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Monday, December 10, 2012

The Carousel: Kentucky hires Stoops

I wrote about the tenure of Joker Phillips at the time he was fired, so we won't get into all that again in depth.  Here's a quick review.  The '05-'09 starting point represents the average output of Rich Brooks' last 5 teams.

The 24.5 offensive average from '05-'09 is somewhat misleading.  They were at times brilliant on offense - to Joker's credit, the OC at the time - and at other times awful.  Rarely were they just kind of good, which is what the 24.5 suggests.  That being said, the offenses have plummeted under Phillips.  So has the defense.

As recently as 5 years ago, Kentucky was excited about its football program.  They've tasked Bob Mike Mark Stoops with making it that way again.  The kneejerk reaction is, "Oh, another Stoops gets a head coaching job.  Shocking."  However, it was probably just a matter of time before he got such a job.  He played for and started coaching under Hayden Fry at Iowa.  He coached the secondary for the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, one of the greatest teams in college football history.  He got his first coordinating opportunity in 2004 working for his brother Mike in Arizona.  Our NEPA database starts in 2005, so we can track his tenure as a defensive coordinator for basically his entire coordinating career.

Now, it's important to note that not all of those plot points are for Stoops.  The odd one out is the one that stands out graphically: -168.3. That's FSU's 2009 defense, the defense that took the field one year before Stoops was hired.  I included it because it illustrates just how much of an impact Stoops had on the defense in Tallahassee.  We don't have NEPA data for Arizona from 2003 or 2004, but it wouldn't surprise me if Stoops had a similar effect in the desert.  There's considerable evidence that he's one of the best defensive coordinators in college football, and with his brothers to lean on for advice, he's unlikely to be completely unprepared for the head coach experience.

While I fully expect the defense to improve under Stoops, who he hires as OC could be his most important decision while at Kentucky.  In the recent past, when Kentucky won, they won with offense.  When you think of Kentucky winning, you think of 42-38 games, not 13-10 games.  Now, that's not to say they won't be able to win with defense.  But in the SEC, they're going to need both.  Early rumors are that Texas Tech OC Neal Brown will be offered the job, but with Tommy Tuberville's shocking exodus to Cincinnati, Brown might have a bigger job in his sights.  There were also rumors that James Coley would come to Kentucky, and this is what makes me worry a little about the future of the Kentucky offense.

It's not that Coley is a bad OC.  Far from it.  Neal Brown isn't a bad OC either.  What is disconcerting is that the two are not particularly alike.  Texas Tech runs the air raid.  FSU runs a pro-style attack (with heavy spread elements, sure).  With the first two names being names that aren't exactly similar, I can't help but wonder if Stoops has any idea as to what kind of offense he even wants to run at Kentucky.  Don't get me wrong - both would be great hires (Coley has reportedly turned down the job, but that's hardly the point).  Brown, in my opinion, is the better of the two, helping TTU not miss a beat offensively after the departure of Mike Leach.  Given the past success of the air raid in Kentucky, which featured Brown at WR from 1998-2000, he seems like he'd be a natural fit.  Whether it's Brown or Coley or someone else isn't the issue.  The issue is that Stoops needs to know what he wants, and he needs to hire someone to implement exactly that.  So far, I'm unconvinced.

Even after laying out my reservations, I still don't think it's a bad hire.  The Stoops family has typically made successful conversions from coordinator to head coach, and he's well-prepared for the process.  He has recruited all over, and he'll have connections in Florida.  Also, from being at FSU, he should have Georgia connections as well, and Kentucky has recently relied on strong recruiting in the Peach State.  And don't discount the cache the Stoops name will have early on in the process, either.  He'll make Kentucky better, but let's not understate the dumpster fire the program had become under Joker Phillips, either.  Being better isn't enough.  He'll have a few years to build, but he'll need to get the program back to Rich Brooks-era levels in order to be a success.  We're talking annual bowl trips, as Kentucky enjoyed from 2006-2010.  It seems unlikely to be a quick fix in the style of Hugh Freeze's first year at Ole Miss, but if Kentucky is patient and gives Stoops' sport even a fraction of the support they give roundball, it should ultimately prove successful.

Brent Blackwell compiles the NEPA rankings for  Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.

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