By LARRY VAUGHT
Thank you Mark Stoops.
No, it has nothing to do with Kentucky’s 44-21 win over Vanderbilt Saturday. Well, it does some, but that’s not what impressed me the most about Stoops on Saturday when UK won its seventh game of the season for the second straight year.
What I liked is that Stoops did not cost sophomore Grant McKinnis a year of eligibility by using him to replace suspended punter Matt Panton. Instead of using McKinnis, last year’s starting punter who was being redshirt this season, he went with Miles Butler — UK’s backup placekicker.
Stoops announced on Monday that Panton had been suspended and that McKinnis was willing to give up his redshirt season to help the team. He said the player’s parents agreed.
He told Tom Leach on the pregame radio show Saturday that he was going to watch pregame warmups and decide whether to use McKinnis or Butler.
“Seriously thought about it on Tuesday and then made the decision to do it on Thursday,” Stoops admitted after the game.
He just didn’t tell anyone despite getting criticism from many, including me, for his decision to use McKinnis when he knew he wasn’t going to do it.
“I was really going to go into the game trying to save Grant if I could. Grant was willing to do whatever he had to do. Was willing to do that. I talked to him and his family. They were good with it. They wanted to do whatever we had to do to help us win a football game. I just had trust in Miles,” Stoops said.
Stoops said he told offensive coordinator Eddie Gran to “move the ball” and not get backed up to put Butler in a tough spot. Kentucky moved the ball and Butler punted just three times — all were downed inside the 20-yard line.
“He did a heck of a job. He really did. Very proud of him. He’s a kid that’s been in our program, that’s stepped in, that’s made clutch kicks before for us when Austin (MacGinnis) was injured. He’ll do anything you ask him to do. I was proud of him. It was great for him to get in there and do so well,” Stoops said.
Stoops said he told Butler Friday about his decision.
“He didn’t even kick on Friday but he got the job on Friday,” Stoops laughed and said.
Stoops said Butler was not overwhelmed by the responsibility.
“He doesn’t worry about it. He knows he can do it. The staff has great trust in him. He’s a great kid,” Stoops said before admitting he told Butler during practice Friday he would punt.
“I think I told him when we simulate game situations on Friday. The game script. Things that can happen, onside kick, hands team and so on. We were going out to punt I told him to go out with the ones. That’s probably when he realized it.”
But the timing didn’t matter. What mattered is that Stoops did the right thing. He was right to suspend Panton, 23, for public intoxication. He cannot tolerate that. He was right not to cost McKinnis a redshirt season. Stoops would have looked back and regretted that move if he had.
Instead, Stoops sent the message to his team that rules had to be followed (Panton suspension) but that he was also going to value what was right (not using McKinnis).
It was a win-win and beating Vanderbilt the way Kentucky did was just another reason to be happy for Stoops doing things the right way.