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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?
Murrell: “Yes.”
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.”
Webb: “Yes.”

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.”
Webb: “Yes.”

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.”
Webb: “Yes.”

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.

29 Responses to Fans sound off on hiring of Stoops and how it impacts their feelings about UK football

  • If Mitch Barnhart had hired Nick Saban, there would still be some people complaining about him. Get over it folks. Barnhart has gotten UK to where it is. You can complain all you like, but we are competitive in almost every collegiate sport we participate in. All any of the whiners care about is Football and basketball. We have top Baseball, volleyball, Women’s Basketball, Rifle, Track teams all. Barnhart brought them all here. Everyone of those coaches. All anyone wants to complain about is the Gillispie debacle. Barnhart didnt create that one and NO ONE saw it coming. Comparitively, Barnhart may be the best AD that UK has ever had. No one has brought UK Sports as far as he has. And he still managed to put us back on top of Basketball as well.

    • Larry Pup says:

      A hearty amen Greg, preach on!

    • JD says:

      Football pays the bills. The rest of those irrelevant leeches you mentioned TAKE football money just by existing. Until FB is on the SEC level they should be cut TO THE BONE and every dime poured into FB.

      • LarryPup says:

        JD you have a point, but for what they pay these football coaches today, and there assistants, apparently there is plenty of money to go around in my view. If my kid is on the soccer team, or rifle team, or womens basketball team, I want the best for them too. Wouldn’t you? Football pays the bills, I understand that, but other athletes in other sports should be supported too. For example UK baseball is on the rise. I love it.! Major college athletics has become a complex undertaking and the landscape is changing year to year. I can’t fault UK for the support they give to all our athletes. I to want football at UK to rise to the top of the sec, and I beleive it can with the system we have in place and the right athletes and coaches. I think we are seeing a fresh new start, and a determined commotment to football excellence.

        • larryvaught says:

          LarryPup, don’t think any UK fan has a problem with support for other programs. Just many have wondered why the same all-in support for football has not been there before. Hopefully that is now changing

          • LarryPup says:

            Larry V..I understand that, but JD used terms like “irrelevent leeches” to describe other sports and athletes. That is not necessary in my opinion.

  • Greg Carr says:

    Comments like Mr. Murrell’s drive me up the wall. “…(Barnhart) revealed his dark side during the year. He needs to apologize to the media and fans, but his ego won’t let him.”
    Does this person know Mitch Barnhart? Does he have an inside track on what motivates him? Is he privy to the thoughts and intents of Barnhart’s heart whereby he can gauge the amount of self-esteem present and how much influence that self-esteem has? Probably not.
    I assume his “dark side” remark refers to the “real fans – personal agenda” comments Barnhart made after the Vanderbilt game. In my opinion, Mr. Barnhart was airing his frustration at the fans who were trying to force his hand by not attending the games. His statements were a perfectly normal reaction to those who, with their lips but not their wallets, claim to support UK athletics.
    Most of those types of fans want the luxury of dictating outcomes without the discomfort associated with the process. They are not interested in participating in the hard decisions. They do not care what it takes to fund 340 scholarships in 22 sports. They do not care that this is accomplished while maintaining the 2nd lowest football ticket prices in the SEC. Nor do they care that UK is one of a handful of Athletic programs that are self-sustaining, which in today’s economy is quite an accomplishment.
    Mr. Barnhart in no way owes anyone an apology. If he were managing any other business of comparable size ($80M Revenue) he would be due a huge bonus this Christmas. Unfortunately, because of some fan’s sense of entitlement he is in this current thankless position.
    Using Mr. Murrell’s logic, I want to state that his comments offend me and I believe he owes me an apology. Will his ego allow this?

    • Kokamo Joe says:

      Re: force his hand
      The only voice that the average UK football fan has is his or her decision to buy or not buy tickerts. Fans spoke loud and clear and now we have a new coach and an assistant who advocates an exciting offense. We now have hope. But we have had hope before when each of these men were named UK football coach: Bradshaw, Ray, Curci, Claibourne, Curry, Mumme, Morris and Brooks. Some had great pedigrees, comming from such places as Notra Dame and Alabama. Some had played at UK. Each one was going to turn the program around. Not one won half their games. It remains to be see if the football program will receive the support that it must have to really improve. Here’s hoping that it will.

      • Larry Pup says:

        Curci did. His record at UK was 46-52-2. I still remember Art Still, Derek Ramsey. UK should have kept Curci. He could also beat UT.

        • Larry Pup says:

          I mean he turned the program and brought it to new heights. Some people just didn’t like his methods. UK should have kept him.

    • JD says:

      Dont forget “microwave society”, you know the one waiting for decent football for 60 years? This is the guy that anointed Joker “HCIW” so he didn’t go somewhere else as an OC. Let him go. Maybe he would have seen some actual good football for once in his illustrious SEVERE losing record career in football. No coaching search. None of the upgrades promised to RB. Just operating football as cheaply as possible to get as many asses in seats as possible regardless of the actual quality of product. Well guess what, the last 2 games had 18,000+ too many in attendance based on the fact tickets had to actually be purchased, with US currency, to attend. We were here before Mitch and will be long after he is gone. WE ARE UK. He is just a guy collecting a check to wear a blue shirt.

      • LarryPup says:

        JD….man why don’t you cool it with all the negative comments. Mitch has just hired some great new football coaches. We all know what happened in the past. Let it lie and let’s move on. Besides, I didn’t hear any complaints when Mitch made Joker HCIW. From anybody! UK has lost year in and year out due to a lack of football talent as compared to the rest of the sec. It’s that simple. They (UK) have not been able to recruit. I am hopeing that can change over time with the new coaching hires.

  • Kokamo Joe says:

    It is still too early to formulate feelings about UK football since the Stoops and Brown hiring. It looks good, but the proof of the pudding will come over the next two or three years. If the University of Kentucky does not dedicate itself to winning nothing will change. The “stuck in the basement” UK football thing has been going on for over 60 years. A change in the culture of the program and a change of fan expectations have to happen. We will know that right away. During the past 60 years each and ever new hire has generated hope just as this hire has done. During the past two years Barnhart has been criticised by many in the BBN for helping create the Joker Phillips situation. He is the same man. The future of UK football is up to him and the fan base. Keep tuned, but in the mean time, get excited and keep up the hope…but in the words of Ronald Reagan, Trust but varify.

  • grant says:

    Although getting the program back to the Brooks era is an upgrade, I personally was hoping for something more.

    • JD says:

      Take away the cupcake non-conference 12th game that Brooks predecessors didn’t have and keep Petrino at Louisville. Now how many Bowls does Brooks make? In 6 years how many SEC East teams not named Vandy did he beat?

      It was smoke and mirrors.

      • Kokamo Joe says:

        Re: cup cakes and bowls

        IMO the goal for the UK football program should be to compete in the SEC. By compete I do not mean win on a consistant basis, but be able to play with and beat the bottom teams most of the time, the mid level teams some of the time and the top teams occasionally. UK simply has not done that. Brooks did make our team more competetive, but he failed to reach the goal that I mentioned. Brooks never had better than a 3-5 SEC record. Until 2007 he could only beat Vandy and the Mississippi teams. In 2007 he gave us his best victory when he beat LSU. After that his teams continued to lose at least 5 or 6 SEC games BUT kept the loses closer than usual. We could be proud that the Cats were in most games. I get your point about the bowl games. In 2005 Indiana beat us. After that year UK exchanged Indiana for a sure fire cup cake. By 2007 Kragthorpe arrived and Louisville was down the tubes. So Brooks only had to beat the three cupcakes and a weak UL plus go 2-6 in the SEC and he was bowl bound. The fan base was so win starved that it blew up those low level bowl games into the perception of success…more success than we actually achieved. Know this…Brooks did impove this football team. But Joker Phillips did what UK has always done after a brief glimpse of success; he took it back to the bottom. So now we start all over again. Maybe this time we will set our sights on actually competing in the conference. We have the coaching staff and we have the hope.

        • JD says:

          Two weeks after the big LSU win they tanked to Mississippi State. Upsets only matter if you win the games you’re supposed to win too. Otherwise your record isn’t any better and Herm Edwards stated….You are who your record says you are.

          Stoops has assembled a fine staff. Not sure if it will be good enough for an 8 win regular season for anyone currently on the roster but we shall see. IMO there was an 8+ win coach available that was never considered by holyroller moral police Mitch and if UK loses its opener next year Mitchs head will be deservedly right back on the chopping block.

          • Cookie says:

            The Head Coach-In-Waiting decision, in retrospect, was a poor decision for Mitch. Joker was obviously not ready for prime time in the SEC. But naming Joker was quick, safe (for at least a few years) and relatively cheap.

            I have said all along and will always believe that Patrino was just too much of a risk to bring to UK. Mitch could not afford to have the problems Patrino was known for creating land on a football program that was already losing revenue. Patrino was no guarantee that UK, under his leadership, would win in the SEC either. Kentucky has a 60-year tradition of mediocrity that has to be overcome. Changing people’s mindset from “We are a basketball school” to believing you can have both is not going to happen overnight. Mitch has to sell it to the fans and back it up with financial support. I think he has shown a step in the right direction with the Stoops hire and the commitment of much needed resources to the football program.

            Mr. Stoops has his work cut out for him, but he has the pedigree and the resume to make some good things happen in Lexington. Recruiting is going to be a tough sell for him given where the program is now, but if he is successful in winning a few SEC games next year, I think he will be on his way. Nothing helps recruiting more than winning!

          • larryvaught says:

            Cookie, great comments and perspective on Mitch. Agree 100 percent

  • Dr.Mark Stephens says:

    Thank’s to both Greg’s for your comments I stand with you. I wish the new staff nothing but good. What brother’s me the most is how Joker and his staff were handled by the media and the so called experts.Then turned on Mitch when “they” thought they were intitled to info on the new FB coach.I’m grateful Bobby P. went on down to western thanks to Mitch for not caving in. The new staff is shaping up nicely but like Joe states its been 60 or so years of come and go. I wish Joker and staff well, coaching for the gators is not a bad place to land. Wish next years Cats better health it’s hard trying to win in the SEC with a 4th string QB. As always my heart will always be BLUE!

  • Wes says:

    It will be interesting to see how Stoops is allowed time to improve this team. If Petrino goes to Western and they win right away and we don’t I think the pressure will steadily amount on Stoops. I do understand that Petrino is NOT in the SEC but in today’s college football it really doesn’t matter what league you are in as long as you win it.(Northern Illinois comes to mind here) Western could easily be next year’s Boise as far as we know.

    • Larry Pup says:

      Wes..I agree with you on this particularly with BP at WKU.

      • Larry Pup says:

        UK needs to stomp WKU’s ass. BP has made it known his hatred for UK, and with the slight, he will have WKU primed for a battle. You can count on tha!. Anyway, we owe WKU a sound whipping after the disappointing loss last time we played them. I believe Joker’s demise.

  • cathouse says:

    I think Mitch B. hit a home run with Stoops and Stoops hit a home run with getting Brown to Uk , now let’s see what the rest of the staff looks like.

  • bluetothebone says:

    Great hire by Barnhart. The process was handled in a timely and professional manner. Good candidates were considered. Good input obtained from knowlegeable football insiders. Considering out status and lack of tradition, an outstanding hire. And that Murrell guy in the article is uninformed and definitely a delusional and unreasonable UK fan…..ridiculous expectations with “all the answers” but actually no clue what is really involved with running a program.

  • SanAntonioCat says:

    All good comments. When Mitch first arrived at UK, he was highly personable with fans even personally answering their emails. He had to clean up the football program and the first step was to shut down the “good ole boy” network. While that offended some boosters, the program was cleaned up and we haven’t had even a mention of program issues anywhere in UK sports. What few player issues that evolved were dealt with efficiently and reports sent immediately to the NCAA.

    Hiring a football coach in the early 2000s was a nightmare. No one wanted the job and only Rich Brooks who was on the committee to find a coach decide to take the job. Still, while we enjoyed some success under Rich’s leadership, the CIW program simply didn’t pan out. I’ve heard two versions of how Joker ascending to head coach was done. Unfortunately, this was one more coaching disaster at UK.

    Those who know Mitch well also realize he has become more and more reclusive and less articulate to the media and fans alike. I know of several instances where Mitch and his family were subjected to fans verbal abuse in restaurants over basketball hiring. That is sadly an embarassment and unacceptable to 99% of our fans.

    At the end of the day, Mitch has been the best AD UK has ever had. The decline of football hasn’t been entirely his fault. His hands were tied to the great recession that made every financing option for football denied. The legislature has also been part of the issue. Yet, football is always about great coaching. A great coach brings success that brings funding for athletic success. We all wish the very best for Coach Stoops and the great young staff he has assembled. Our job is to continue supporting football and hopefully (for this 60 year fan) seeing UK become truly competitive in the SEC.

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