By: ASHLEY SCOBY
As new head football coach Mark Stoops continues to assemble the rest of UK’s coaching staff, one of the program’s focuses has become clear: retaining the tradition of Kentucky football in the form of former players. Out of the coaches who have been officially announced, three of them have previously played at Kentucky.
Neal Brown, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, is in the Boyle County Hall of Fame for both football and baseball. He was an all-state wide receiver for Boyle County High School before he went to play two seasons in Lexington.
Chad Scott, whose particular position has not officially been determined (he will be some kind of an offensive assistant) was a running back at UK and has been coaching with Brown for the past six years (Troy, Texas Tech). His wife, the former Shambrica Jones, also played basketball for Kentucky.
And to coach the offensive line, Stoops brought in former UK guard John Schlarman. Schlarman, from Highlands High School in northern Kentucky, went on to be a four-year starter at UK and was on the SEC Academic Honor Roll for three seasons. He previously coached tight ends at UK in 2002 after spending three years in Lexington as a graduate assistant working with the offensive linemen.
Even further than those three coaches, it was also officially announced Thursday that former UK quarterback Andre’ Woodson would be returning to his position as graduate assistant working with the quarterbacks.
Tim Couch, a former field general for the Cats himself, was also instrumental in Mitch Barnhart’s coaching search that eventually led to Stoops’ hiring.
The lesson to be learned from all this? Although a former player (Joker Phillips) at the helm of the football program did not work out as expected, Barnhart and company have not forgotten the importance of maintaining the “Kentucky” brand.
Coaches who have gone through the ups and downs of UK football as only a former player could, will be able to better relate to the current crop of UK talent. They know the program, the history, the past failures and the past success. They know the city of Lexington and the state of Kentucky.More than anything, they care about the program. It’s one thing to bring in a new coach who has a bright mind or quality recruiting ties. But UK gets that extra “something” when the university hires those kinds of coaches who also have a love for the university and a connection to the state of Kentucky.
Having said that, it’s not a good idea to create an entire coaching staff full of former players. That’s why the staff Stoops has is of such quality: He has created a balance between maintaining those Kentucky ties and creating ties elsewhere.
For example, Vince Marrow (hired as tight ends coach) comes from the University of Nebraska (and before that, he played high school football with Stoops in Ohio). DJ Eliot, the new UK defensive coordinator, has been at Florida State with Stoops recently and orchestrated defensive turnarounds at Texas State before that.
Although Stoops has done a great job recruiting former Kentucky players back to their home university, he has also excelled in mixing them with guys who have recruiting ties in Florida, Ohio, Texas, etc. That mix of personalities and talent on the coaching staff will be the biggest factor in a possible turnaround of the Kentucky football program.