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By RICHARD CHEEKS
Mark Stoops, by all measures, appears to be a football man, from an established football family, with a keen football mind. He also appears to have a strong record of accomplishment as a recruiter and on the field as a Defensive Coordinator. Those are all important attributes that speak to Coach Stoops’ fine football pedigree. However, these attributes represent only part of the formula for success with the UK Football program. Didn’t we hear the experts cite similar attributes when UK hired Blanton Collier, Fran Curci, Jerry Claiborne, Bill Curry, and Rich Brooks?
I listened carefully to the introduction press conference. I heard Mitch Barnhart profess an unspecified commitment to facility upgrades for football. I heard Coach Stoops set his on the field goal of winning an SEC Championship. I hope with all the passion for UK football that I possess that this hire will end differently, and that Coach Stoops can lead UK football into the promised land of SEC relevance. I hope that this next chapter of UK Football history will have a happy conclusion for Coach Stoops, and the long suffering UK football fans of the Big Blue Nation.
While I remain a skeptic, and a cynic, I will start this chapter in a wait and see posture. Will the unspecific promises of Sunday’s excitement result in the programmatic and institutional changes that I believe must at least coincide, if not precede, a great coaching hire. Will UK increase the recruiting budget, increase the salary budget for assistant coaches, and provide funding for capital expenditures for facility improvements such as a recruiting room? Will the Administration and the Coach set out specific performance goals that they believe are necessary to place UK on the path to SEC Football relevancy.
I concede that it may be too early for these details to emerge in the public domain, but I believe all UK football fans should expect to learn these details in the near term. That is the basis for my “wait and see” posture for the near term. I believe the University should make public pronouncements of its specific commitment to SEC Football competitiveness that describe in performance terms what we should all look for as we watch and gage the program’s progress towards those goals. However, I have doubts that anyone at the University will provide any details on these questions because unspecific generalizations make public accountability a moving target. Therefore, to advance the ball down the field for this specific debate, I offer my ideas about what the primary long-term objective should be, and how a fan can monitor the program’s progress toward that objective,
I agree with Coach Stoops, the primary long-term objective for any athletic program should be to win. “We play to win game!” The objective must be to win a SEC Championship, because the frame of reference to winning must be applied to the field of play that applies, and for UK football, that field is SEC Football. It should no longer be acceptable to rationalize UK’s perennial presence at the bottom of the SEC within the context of how UK might do in some other conference, or against some other set of opponents. UK is a charter member of the SEC. UK is proud of their SEC roots and affiliations. Therefore, UK should be committed to competing in the SEC if UK is going to accept the huge SEC payday with any sense of pride. My analysis begin by establishing a strategic plan for this success.
If the stated long-term objective is indeed an SEC Championship, then how should UK and the fans assess this coach’s performance against that objective in the near term, e.g. the next 3 to 5 years, and beyond? I have observed a road map of success in SEC Football that I suggest for that map to gage the progress of this journey. This road map gets very little public discourse in these parts because the UK track record against these performance standards rarely meet the minimum success thresholds in one category, and have not done so in both categories within the same season in my memory.
The top teams in the SEC, year in and year out, perform at high levels on offense and defense. Why shouldn’t UK? That fact is the basis for this map to SEC Football competitiveness!
1. To be competitive in the SEC, the offense must produce at a minimum 30 points per game over a season, and sustain that output for multiple seasons. Here is UK’s recent history.
2012 18.0 ppg
2011 15.8 ppg
2010 31.2 ppg
2009 26.1 ppg
2008 22.6 ppg
UK offense crossed that offensive threshold once in the last 5 years. UK needs to set its sights on reaching that threshold by the 2015 football season, three years. Wouldn’t the following offensive goals be reasonable and appropriate?
2013: 24.0 ppg
2014: 28.0 ppg
2015: 31.0 ppg, and
2016 and beyond: Sustain offensive production at 30 ppg or higher.
2. To be competitive in the SEC, the defense must produce at a minimum by allowing 20 points per game or less over a season, and sustain that production for multiple seasons. Here is UK’s recent history.
2012 30.5 ppg
2011 24.7 ppg
2010 28.4 ppg
2009 22.7 ppg
2008 21.5 ppg
UK defense has not reached this defensive threshold even once in the last 5 years, and one must look back into the 1980s during the Claiborne Era to find UK football teams that had such stingy defenses. UK needs to set its sights on reaching that threshold by the 2015 football season, three years. Wouldn’t the following near term defensive goals be reasonable and appropriate?
2013: 24.0 ppg
2014: 21.0 ppg
2015: 19.0 ppg and
2016 and beyond: Sustain defensive production at 20 ppg or lower.
In my opinion, those performance goals should produce teams moving that win 5 to 7 games in 2013, 6 to 8 games in 2014, and 7 to 9 games in 2015. Looking beyond the initial three seasons, a program that can sustain those levels or better on both sides of the line defines SEC programs that average 8 to 9 wins per season, and does not drop below 5 wins in any season.
As I “wait and see,” these and similar performance measures will inform my conclusions about the progress of the UK Football program under this Coach’s leadership. These and similar criteria will drive my compliments and criticisms in the years ahead.
I have posted this plan at the BigBlueFans4UK.com website (http://www.BigBlueFan2UK.com/, Editorials/ BBF4UK_Editorial_6_Will_New_Coach_Be_Answer.htm) and I thank Vaught’s Views for publishing this commentary for its sizeable readership to consider, debate, and hopefully adopt. I clearly encourage UK Football fans to adopt this approach, if not the specific numbers, to monitor and measure the progress of the UK football program as it moves into the Coach Stoops Era. I also encourage UK Football fans to compare these performance measures against other SEC programs to confirm that these and similar performance standards accurately describe successful SEC programs.
If Mark Stoops fails, and based on history, failure at UK in football is more likely than not, ask, “Why does a man with such a great football pedigree and track record fail at UK?” Just as I have argued with respect to Joker Phillips, and his predecessors, the failure of the Stoops Era, if it occurs, will not be Mark Stoops’ fault any more than it has been Rich Brooks’ fault, Jerry Claiborne’s fault, or Blanton Collier’s fault. It will be the fault of an administration content to cash the SEC check without making the commitment to competitiveness in the SEC.