By LARRY VAUGHT
Count Mark Stoops as a Nick Saban fan even if he did snub the current Alabama coach once several years ago.
Kentucky plays at No. 1 Alabama Saturday night and Saban will be trying to keep his team undefeated and on track for another national title.
Kentucky, despite what Stoops says, likely will be simply trying to survive.
“I admire an awful lot about Coach Saban. It’s hard to define all those things, but anybody that’s in this business – this coaching profession is built on respect, and it starts there. I have great respect for what he’s done and how disciplined he is and the work ethic that he has,” Stoops said Monday.
“But I always things that he does things right, he does things with class, treats people the right way. And how could you not admire that? It goes back to the days he recruited – he recruited me out of high school. He was the position coach and the recruiting-area coach that recruited me to Michigan State.”
But Stoops went to Iowa, not Michigan State.
“I was not a very good player, first of all. But I got recruited by Iowa – my visits were Iowa and Ohio State. My two brothers were at Iowa, so I visited Iowa. I visited Ohio State. And I knew if I didn’t go to Ohio State, I was going to go to Iowa because of the relationships I had with all of those coaches and I wasn’t going to go anywhere else. So I cancelled my visit to Michigan State,” Stoops said.
How did that go?
“That phone call didn’t go very well. And I was really young and naïve and had no clue. I knew I wasn’t a great player or anything like that, but I couldn’t believe – he (Saban) made it very difficult for me, and I remember getting off the phone and saying, ‘Wow.’ He was very persuasive and very good. But I’ve just always had great respect for Coach.”
But that was not even the best Saban story that Stoops told Monday. This one involved Bob Stoops, the UK coach’s uncle, and Saban. Bob Stoops was a high school coach and Saban was in Youngtown, Ohio, recruiting.
“Coach Saban and my uncle were out, and Coach will tell the story better than me, but they were talking Xs and Os and they were so wrapped up in the Xs and Os that they had no idea somebody came in and robbed the place at gunpoint. I always thought my uncle was full of it. You know, he’s a little crazy. I said, ‘You’re exaggerating this story.’ But I heard coach Saban say it on one of his shows that he was on,” Stoops said. “He verified it, so that was like, ‘Wow, Bob, you were telling the truth.’ You never know what you’re going to get in Youngstown.
“They were talking and drawing plays on a napkin is the way my uncle describes it, and then I heard Coach verify it: They’re sitting there writing Xs and Os and the police are coming in asking, ‘What happened?’ And he says, ‘What do you mean what happened?’ They said, ‘Did you see anything.’ He said no, they didn’t see anything. They were working on football.”
Stoops has gone head to head several times at UK with Saban in recruiting. Kentucky got Matt Elam, Saban got Damien Harris. Saban and Alabama also flipped Florida quarterback Mac Jones from a UK commit to an Alabama commit.
“It always makes you do the very best you can when you play them or you’re competing with him in recruiting or anything. They have great success, but we’re going to do our very best. There’s a difference. Again, we respect everything that they do, but we’re going to go try to get ours, too,” Stoops said.