The Kentucky Wildcats finished the 2012 football season with a record of 2-10 and went 0-8 in the SEC, which led to the firing of head coach Joker Phillips. Kentucky hasn’t traditionally been a football school, but the buzz is high for the 2013 season and beyond. The casual fan is probably laughing and thinking, “How can they be optimistic about next year.” It’s simple, one coaching hire has changed the face of Kentucky football for the future and a game hasn’t even been played. Mark Stoops was hired November 27th, 2012 to lead the Wildcats football program and basically change the culture surrounding it.
Mark Stoops comes to Kentucky after 17 seasons as a defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator at the collegiate level. He spent the last 3 years rebuilding a Florida State defense that had fallen off its once highly touted level. Stoops drew national media attention when he was hired by saying that he believes the Kentucky football program can win an SEC Title. The Wildcats have embraced Stoops as a leader on and off the field, as an estimated 50,000 fans packed into the Commonwealth Stadium to watch the Kentucky Spring game. Kentucky was lucky to get that many fans to its biggest games at home in previous years. The question many people outside of Kentucky wonder is what’s all the hype about? What is Stoops doing to get fans excited?
The type of recruits Stoops is landing for Kentucky surrounds the hype. Even though the team has yet to take the field for a real game, Stoops is saying all the right things. Stoops brought in the 36th ranked football-recruiting class in America according to ESPN. Many fans in Kentucky are not used to seeing guys like this commit to Kentucky Football. The start came when highly recruited defensive end Jason Hatcher from Louisville, KY de-committed from USC, and decided to come to Kentucky. The Wildcats were able to take a player right out of their own rival’s backyard, the Louisville Cardinals, and take away a recruit from the Trojans; something that many people would have never thought possible. The recruiting hoopla created by Stoops has not stopped with his 2013 class, as the hype is already building for what will probably be Kentucky’s best ever recruiting class in 2014.
Stoops has currently recruited the #2 class in America for 2014, which is insane to think they are only behind Texas A&M in recruiting. It’s early and Kentucky will likely move down, but this is uncharted territory for recruiting at Kentucky. Kentucky coaches have built excitement with the fan base now as they are getting commitments by taking to their twitter accounts and shouting “Yahtzee.” This might seem hokey to fans of schools with recent success, but for Kentucky it’s about building excitement for a program that has been in the gutter of the SEC for quite some time.
Stoops has only been at Kentucky for about 6 months, and already the program has changed for what many expect to be the better. Can Kentucky win an SEC Title? Who knows, we’ve yet to see the Stoops-led Wildcats take the field. The record probably won’t reflect greatness over the course of next season. It’s going to take time to turn around the football program. The bottom line is what Stoops has done at UK so far is flat-out amazing for a fan base that many thought had given up on football.