Mark Stoops, like most SEC coaches, gave a lengthy opening statement today at the Southeastern Conference Football Media Days in Hoover, Ala. Here is what the UK coach first said to media members:
“It’s a great time of year. We are certainly extremely excited at Kentucky to open the football season. I want to thank all of you for what you do for us, what you do for the league, and what you do to promote the great game that we play.
“A year ago I talked about all of the building that was going on on our campus. Greg just touched on it. We were proud to just finished playing our first season in a beautifully renovated Commonwealth Stadium. We thoroughly enjoyed that. Our fans did. It was a great experience. We are just days away from moving into the football training center. That will be a game-changer for us. It will help us continue to develop the players that we have.
“Our players work extremely hard. They’re great kids. We’re building that program, and they deserve the very best to continue in their efforts and their development. It will also help us on the recruiting front. We need to continue to recruit at a high level and attract great players from throughout the country.
“The biggest change I’m excited about is the culture change within our program. I think it’s very easy to change a climate within a program and very difficult to change the culture, and I’m very proud of the administration, our coaching staff, our players, to continue to push for that winning culture.
“An area that we’ve touched on and worked extremely hard this past season, and past year, is the capacity. And quite simply, our players need to do more. Whether it’s in the classroom, to have that attention to detail in the meetings, in the football meetings, to pay attention longer, to have attention to detail longer within our meetings, longer training sessions, harder workouts, harder weight room workouts, train harder this summer.
“We had longer spring practices. We need to have a tougher two-a-days, a tougher camp and continue to expand our capacity to handle more to endure what it takes mentally and physically to compete and to win in this league. In particular, to close the gap on the close games. We’ve been very close. We’re tired of being close. And our players are doing what it takes in expanding that capacity, expanding everything we’re doing to give us a larger margin to not have to play a perfect game all of the time.
“Our staff. Someone once said the only constant in life is change. We’ve dealt with some change in the coaching staff. I feel very, very confident in who we have and what we have in place right now with our staff.
“If you look at the offensive side of the ball, I brought in Eddie Gran to be the offensive coordinator. I had the pleasure of working with Eddie. I’ve been with Eddie. We were both on the ground floor with Jimbo Fisher in the first days to help build that program at Florida State, and I know up front and personal what type of man he is, what type of leader he is, the attention to detail that he does things with. And I couldn’t be more happy to have Eddie with me. He comes from Cincinnati where he had very prolific offenses and did a heck of a job.
“We bring with him pull Darin Hinshaw who will come in as the co-offensive coordinator and coach quarterbacks. He was also with Eddie at Cincinnati. The last change is bringing in Lamar Thomas to coach our wide receivers. I’ve known Lamar back from my days coaching at the University of Miami. He brings that attitude, that swagger, that winning attitude that you need, and been very pleased with Lamar and what he’s doing.
“If you look at us on offense, we returned nine starters. We returned four starters up front on the offensive line. I feel very good about what we have on the interior of our offensive line. And, again, we have four starters back there.
“I feel like we’re getting the depth that we need in the interior. We need to continue to develop the depth at tackle. One of our interior offensive lineman and three of the guys responsible for that culture change that I was talking about earlier are with me here today. That’s Jon Toth, senior center; Jojo Kemp, a senior running back; and Courtney Love, a junior linebacker. All terrific leaders, very inspirational players, great students and stand for all of the things right, and I hope you get an opportunity to visit with them because they’re incredible kids.
“Offensively, we talked about the O-line, and then you get into the skill positions. We return a bunch of players that have had great experience. If you look at the running backs, our wide receivers and our tight ends, those guys have been around for a while. They have great experience. They have great play-making ability. We need to be more consistent, but I’m very excited about that group.
“The quarterback. At any level you have got to have great play at quarterback. I feel very good with Drew Barker. Drew Barker started the last two games of the season, went into his red-shirt sophomore year, very highly recruited player. I’m really impressed with the growth he’s made, he’s made on the field and off. I’m excited about Drew. He’ll get the keys to the car, and I’m excited to watch him go because I know this is his time. He’s ready to play.
“Defense. We will return eight starters that have started a minimum of four games. We do lose some experience on the defensive line in the linebacking group, but I feel very good about the players that have had to step in. We have some guys that have played a lot of football, maybe not had as many starts, but are good quality players and ready to step into those roles.
“I feel very confident in our secondary. I know it’s by far the best group since I’ve been there at Kentucky. It’s a group that has great length, great play-making ability, and I believe they are future stars in this league. Three of them started last year as a freshman. They will be sophomores this year and, again, have the length that you’re looking for, play-making ability, and now they have some experience. And the great news is is they’ll be around for a while.
“When you look at special teams, we really need to improve in that area. We have a new special teams coordinator in Matt House. Matt has great experience in the NFL and in college. He brings great passion, great energy, and I’m pleased with what we’ve done in the special teams.
“Austin MacGinnis will be a big key for us in the special teams. He’s a guy that battled injuries last year. It really hurt us. It was frustrating for him and frustrating for us. He knew he was not at full strength. He’s back at full strength right now. I believe he’s one of the best kickers in the country when he’s healthy. So, excited about that.
“The schedule is what it is. We know that every year as I stand here and take in the role as head coach at Kentucky. You know what you’re getting into when you play this league. Again, with the areas that I touched on earlier, with changing that culture, with expanding our capacity to do things better for longer periods of time, to create the positive habits to when situations happen, our positive habits and good habits rise to surface to help us win close games.
“We’re doing the things necessary to take the next step. I’ve never been one to — I’m not a pessimist, but I’m not going to sit up here and boast a team if we’re not quite ready. We’ve done the work. We have the pieces in place. We will take the next step. I’ve been proud of the progression we’ve done. Certainly you want more wins along the line, but I know we’ve done the right things and we have a great plan in place to continue to push this program, and the players are doing the things necessary to take it to the next step. So we’re excited about that and ready to move forward.”