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By LARRY VAUGHT
Former Kentucky All-American receiver Derek Abney says he can’t remember being so excited about UK football as he was Tuesday when Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was named the team’s new coach.
“It’s just amazing. I can’t wait to see who the offensive coordinator is going to be,” said Abney, who lives in South Carolina now.
“This state loves football. I believe the whole place is ready to explode with excitement. The journey to a championship is the most fun,” said Burgin’s David Hopewell, a starter on UK’s 1976 Peach Bowl team and 1977 team that finished 10-1 and won the Southeastern Conference title.
Former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard of Lawrenceburg is excited, too, but also expressed appreciation to Joker Phillips and his wife for their “love and dedication to Kentucky” and noted that they have been “avid supporters” of the Kentucky National Guard and the state’s military.
“For that and many other reasons, I’d hope as Kentucky fans we don’t forget their 20 plus years dedicated to Wildcat football and continue to show our appreciation and support for their future endeavors,” Maggard said. “Also I’d like to wish his staff the best and pray for them to land on their feet and continue to lead young men on the football field. That’s the tough part about the business of college football. But I am definitely excited about Mark Stoops.”
So is former UK fullback Andy Murray, who lives in northern Kentucky. “I love the fact that we have a hard-nosed defensive minded coach. Football is about attitude … and defensive guys bring attitude,” Murray said.
The four players responded to various questions about the hiring of Stoops and what impact it will have on UK football.
Question: Has the hiring of Mark Stoops changed your enthusiasm about Kentucky football?
Hopewell: “Let me say 1st our hearts bleed Big Blue. My family loves coach Phillips and Leslie and all they meant to this program. We all hate things did not work out for him and we want to thank him for everything he has done for us. Thank you coach Phillips.
“Coach Stoops brings name recognition for sure. We have all heard of him and his family for a long time. I can say those close to me have already circled the spring game and are ready to travel to all the away games, too. Listening to the radio as things unfolded I had chill bumps as I read the release on the UK website and I cannot wait to hear the press conference Sunday. All the talk was positive as it should be at this time.”
Murray: “Without a doubt. He is connected in Ohio. This is the largest miss in Kentucky football history. We have more players per year in Cincy alone than the entire state of Kentucky and we have never had success recruiting there.”
Maggard: “My enthusiasm and passion for UK football stays pretty high, but coach Stoops brings a change that is exciting for UK fans. My family attends games at Commonwealth Stadium thru good and bad, so we’ll be there as we always have been. Just may have some more friends ask if they can tag along. Coach Stoops’ name and track record as a coordinator and recruiter brings on thoughts of competing in the SEC East. It’s going to be a fun ride.”
Abney: “I’ve surprised myself in that I’m more enthusiastic than I would have been with an offensive-minded coach. That is because I have yet to hear a negative thing about Mark Stoops, save he has no head coaching experience. Results will tell the whole story but, preliminarily, I really like the Mark Stoops choice.”
Question: Do you think he can immediately win the overall UK fan base back that seemed to bail out this year?
Hopewell: “Oh, no doubt about that. Coach Stoops has a good resume. He deserves a chance to run his own show based on that. I think UK and (athletics director) Mitch Barnhart naming a leader for our program is a big hit. Knowing who is in charge brings all the excitement back. Larry you have done a great job turning Kentucky into a football state and I want to thank you too. We need reporters like you to keep UK fans not only in Kentucky informed but nationwide and those abroad. I know how hard this particular change has been on you but I thank you for staying with the work you had to do. It has been good to hear and read all the news about UK football with the tough year we have had. How crazy will it get when we win the SEC!”
Murray: “I think the fan base is in shock. I really think that they were convinced Mitch could/would not close a deal on a guy like Stoops.”
Maggard: “I don’t think Nick Saban could win over 100 percent of our fan base, but this hire is hopefully a step in the right direction to re-connect the BBN. The last couple weeks have been unique, and not in a good way. I’ve been a UK fan for 40 years, and had never seen such divide and at times apathy. That can be attributed to many factors, I hope now we can all agree to support our student-athletes, coaches, and university. The initial press conference is vital; winning at Sunday’s event will definitely set the tone. From what I hear, it’s going to be incredible. I am confident that today’s excitement will be reflected in ticket sales. I’ve always said UK football fans are the best in the nation. They, we, should be rewarded for years of dedication to the program and deserve the very best.”
Abney: “Absolutely. The only fans that may be disappointed are the die-hard ‘air raid’ fans that want to see lots of touchdowns on offense. Fortunately, a great defense doesn’t necessarily mean an anemic offense.”