John Clay

Mark Stoops’ education includes how to make the most of his emotion

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops tried to get an official’s attention in the second quarter against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., on Oct. 24, 2015.
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops tried to get an official’s attention in the second quarter against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., on Oct. 24, 2015.

On the eve of his fourth season as UK’s football coach, Mark Stoops has come across as likable and down-to-earth, a guy who loves football and coaching. He’s not the most colorful quote or the smoothest speaker, but Stoops exudes an appealing amount of sincerity and the potential to be an excellent head coach.

One thing bears remembering, however. This is his first head coaching job. Stoops chafes a bit whenever that issue is raised, but it’s true. Just as we’ve learned a lot about the Youngstown, Ohio, native during his tenure, Stoops has surely learned a lot about how to be the coach who makes the final decisions.

And one thing he’s surely still in the process of learning is how to best channel his emotions.

Stoops is an emotional guy. We know that from watching him on the sidelines these past three seasons. He’s not afraid to raise his voice to a player or an assistant or an official. In his profession, he’s hardly alone.

No one chews on officials or players harder than Louisville’s Bobby Petrino. Alabama’s Nick Saban can unleash a volcanic eruption at any moment. On the flip side, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer is intense but controlled on the sidelines. All three are successful. There are many ways to get the job done.

You have to be you, but you also have to be the best version of you. Your strength can sometimes be your weakness. Stoops’ passion and enthusiasm are definite positives, but there have been times when the coach has let his emotions distract him from the job at hand.

A couple of occasions from last season come to mind — the loss to Mississippi State when Stoops was complaining about what he believed to be a missed call and didn’t get his field goal unit set up in time; the loss at Vanderbilt when a series of questionable decisions cost the Cats what could have/should have been a victory in Nashville.

The guess here is that (a) Stoops has learned from those experiences and (b) this year he’ll get a little more sideline help. His hire of Eddie Gran, the new head coach of offense, should benefit not only the offense but the staff overall.

Gran has been a football coach for 28 years. He knows his way around the SEC with stops at Ole Miss, Auburn and Tennessee. He’s spent considerable time under Tommy Tuberville and Jimbo Fisher, a couple of coaches with proven records.

He also has Stoops’ trust, something we’ve wondered about with previous offensive coordinators. Gran and Stoops coached together at Florida State. They should be on the same page. And Gran should be able to help Stoops with advice that goes beyond schemes and game plans.

The same thing goes on the defensive side of the football with Matt House, who will coach the inside linebackers and special teams. House brings a varied background to the table. He’s done everything from be a recruiting coordinator in the MAC to a quality control coach in the NFL to a defensive coordinator at two schools (Pitt and Florida International).

It’s not enough to have good coaches, of course. A staff must have good chemistry. We learned that during the Hal Mumme years, when divisions among the ranks helped brew a toxic atmosphere that helped bring down a promising regime. Compare that to the Rich Brooks years, when the veteran head coach employed a diverse staff that got the most from its talent.

Make no mistake, Brooks could be a fiery fellow, as well. He was never afraid to get in an official’s ear, but he also knew the value of balance and the best way to transfer that passion and fight over to his team. That’s a special and valuable skill, one UK fans hope Mark Stoops is one year closer to acquiring.

Kentucky football coaching staff

Mark Stoops - head coach

Jimmy Brumbaugh - defensive line

Steve Clinkscale - defensive backs

D.J. Eliot - defensive coordinator/outside linebackers

Eddie Gran - head coach for offense/offensive coordinator/running backs

Darin Hinshaw - co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

Matt House - inside linebackers/special teams coordinator

Vince Marrow - tight ends/recruiting coordinator

John Schlarman - offensive line

Lamar Thomas - wide receivers

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader