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By LARRY VAUGHT
Give Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart credit for doing what he said he would do — spending money to put together a quality football staff.
Sure, not all of us believed he would do it, but he has to show the school’s financial commitment to football in more ways than just giving new head coach Mark Stoops $2.2 million annually over five years — about $500,000 more per year than previous coach Joker Phillips made.
But what is most impressive is that Barnhart and UK spared no expense for coordinators Neal Brown and D.J. Eliot.
Brown, a Boyle County High School graduate, had been offensive coordinator at Texas Tech the last three years and had built an impressive resume with his own version of the Air Raid offense. He was a quick target to hire for Stoops, but other schools also had some interest in Brown. That’s why he was interested in having a three-year contract, something not many schools give coordinators, as well as a raise over his previous salary which was already higher than what previous UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders made ($338,000).
Eliot, the former defensive line coach at Florida State where Stoops was the defensive coordinator, will also make $500,000 — or $162,000 more than Rick Minter made last year. Like Brown, he gets a three-year deal that will expire on June 30, 2016. That’s the same time Brown’s deal will expire.
Both coaches will get one month’s salary for an SEC East title and/or invitation to a non-BCS bowl game with a payout less than $2.5 million. They will get one and a half months’ salary for a non-BCS bowl game with a payout of $2.5 million or more. If UK wins a SEC and/or gets a BCS bowl invitation, they get two months’ salary. Those bonuses likely will be included for each UK assistant coach.
Brown and Eliot now have salaries on par with what top coordinators in the SEC is paid — and that signals a big step forward for UK. Barnhart wasn’t afraid to give both coaches attractive salaries or guarantee three years. He has to believe if he’s paying Stoops $2.2 million per year for five years, he has to have confidence that the coordinators Stoops wanted will be vital to turning the program around and that giving them a three-year deal instead of two years is smart business rather than a gamble.
Kentucky fans continue to be impressed with the new staff, especially Brown.
Long-time UK fan Dale Polley of Nashville likes what he’s seeing and hearing about UK football.
“I am so excited that Neal Brown is coming to UK. It sure seems that we have a great pairing in Stoops and his experience on defense and now with Brown we have a pro running the offense,” Polley said. “(Quarterbacks) Max Smith and Patrick Towles have to be beyond excited. Tell Neal that there is this guy in Nashville that has been spreading his name across the internet for about six weeks hoping that UK would hire him — and that was before I even knew the complete UK connection with him. It is nice to have something on the football front to be excited about.”
And that’s why the money Barnhart is giving Stoops, Brown and Eliot is money well spent if they do the job on the field that he thinks they will and UK fans believe they will.