Mark Story

Is Brad White the right hire to keep Kentucky’s defensive momentum going?

‘It was a quick one that’s for sure’ New Kentucky football coach describes being hired by Stoops

Brad Smith, new University of Kentucky outside linebackers coach, talks to press within Joe Craft Football Training Facility about his fast experience of being hired by head coach Mark Stoops.
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Brad Smith, new University of Kentucky outside linebackers coach, talks to press within Joe Craft Football Training Facility about his fast experience of being hired by head coach Mark Stoops.

In coaching, as in life, timing is everything.

By accepting the promotion to Kentucky defensive coordinator to replace the departed Matt House, Wildcats outside linebackers coach Brad White has “bought the stock” that is the UK defense at a very high valuation.

En route to a 10-3 record and a VRBO Citrus Bowl victory, last season’s defense was the best at Kentucky in nearly four decades.

Coach Mark Stoops’ Wildcats held foes to 16.9 points and 337.9 yards per game.

No Kentucky defense had surrendered a lower scoring average since Fran Curci’s 1979 Cats allowed 13 points per game. Only one UK defense, Rich Brooks’ 2008 unit (332.4 yards per game), had given up fewer yards per contest since 1989.

Last year’s defensive numbers were a stark departure from the first five UK defenses (2013-2017) of the Stoops era, which allowed combined averages of 417.9 yards and 29.9 points per game.

White’s task, now that UK has officially announced his promotion, is to preserve Kentucky’s defensive momentum in spite of the loss from last season of defensive difference-makers such as Josh Allen, Jordan Jones, Mike Edwards and Darius West.

For a first-time coordinator, this is no small challenge.

White, who came to Kentucky before last season after spending six years with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, might have had the most successful debut as a position coach in UK football history.

In Lexington, White inherited Allen, who in his first three seasons at Kentucky had been an undersized and inconsistent edge rusher.

With White imparting knowledge gleaned from the NFL to a more physically-developed Allen, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound product of Montclair, N.J., blossomed into a defensive force in 2018 — 88 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 17 quarterback sacks, seven QB hurries, five forced fumbles, four pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.

As a result, Allen received a treasure trove of national defensive player of the year trophies.

Repeatedly, Allen credited White for being a prime factor in his dominant year.

“He’s been a big key to my success this year,” Allen said in the run up to UK’s 27-24 win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. “Just teaching me the little things about pass rushing and the little things about drops (into pass coverage). … I have so much respect for that man. I’m so thankful he came here.”

Kentucky football outside linebacker Josh Allen discusses how he has been helped by position coach Brad White. That doesn't mean Allen takes it easy on White in practice, however. UK plays Penn State in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2019.

That one of the players White worked with in his first season at Kentucky had a breakout season for the ages should give the new UK defensive coordinator immediate credibility with Wildcats players (and fans) as he takes on his elevated role.

Of course, being responsible for the entire defensive scheme is a very different job than presiding over one position group.

Last year, at the time Stoops announced White’s hiring as outside linebackers coach, the UK head man emphasized the new assistant’s overall acumen.

“In addition to (White’s) knowledge of coaching linebackers, he has big-picture expertise,” Stoops said then.

As a new defensive coordinator, White will have the benefit of working with Stoops, who came to UK from the position of defensive coordinator at Florida State.

The Portsmouth, R.I., native can also call on UK defensive backs coach/special teams coordinator Dean Hood — who was the defensive coordinator at Wake Forest when White played linebacker (2002-04) for the Demon Deacons.

The expectation for White in 2019 should not be to match last season’s defensive metrics. At Kentucky, you cannot lose the number of defensive playmakers the Wildcats have departing and not feel it.

Success in White’s first season running the UK defense would be for the Cats to preserve some of last year’s improvement.

Even with the graduation of three-year starter Adrian Middleton at tackle, the Kentucky defensive front should be a strength. Jones and Allen are major losses, but UK appears to have abundant youthful promise in its linebacking corps.

Losing a pair of NFL-caliber safeties in Edwards and West will hurt, but returnees Davonte Robinson, Jordan Griffin and Tyrell Ajian have all produced as backups in game situations.

It is cornerback, where the departures of Derrick Baity, Chris Westry and Lonnie Johnson leave the Wildcats with no proven players, that looms as the most acute question mark.

Moving a coaching up-and-comer into the role as Kentucky defensive coordinator has appeal.

In taking on the UK defense at this moment in time, White is proving he is not afraid to risk his rep as a riser in the coaching profession on a potentially vexing task.


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.