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By LARRY VAUGHT
What impact has the hiring of Mark Stoops had on Kentucky football fans? I asked Richard Webb of Burgin, Trish Varney of Pikeville and Mick Murrell of Birmingham — who has season tickets and seldom misses a UK home football game — for their feelings on the hire.
Question: Has the hiring of Mark Stoops renewed your enthusiasm about Kentucky football?
Varney: “Admittedly, I have been quite critical of Mitch Barnhart throughout the last year. I’ll be the first to admit that I was on the Bobby Petrino bandwagon. I didn’t condone his past behavior and disapproved of some of his character issues in the past, but I felt like he was the BEST coach available at this point in time and felt that UK was in a desperate enough position to take the risk in hopes of a high return.
However, I will admit that I was wrong. I am very impressed with this hire. After reading some of the details of the process and how the hiring of Coach Stoops came to pass, I feel like the majority of fans, including me, were overly critical of Barnhart and his ability to make a solid hire. I am very impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of our new coach. I am most impressed by the initiative that he took to present UK with a solid plan to rebuild UK football and was able to sell his passion to the decision makers. I was also enthused that the University bought into his vision and made significant commitments to the resources our new coach felt necessary to succeed in the job.
Coach Stoops has a solid defensive pedigree. Teams for which he coached have consistently improved on the defensive side of the ball. He appears to be very well respected in recruiting circles. I think a commitment to a solid defense and upgrades in recruiting is the only way to consistently win in the SEC.
I am very excited for the future of UK football. I am very curious to see how Coach Stoops assembles a staff, as this will be very critical in the future success on the field. And I’m very excited to return to Commonwealth Stadium on fall Saturdays.”
Question: Do you think he can immediately win the overall UK fan base back that seemed to bail out this year?
Murell: “Not immediately.”
Varney: “Had this question been asked to me on Monday morning before the hire was made, I would have said no. However, I think that the same energy and enthusiasm that Coach used to sell himself to UK will quickly invigorate the fan base. Most of the feedback I have seen thus far has been surprisingly positive. I feel like a couple of solid coordinator hires will also excite the fan base. I completely expect the majority of season ticket holders to return to the stands in 2013.”
Webb: “Maybe. Winning is the only thing that a fringe group will come back for. But, excitement and enthusiasm (and competitiveness) will bring back 75 percent of those out of the canoe.”
Question: Do you think Stoops’ hiring signals a stronger commitment to football by Kentucky?
Murrell: “It returns it to the Rich Brooks level. UK could have done this years ago and kept RBs outstanding staff. Instead we chose to take a giant leap backwards.”
Varney: “I absolutely do. In addition to making a solid hire, I believe that the University had to make a significant commitment of resources to the football program that seemed to have fallen by the wayside through the years. I don’t think that UK would have been able to hire a coach of this caliber had it not made this commitment.”
Question: What’s the biggest complaint you had about UK football last year?
Murrel: “It was an unacceptable product on the field.”
Varney: “When I watched UK football this year, I saw an undisciplined and unprepared team take the field week in and week out. I think these qualities were obvious in the large number of mental mistakes the team would make each week. At times, it would look as if the team had quit and that the staff had completely lost the players. It was painful to watch.”
Webb: “Not that they were beaten so much as we were not competitive. Even in years when our overall record was not great, we usually, not always, were competitive with anyone coming in. Especially at home and at least until the sheer numbers of talent took over.”
Question: Will you be back buying tickets and attending games next year?
Murrell: “Yes, I never stopped.
Varney: “Absolutely. I am more excited for the future of UK football than I have been since the 2007 season. With that said, I do believe next season will be a rebuilding effort. I don’t expect an 8-4 season, but I do expect an improvement. I hope to see our team run out on the field each week prepared to play football. And so long as UK is making the commitment to support a winning football program, I will be there to support it.”
Question: Does this hire alter your opinion of UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart in any way?
Murrell: “Not in the least. He revealed his dark side during the year. He needs to apologize to the media and fans, but his ego won’t let him.”
Varney: “This hire has completely altered my opinion of Mitch Barnhart. I admittedly did not have faith in him to make the best decision for our program. I think it is safe to say that he proved me wrong. I feel like he made the best possible hire that he could have made. With so many head coaching positions open at major BCS schools right now, I think we are very lucky to have gotten our new coach. And while the carousel goes ‘round in the world of college football and coaches maneuver to find their next landing spot, our staff will be on the trail recruiting for next year. Good job, Mr. Barnhart. Well done, sir.”
Webb: “Not really. Always thought he was very sharp and knew what to do and how to do it. But I always had the opinion that he is very uncomfortable in the public eye. Just not his forte to be out front on things like this. So my opinion of him or the way he does his job has not changed. I always thought he could do a better job in the PR part, but if you look at some of his hires, Cal, Baseball, Mitchell, he has hit some home runs.