By LARRY VAUGHT
If you need a reminder about what the UK football program was like when Mark Stoops took over, staff writer Joel Whetzel of the Youngstown Tribune-Chronicle had an insightful feature story on the UK coach.
“There was such a negative perception of that not only within Lexington or within the state, but also nationally and also within the same organization,” Stoops told Whetzel. “The players did not have the confidence that they needed, and there’s only one way to get that confidence and that’s to prepare.
“So we had to learn that Youngstown work ethic here for four years until they started grasping what it took to be successful.”
Stoops felt the best way to overcome the “negative stigma” was hiring coaches with connections to Youngstown, Ohio, his hometown. On staff today are associate head coach Vince Marrow, linebacker coach Mike Stoops, safety coach Frank Buffano and graduate assistant Courtney Love — who all went to the same high school as the UK head coach.
“In this profession and as a head coach here for 10 years, there’s a lot of coaches that come and go and a lot of players that come and go, and that’s fine, and I appreciate and respect every single one of them,” Stoops said. But with the Youngstown guys, I know exactly what I’m getting. I think that familiarity and the loyalty that we have with each other goes a long way.”
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Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart has made it clear that UK prefers to keep an eight-game SEC football schedule when Texas and Oklahoma join the conference in 2025 and how a nine-game SEC schedule could impact Kentucky’s revenue.
“Everybody will say, ‘There’s probably more money in television,’” Barnhart said on the weekly radio show Big Blue Nation. “There could be. There might not be, and on those years when we give up, if there is nine (SEC games) and we have to go on the road five times for conference play, that makes it incredibly difficult to schedule the rest of those games at home and make sure that we’ve got the balance that allows our program to have some financial success to keep the rest our programs (financially stable).”
Barnhart noted that football and men’s basketball “feed the other 21 (sports)” at Kentucky and must continue to create revenue to fund those sports.
“As much as we’d like to think they (other sports) can stand on their own, they can’t do it,” Barnhart said.
The Kentucky AD says deciding what scheduling model is best for football — or even men’s and women’s basketball.
“Do you have a permanent opponent, do you have two permanent opponents (in football)? So what is best? You’re going to have to go through that same conversation in basketball as well, on the men’s side and the women’s side. If you have a permanent opponent on that side, who wants that team?” Barnhart said.
“I think that fairness and equity are always in the eyes of the beholder and what I think is equitable and fair is probably not what others think is equitable and fair. Everyone’s going to have to give a little bit and find balance in the conversation.”
Kentucky starts a stretch of seven straight SEC games this Saturday at Ole Miss.