a lot longer than me with some ups and the downs. I told you I want to deliver for them, and we will. And that doesn’t discourage me. What kills me is when I’m walking around town and they’re 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.’ It’s going to take a lot to get me out of here. We’ll get it done. Believe me, I’m very optimistic. Very excited. There’s always bumps in the road. We’ll get it straight. It’s not easy, but we’ll get it done. I feel very good about it and am not discouraged one bit. 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.’ 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. We’re very excited, very optimistic. We’re not happy, but we’re ready to get to work and get better."

On who will call plays on defense: "So, I told you: There’s no change to D.J. Eliot. None. D.J. is defensive coordinator and calling the plays and the whole deal. Derrick is "co." Again, that’s just to reward him for the work that he’s done and to continue to give him more responsibility, to groom him and put him in a position of growth and responsibility. He’s earned that. He does a quality job."

  Comments