By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Would you take a job with no chance of growth? Would you take a job where everyone before you had been fired or left under less than favorable conditions? This job comes with high expectations that few have been able to reach for even a fleeting moment. Then do not apply for head football coach at University of Kentucky. You might however want to apply at Louisville.
Other than being in the best football conference in the world, are there really that many reasons to choose Kentucky over Louisville? Let’s start with the track record of coaches.
John L. Smith used the Cardinals as a stepping stone for Michigan State before being tarnished by a 22-26 record with the Spartans. Then he flopped as an interim coach at Arkansas this year, but Louisville served its purpose.
Next came Bobby Petrino with a 41-9 record at Louisville, which he parlayed into jobs with the Atlanta Falcons and then Arkansas. Petrino still appeared to be a hot commodity in coaching searches after his personal lapses in judgment with the Razorbacks cost him his job.
Let’s skip Steve Kragthorpe, although he isn’t doing too badly as an assistant at LSU.
Current coach Charlie Strong has been mentioned for several jobs after going 24-14 in three seasons with the Cardinals. A bid to the Sugar Bowl put Strong at the top of the Tennessee wish list.
Going further back you have Howard Schnellenberger that helped his cause at Louisville, even Lee Corso seems to be doing well.
In that same time period about the best scenario you can find for a Kentucky coach is Guy Morris. Morris moved to Baylor and got a pay raise. It was at best a sideways move to the downtrodden Bears. The other coaches have come here to end their careers, not build them.
Joker Phillips planned to retire as head coach of the Wildcats. Now he is wide receivers coach at Florida. Rich Brooks retired before and after his stint at Kentucky. Hal Mumme and Bill Curry resigned, one disgraced and the other discouraged. Fran Curci and Jerry Claiborne retired from coaching at UK. To find a UK coach that improved his lot while at UK, you would have to go back to Blanton Collier in 1961. Although Collier was fired by the Wildcats after mediocre success, he became an NFL assistant and later head coach with the Cleveland Browns. You really have to reach back to 1953 and Bear Bryant to find a happy ending to a UK coaching story.
So is the moral of the story that you have to be Bear Bryant to truly find success at UK? Not hardly, but it doesn’t hurt.
Let’s spin this story as a good thing. Coaches do not come to UK to improve their resume. Coaches come to UK because they feel they have a chance to win a lot of games. Even if no one has done this with consistency, coaches do not lack ego. The possibility to build a powerhouse lacks just a few parts. Mumme built the excitement if he had only built the defense. Brooks brought consistency and respect. What does Mark Stoops bring? He brings a great pedigree, a proven defensive scheme, and apparently the willingness to bring a great offensive mind. Kentucky fans will go to boring football games, but they will not be excited about it.
You have to recruit from the breeding grounds of great football players. Stoops’ ties to Florida should pay off for the Wildcats. Now it is time for UK to quit talking about improving facilities and just do it.
Stoops is a great hire for a school that has no history of building coaching resumes. Now they have to help him be so successful he leaves. Then maybe someone else will use UK as a stepping stone.