John Clay

John Clay: Kentucky football’s new coaching hires may be great, but then we’ve heard that before

Eddie Gran was named UK's assistant head coach of the offense/offensive coordinator as well as running backs coach.
Eddie Gran was named UK's assistant head coach of the offense/offensive coordinator as well as running backs coach. University of Cincinnati

On paper, Eddie Gran is a good hire. Kentucky’s newest offense coordinator — excuse me, “assistant head coach of the offense” — has SEC knowledge and overall experience. He has a previous working relationship with Mark Stoops. He coordinated a high-powered attack at Cincinnati.

If UK is expecting Big Blue Nation to storm the box office demanding season tickets for 2016, however, chances are the school is going to be disappointed.

That’s no offense to Gran. In fact, it has nothing to do with Gran. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact Kentucky football fans have heard all of this before.

They heard it in regard to Neal Brown, Stoops’ first offensive coordinator, the Boyle County native and former UK wide-out who returned to his alma mater after a successful span running the offense at Texas Tech. Brown was going to bring the “Air Raid” back to Commonwealth Stadium. That’s not quite what happened.

They heard it about this same time last year in regard to Shannon Dawson, who had served as Dana Holgorsen’s right-hand man at West Virginia and who was going to bring a more physical dimension to the “Air Raid” that would take the pass-happy offense to the next level. That’s not quite what happened.

At least Brown departed on his own accord, taking over as head coach at Troy. Dawson was pink-slipped after just one season, indicating on his way out he was not on the same philosophical page as his boss. That set the stage for Stoops to hire his third offensive coordinator in just four seasons.

He picked Gran, a coach he worked with at Florida State under Jimbo Fisher. The inference is that this time Stoops knows for sure what he’s getting (unlike Dawson), there will be no surprises (unlike Dawson) and Stoops will be comfortable in the working relationship with his offensive coordinator (unlike Dawson).

But will he? That’s the biggest question here. Those who have seen Stoops interact with his offensive coordinator on the sideline and listened to Stoops’ comments after games were left with the impression the head coach and the play-caller were on differing wavelengths.

Will Stoops let Gran run his own show? Was that why Gran was given the fancy “assistant head coach for offense” title and allowed to bring in Cincinnati’s quarterbacks coach, Darin Hinshaw, as well? Was Gran given assurances he won’t be publicly second-guessed by a head coach known to say “I should have been more forceful in letting (the offensive coordinator) know what I wanted”?

It’s Stoops’ show, of course. He’s responsible for the hiring (Dawson and now Gran) and firing (Dawson). He’s also the man responsible for a program that through much of last season appeared disorganized and unprepared.

Maybe it was all the fault of Dawson and wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord (also fired), but three offensive coordinators in three seasons is not a good thing, especially when you’re the one who hired and fired the middle one.

Here’s the other thing about modern-day coordinators: You can’t just hire them; you have to sell them. These days, money matters more than ever. The stakes are higher. Buyouts are bigger. In the 21st century, college athletics isn’t so much in the game of extracurricular activities for the student-athlete as it is in the business of selling tickets.

That’s why Brown was touted as an “Air Raid” coordinator though he never really ran that offense. Ditto Dawson. UK’s marketing department seemed to be thinking one thing while Stoops was thinking something else. Maybe now finally everyone will be singing from the same hymnal.

“I’ve been impressed with how well they’ve produced at Cincinnati and how prolific they have been in throwing the football,” said Stoops in Tuesday’s prepared statement about his new hires.

No offense and no pun intended, but I doubt Kentucky fans are going to put much stock in what the news releases say. They’ve heard that before. They’ll be more interested in what they see.

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