Kentucky Football: Yes, Mark Stoops is still the right man for the job in Lexington

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Josh asks a question I suspect is popular in the fan base right now: Do you think [Mark] Stoops is the man for UK? Do you think we will be better next year?

Despite some harsh criticism of Stoops at various times — most recently and sharply just a few days ago after the Louisville debacle — yes, I still think he’s the right guy for the job. Because of several reasons, not the least of which is: Kentucky isn’t going to get a sure-thing, established head coach who is already winning somewhere else at a high level, not even now.

There is something to be said for doing what Mitch Barnhart has with Stoops: identifying a rising star in the coordinator ranks, plucking him from Florida State and letting him grow into the job. That is what I think we’re seeing — and growth often comes with growing pains.

Stoops has made some mistakes, and I think he’d tell you that, even in Year 5. But remember, that’s Year 5 overall for him as a head coach. He just graduated head-coaching kindergarten.

Care to guess what Nick Saban, the king of college football, did in his fifth season as a head coach? He went 6-6 at Michigan State. He went 7-5, 6-6, 6-5-1 the three seasons before that. And in his sixth season, he went 9-2. In his eighth (at LSU), he won the Sugar Bowl. In his 10 th, he won his first national title.

I’m not saying Stoops is Saban, rather that even the guy who now stands head and shoulders above every coach in the game struggled to be above average for the first five years of his career. There are just things about being a head coach you cannot know or prepare for until you’ve seen and done them a few times — and probably fallen on your face.

It took Stoops a while to settle on an offensive identity, but he’s found one with Eddie Gran. (You can rip Gran’s play calling, but the fact is he’s been extremely limited by Stephen Johnson’s passing ability this season. Toughness is not a question with Johnson, but there are things the Cats just can’t do with him at QB. Even so, from Stoops, Gran and recruiting ace Vince Marrow has come the joy of watching Benny Snell rumble.)

It has taken Stoops longer than anyone expected to build a formidable defense — we’re all still waiting, in fact — and the struggle in the secondary (his specific area of expertise) is baffling. But maybe this offseason will bring another round of reflection and some staff changes and that side of the ball will take a turn for the better. I predict it will.

Similarly, Stoops needs to put himself through some kind of situational game-day boot camp this offseason and make sure he and the staff are squared away on how they’ll handle high-stress moments in games. He needs to check his temper and make sure he doesn’t ever, even for a few seconds, lose sight of the big picture when something goes wrong and he gets ticked off on the sideline.

The man is flawed, is what I’m saying, but what coach not named Saban isn’t? And how many coaches have posted back-to-back 7-5 seasons and bowl appearances at Kentucky? Especially four years after consecutive 2-10 seasons?

Stoops has done that. He could’ve done more, but so many coaches before him have done less in Lexington. And while it’s fair to hammer Stoops on the near misses, it’s important to remember he’s responsible for the  near part, too. Lotta years that UK wasn’t near beating anyone, much less  nine someones.

Also: No one before him — non-Bear Bryant category — has recruited like Stoops here.

Kentucky currently has the No. 22 recruiting class in the country for 2018 (per Rivals.com). It signed the No. 26 class in 2017, No. 28 in 2016, No. 35 in 2015, No. 17 in 2014 and No. 29 in 2013 under Stoops. The Wildcats ranked No. 62, 61, 50, 41, 57 and 54 in the six classes before him.

I think he’s smart enough to know things need to change and competent enough to figure out how. Stoops has been far from perfect, but I wonder today exactly what I did early in his time at Kentucky: If this guy can’t get it done here, who can?

The post Kentucky Football: Yes, Mark Stoops is still the right man for the job in Lexington appeared first on SEC Country.

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