Mark Story

Kentucky Sports Mailbag: Should this be Mark Stoops' deepest UK regret?

A Kentucky fan wonders if UK head football coach Mark Stoops has a major regret relating to the Wildcats' approach to in-state recruiting.
A Kentucky fan wonders if UK head football coach Mark Stoops has a major regret relating to the Wildcats' approach to in-state recruiting.

We start this week's Kentucky Sports Mailbag with a UK football fan wondering if he has identified a prime regret of the Mark Stoops coaching era in Lexington:

Mark's note: In an April 21st column, I noted that after Kentucky football failed to land one in-state recruit in its class of 2018 (it only offered three), UK was off to a rugged start with the 2019 class, too.

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talks about fact there are no Kentucky high school players in his 2018 signing class.

Shortly thereafter, Stoops gave ace recruiter Vince Marrow — who typically focuses on Ohio — more responsibility for wooing recruits from the commonwealth. Since then, Kentucky has landed commitments from West Jessamine offensive lineman Eli Cox and Doss High School defensive end Shawnkel Knight-Goff.

That led to Mailbag Item One:

Mark's reply: Until 2018, UK had basically "controlled" its home state in recruiting since Mark Stoops was hired by Kentucky before the 2013 season.

That didn't mean Kentucky got everyone it wanted. Obviously, Madison Southern running back Damien Harris (Alabama) and Caldwell County quarterback Elijah Sindelar (Purdue) from the class of 2015 and Lafayette offensive tackle Jedrick Wills (Alabama) from the class of 2017 were big in-state recruiting losses for UK.

Harris
Alabama running back Damien Harris, the former Madison Southern star, is among the top in-state players who "got away" from the University of Kentucky during the Mark Stoops coaching era. Brynn Anderson AP

Still, Kentucky signed four of the state's top five players as ranked by Rivals.com in 2014 (the Drew Barker/Matt Elam class) and the top four players in 2016 (the Landon Young/Kash Daniel class).

To me, UK whiffing on in-state players in 2018 seemed like an anomaly. Of the three players Kentucky offered — Bowling Green linebacker Justice Dingle (Georgia Tech), Trinity flanker Rondale Moore (Purdue), and Waggener defensive back Jairus Brents (Louisville) — not one of them grew up in the commonwealth.

However, UK's slow start with the in-state class of 2019 was concerning.

Trinity defensive end Stephen Herron (Michigan), South Warren defensive lineman Jacob Lacey (Notre Dame), Scott County offensive lineman Bryan Hudson (Virginia Tech) and Glasgow offensive lineman Tanner Bowles (Alabama) were already committed to leave the state before Stoops turned to Marrow to stop the (Blue) bleeding.

Since that happened, UK has seemed to make up considerable ground with several of the commonwealth's top remaining uncommitted prospects. Beating Louisville and Purdue for the commitment of Knight-Goff — a player Rivals recently moved into the top five of in-state prospects — was a big "get" for the Cats.

marrow
Vince Marrow, Kentucky football's recruiting ace, normally concentrates on the state of Ohio. After months of UK in-state recruiting struggles, however, Mark Stoops recently assigned Marrow a more active role in recruiting the state of Kentucky. Ken Weaver

So, to answer the question, I would say Stoops probably wishes he'd have gotten Marrow going with class of 2019 in-state players earlier in the process. Still to be answered is whether having to use Marrow in-state will negate any of his effectiveness recruiting out-of-state.

Item Two (from email): "You always site the Directors' Cup standings to show U of K ranks ahead of U of L. Well, I'm a Louisville fan and I think that's totally bogus. U of L has been much more successful in the sports most fans care about and everybody knows it."

Signed, My L's Are Up

Mark's reply: The Directors' Cup is a measure of the overall strength of athletics departments based on how teams fare in NCAA post-season play including football bowl games.

Kentucky has ranked ahead of Louisville in the final Directors' Cup standings every year since 2008-09. UK finished in the top 10 of the Directors' Cup last school year (10th) for the first time in its history. At 26th, U of L also logged its best finish ever in 2016-17.

barnhart
Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart has seen his department finish ahead of Louisville in the Directors' Cup standings eight years in a row. Herald-Leader file photo

That said, in the four most-visible sports, Louisville has been superior in three.

Football: Louisville has played in two major bowls this century (Orange Bowl after 2006 season; Sugar Bowl following 2012); Kentucky has not played in a major bowl game since the Cotton Bowl following the 1951 season.

Baseball: U of L has played in the College World Series four times since 2007; UK has never made it to Omaha.

Women's basketball: Louisville has made three Final Four trips (2009, 2013, 2018) in the past 10 years; Kentucky has never made an appearance in the women's national semifinals.

Jeff Walz cutting down nets in Rupp Arena
Louisville Coach Jeff Walz held up a Rupp Arena net after the Cardinals blasted Oregon State 76-43 in the 2018 women’s NCAA Tournament round of eight in Lexington to advance to the Final Four for the third time in school history. James Crisp Associated Press

Men's basketball: Kentucky has played in four Final Fours since 2011 and continues to display in Rupp Arena the 2012 NCAA championship banner it won.

Louisville had made two Final Four trips (2012 and '13) this decade but vacated each including the 2013 national title due to NCAA rules violations.

Bottom line: Kentucky's consistent superiority over Louisville in the Directors' Cup since 2008-09 shows it has been the more well-rounded athletics department.

However, if you are among the many fans who only judge athletics departments by the success of the four most publicized sports, U of L — even allowing for the repeat men's hoops scandals and the resulting campus tumult — has the clear edge.

In case you are wondering, for the 2017-18 school year Kentucky currently ranks 15th in the Directors' Cup standings with Louisville 23rd.

Item Three: The anniversary (May 22) of the Kentucky Colonels 1975 ABA championship led to some Twitter questions about the Louisville-based Colonels history of also playing home games in Lexington and Cincinnati:

Mark's reply: According to basketballreference.com, the Kentucky Colonels played 10 regular-season games in Lexington's Memorial Coliseum in their history, four in 1973-74 and six in their championship season of 1974-75.

Lexington was good to the Colonels, who won nine of those 10 games. The only loss was a 114-112 defeat to the New York Nets on March 16, 1974.

Mark's reply: The Colonels played 18 regular-season games in Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum (now U.S. Bank Arena), 10 in 1973-74 and eight in 1975-76.

Artis Gilmore Colonels
Artis Gilmore and his Kentucky Colonels teammates went 9-1 in ABA regular season games played in Lexington in the 1970s. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

The Colonels went 4-6 in Cincinnati in the 1973-74 season, but were 6-2 in the Queen City in 1975-76, the final year the Colonels existed before the NBA-ABA merger led to the extinction of the franchise.

Mark Story: 859-231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

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