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July 17, 2013
KEVIN TRAINOR: We're joined now by head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, Coach Mark Stoops.
COACH STOOPS: Thank you. It's great to be here. My first SEC Media Days. I'm learning the ropes, making my way around here.
Excited about the opportunity we have at Kentucky. We understand there's a lot of hard work that lies ahead, but we're embracing that process and working hard each and every day to improve this team.
With that being said, very encouraged with the way things have gone so far. Tremendous fan support. Blew us away at the spring game with over 50,000 fans. So that's been incredible.
Great support from our administration. Excited about the renovations that are going on in our program. So good things are going.
Really excited about the way recruiting has gone for us. Really happy with the way 2013 ended, that momentum has carried into 2014. So excited with the way that's going.
Our coaching staff, feel very good about our coaching staff. I think we've worked extremely hard. Neal Brown, coming from Texas Tech, running the offense. D.J. Eliot coming from Florida State, run the defense.
There's a lot of work to be done, but we're excited and moving forward with this program.
KEVIN TRAINOR: We'll take questions for Coach Stoops.
Q. Your brother Bob made some headlines in the off‑season by kind of questioning the overall strength of the SEC, talked about the bottom six weren't that good. Kentucky was obviously in that spot. Did you have a conversation with him about that?
COACH STOOPS: That's got to be my first question (smiling)?
Yeah, I certainly understand Bob defending his conference. I just left the ACC. You know, I think everybody's going to defend what they're doing in their conference.
With that being said, I don't think any of us need to defend what's going on here in the SEC. The success we've had in the SEC speaks for itself. Of course, there's some other good conferences out there, as well.
Q. Did you talk to him about what he said?
COACH STOOPS: Not really, to be honest with you. It didn't surprise me. We talk a lot. But I wasn't at Kentucky last year, so didn't offend me that bad.
Q. At least at one point in the spring you had three quarterbacks in competition. How has that worked itself out?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, we're not at any decision yet. You know, we feel it's important to be very fair to those players. They're all good. They've worked extremely hard. They've all done some very good things in the spring. We're just going to have to continue to work through that process right now.
If anybody emerges and just takes the reins and becomes the clear‑cut leader, we'll name 'em. Other than that, we'll continue to work through that process.
Q. Historically Kentucky has had a tough time recruiting outside of its region. Do you think Kentucky can succeed staying with Kentucky recruits long‑term or do you want to expand the base beyond the state boundaries?
COACH STOOPS: Yes, we need to expand certainly beyond Kentucky. We want to start there and recruit our home state first and foremost. Of course, it's been my philosophy to branch right out into Ohio. It just makes sense with the proximity of where Southern Ohio lies with regards to Kentucky.
Then with my ties throughout the whole state, growing up in Northern Ohio, just really working hard all through Ohio.
From there, of course you need to work south. We all know the type of talent that's in the south. We'll continue to expand through the southern states, as well.
Q. There's always a lot of talk about the strength of the SEC West. What can you say about the SEC East? Any teams that stand out to you? Have there been any major adjustments for you as a coach in the SEC as far as recruiting goes?
COACH STOOPS: Well, recruiting certainly, we need to upgrade our talent and continue to work extremely hard in recruiting to be competitive in this league.
In our side of the division, certainly you have to look at Florida and South Carolina, expect to be very good. Shoot, we're just worried about ourselves, to be honest with you. We have so much work to do. All the teams in this league are good. We all know that. We talk about that. Top to bottom, there's no break.
It's hard for me, first‑year guy in this league, to predict who the top guys are going to be.
Q. Obviously you got hit hard by injuries. Do you feel that 2‑10, 0‑8 record was deceptive? What type of talent do you think you inherited?
COACH STOOPS: Again, I'm not sure of all the dynamics that went into play last year. Obviously, it wasn't the year that anybody wanted around Kentucky. It's our job to improve that from there.
From what I've seen in the first 15 days of spring practice, we need to improve. I think everybody understands that. We have to get better in all areas of our program. We have to continue to build more depth.
But with that being said, it's our job to develop the players that we have, to put them in a position to be successful, and to go out there and compete each and every week. That's what we plan to do.
Q. Avery Williamson and Christian Coleman.
COACH STOOPS: Avery Williamson, just a tremendous player. Great leader. Really could not be more encouraged to have somebody like Avery that's returning, that's a senior. He's been terrific to be around. You'll get a chance to spend some time with him here I think in a little bit. A very impressive young man. Really his leadership is what jumps out to me the most.
With Christian, he's a work in progress. We need to continue to develop him. He has some talent. We need to be more consistent there.
Q. Yesterday Hugh Freeze had some good things to say about tempering expectations of recruits coming in. I was curious what you had to say about that.
COACH STOOPS: Well, yeah, we all get caught in the momentum. I feel very good and I like the momentum we have in recruiting right now. We plan to continue that.
I'm sure coaches, and I know we are at Kentucky, when you bring these players in on campus, they know what they have. They know what we did last year. They watch practices with us.
They just got to believe in where you're going and where the future's going of your program, what you're doing.
You know, I just try to be very honest with those recruits and tell them where we're at and where we plan to go.
Q. You open up at Western Kentucky. A very big game for them, playing the big school in Kentucky. Bobby Petrino's first game there. Do you know Bobby? What are you expecting from Western Kentucky and his offense?
COACH STOOPS: I really do not know Coach Petrino very well. I expect a very good team, good offensive mind. He's had some great success. I'm sure they're going to be very excited to play us. But we are, as well. That's our first game of this new era of our program.
We have an awful lot on the line. We can't take anything for granted at Kentucky right now. We can't just show up and beat anybody. We have to play very well. We have to play to the best of our abilities. That's our job to be ready to play in that opener.
It will be an exciting time for both of us.
Q. Could you comment on how you think fan expectations are versus realistic expectations for your team.
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it's really, to be honest with you, an uncomfortable situation for me because it's not my style really to try to temper those expectations.
I think the educated fan knows where we're at as a program, knows we have a lot of work to do. But the flipside of that is I want the excitement. I want them there. I want them to support our players that we have on our team right now. I want them at all of our home games.
We plan on going out and competing each and every week. We understand that the challenges are there. So, you know, I'm glad the fans are excited and I'm glad they're showing up in large numbers.
Our season tickets are up. People are excited and anticipating a good year, because we certainly are. We're not going out there to put all this hard work in to not compete and not try to win games.
Q. Yesterday Hugh Freeze said he felt like he had to be overcautious at times running an up‑tempo offense. How long do you think it's going to take for your team to build that identity up and have that installed?
COACH STOOPS: I'm sure that will be a fine balancing act. As you know, I come from a defensive background. That will be hard for me to watch when things are not going well. I'm not unrealistic enough to know that we're not going to go through some hard times and some growing pains.
I hired Neal Brown to run his offense. I have to support him and do that at all cost. So I have enough faith and confidence with Neal and certainly will discuss that within the game plan about how we're going to handle that tempo.
Sure, there's going to be a learning curve there, as well, for us.
Q. Obviously Kentucky is playing Alabama State. They have Isaiah Crowell well who was at Georgia. What do you know about Alabama State?
COACH STOOPS: It is a way down in the schedule for me. To be honest with you, I'm just trying to keep my head on my shoulders and get our team so much better and get prepared for about the first four or five opponents. So I truly don't know an awful lot about Alabama State yet.
No disrespect to them. Even the teams on the bottom half of my schedule we haven't looked at yet.
Q. You mentioned recruiting and recruiting particularly in Ohio. You spend time in Florida, Florida State, know what the competition is like to recruit against Florida. You also spent time with Dameyune Craig now at Auburn. What is your relationship with Coach Craig? He's been able to gain traction in the Florida panhandle? What is the relationship like and how do you think you'll be able to compete against each other?
COACH STOOPS: I was very happy for Dameyune. I'm excited for his opportunity there at Auburn, to continue to progress in his career. He'll do a fantastic job. He's a relentless recruiter and he'll do a good job as offensive coordinator, as well.
Our relationship is good. I'm sure we'll have some head‑to‑head battles in recruiting sooner or later.
It doesn't surprise me he's in Florida. If you look back at our 2013 signing class, there were quite a few players from the state of Florida on our class as well.
We'll be in there, we'll be in recruiting Florida pretty hard, as well.
Q. I'm curious, what sort of impact do you expect Daryl Collins to make this season?
COACH STOOPS: I'm not sure yet. That's yet to be seen. We'll see how practices go and go from there.
Q. We know about the basketball heritage at Kentucky. A lot of football coaches are reluctant at times to want to step into a job where it's a 'basketball school.' How do you plan to embrace the basketball heritage and work that to your advantage?
COACH STOOPS: It's been great so far. Coach Calipari, he could not be any better. I really appreciate everything Coach Cal does for us. He takes time. We bring recruits in. He visits with them. He's really embracing myself and the staff.
So I love it. He's so charismatic. He's been so successful. I love spending time with Coach Cal.
I don't really worry about that, to be honest with you. I think there's such great support for Kentucky basketball because of what they've done. They deserve it. They've had an awful lot of success through a lot of years.
But that's what we're trying to get to. If we put out a good product on the field, something the whole state's proud of, they'll show up in droves. I'm not even worried about that. It's been evident thus far with how the fans support football.
So I think in Kentucky there's a rabid fan base. I'm quite sure if we do our part that there's going to be great support for football and basketball.
Q. I'm wondering with your defensive background, what is your take on the discussion about whether defenses should get mandatory time after first downs, specifically when they're against hurry‑ups, up‑tempo offenses, to substitute guys in?
COACH STOOPS: It's very interesting for me. I come from a defensive background. Again I've had my problems with up‑tempo offenses, we all have had our moments of failure against the tempo offenses because it gets you in disarray.
Obviously that's the advantage of it for the offenses, to not let us defenses zero in as specifically as we want to be as far as formations and all those sort of things, get on the same page in the communication.
Now I will be running an up‑tempo offense at Kentucky with Neal Brown. I like it from that standpoint. I see them going through it. Of course, we have a long way to go. I've watched Neal's offenses at Texas Tech, I see the way they moved the ball against some quality teams. I hope we can have the same success.
Right now what I say is the rules are the way they are. I'm a first‑year head coach with very little clout in this league. I'm going to go about the way the rules are right now.
In my opinion, I do think there needs to be, and I believe we're working towards that, some time to let us get situated and put the ball down certainly when substitutions involved.
Q. What are your thoughts on the depth of quarterback talent in the league this year?
COACH STOOPS: Very good. Obviously good league top to bottom in all phases. Quarterback play is no different. I even believe at Kentucky we have three quality quarterbacks that are capable of winning at a high level.
Now, we need to get good players all around them, as well. But the quarterback talent alone at Kentucky I feel very good about. Again, I think a lot of that depends on the talent around some of these quarterbacks. But it's going to be very hard to defend.
Q. There's some people back in Kentucky that are saying that the Western game may be the most important game you'll ever coach at UK. What is your response to that?
COACH STOOPS: I would agree with that certainly because it is our first game. It's important because we're doing an awful lot of work and the players are working hard, coaches are working hard, the fans are buying in, there's a lot of momentum going right now.
It's our next game. It's our first game. So it's very important to us. Like any of our games, we'll approach it as a one‑game season after that. I'm not hiding from the fact that the Western games are important to us.
Q. What did you learn under Jimbo Fisher about being a head coach that you're taking with you to Kentucky?
COACH STOOPS: I really learned a lot of things about the structure of the program, how we go about practice, just different ways. I've tried to grab things from a lot of head coaches I've been around, certainly my family.
But with Coach Fisher, I think there's very good structure as far as the recruiting plan and good structure with the practice organization, some of those things. So it's been very helpful.
Q. How do you sort of adjust your scheme defensively to the fact now that you're going to be running an up‑tempo offense?
COACH STOOPS: Defensively we need to be flexible with teams because even if they're substituting, they're very creative with the way they're substituting, the time, the area of the field that they're substituting, what they're doing with that.
The bottom line is we need to be flexible defensively. We need to be able to keep up with these offenses and how multiple they are, have some guys that have the ability to play a few different positions.
Q. As a defensive coach, have you ever seen any proof or evidence that a hurry‑up offense does, in fact, injure football players more often, as some coaches here have alleged in the past? Also, talk about your decision to apply an up‑tempo offense when you decided to install your staff coming to the SEC?
COACH STOOPS: I personally have not seen that. Of course, I'm not going out there trying to collect that data. So it hasn't affected us from an injury point of view yet to this point.
I thought it gave us the best opportunity to win at Kentucky. I like the style of play. I like the roots of it, coming back to Kentucky, when Hal Mumme was there, had some success, with Neal having a background in Kentucky. I just thought it gave us the best opportunity to move the football.
Q. The new coaches coming into the league are up‑tempo coaches. Kevin has done it already. Do you think this league tends to be cyclical? Do you think we're heading towards a new cycle of up‑tempo offenses?
COACH STOOPS: I'm not sure. I think from a person just watching this league from afar, certainly playing SEC teams quite a bit, I think the foundation of this league was built on physicality and having great defensive linemen, very physical on both sides of the ball.
I don't think that's going away.
Q. You mentioned Ohio, recruiting in Ohio earlier, your ties there. Have you even been surprised by how much success you've had both 2013 and the commitments you've gotten for 2014 in Ohio?
COACH STOOPS: Yes. It's been somewhat of a pleasant surprise of the amount of success we're having in that region so quickly. Very encouraged by that for the future. Yeah, it's been good.
Q. I know you weren't there last year. With the way the team struggled, when you got there, did you feel you had to rebuild the confidence? Were the guys shellshocked? What was that like?
COACH STOOPS: I did. Really, quite honestly, I had been through that recently, taking over Florida State's defense. You know, when I walked into the room and met with the guys the first time at Florida State, it was amazing to me to see how low and disappointed, you know, not a lot of confidence there at Florida State. So it took a little time to get that going there.
Same thing at Kentucky as a team. Yeah, you felt like the guys were a little beat down, a little bit lacking some confidence. So, you know, we just went about it the way we always go about things: just trying to put them in a position to be successful, show them what we're going to do, and just getting the work. I see us improving. Obviously time will tell. We'll see how things go in the season.
But I think we're making some strides there.
Q. What have you heard from recruits about the new level of excitement in the program, the increased attendance at the spring game, things like that?
COACH STOOPS: It's just been very positive. Everything has been positive. From the moment I arrived on campus at Kentucky, I just felt so good about the support. The people are starving to have a good football program.
I think that carries over to recruits. I really do. I think our current players and our recruits feel all the positive energy. They feel the fan base getting behind us. With social media, all the different aspects, you can reach a lot of kids. I believe they're feeling that energy, and it certainly is helping.
Q. Can you talk about Raymond Sanders, how he's doing in this new offense? Does he become even more important until the quarterback situation gets ironed out?
COACH STOOPS: He does. He was very impressive in the spring. He's a guy that can make you miss. I think he's very good in this style of offense, getting them in some space. He catches the ball well. I'm excited about Raymond.
Yes, we're going to need to lean on him, along with some other runningbacks, to run the ball, take some pressure off what we're trying to do. We know it's going to be very difficult just to drop back and try to throw the ball every down in this league. It will be very difficult.
I think Raymond is going to play a very important role for us in our offense.
KEVIN TRAINOR: Thank you, Coach Stoops.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports