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New UK football coach Mark Stoops sold Tim Couch with his defensive mentality and overall plan for reviving Kentucky football

UK AD Mitch Barnhart, new football coach Mark Stoops, and UK president Eli Capilouto sit at the interview table at a press conference introducing Stoops Sunday. (Clay Jackson photo)

UK AD Mitch Barnhart, new football coach Mark Stoops, and UK president Eli Capilouto sit at the interview table at a press conference introducing Stoops Sunday. (Clay Jackson photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

He grew up a Kentucky fan and once he got a chance to play for the Wildcats, he rewrote the passing records and became a No. 1 overall NFL draft pick because of his offensive prowess.

Yet when former UK quarterback Tim Couch had a chance to be part of the selection process for Kentucky’s new football coach, he was all-in with Florida State defensive coordinator and was there Sunday to watch the press conference that actually was more of a pep rally when Stoops was officially introduced as the Cats’ new coach.

Couch didn’t know Stoops personally when Joker Phillips was fired with two games left in the season. However, because Couch is a college football analyst for FOX Sports, he talks to coaches and knew Stoops’ reputation for being one of college football’s top defensive minds — a claim backed up by the way the Seminoles ranked among the nation’s top defenses the last two years.

“I know one thing at Kentucky that we have always struggled with is stopping people in this conference. His name came to my mind initially when this job opened up and (UK athletics director) Mitch (Barnhart) was thinking the same thing and we continued the process and turns out he was a great fit for us,” said Couch Sunday.

Couch said the plan Stoops had to revive UK football after a 2-10 season that included an 0-8 mark in Southeastern Conference play and losses to Louisville and Western Kentucky sold him.

“Every question we had for Mark about what he wanted to do in recruiting, scheme-wise, everything like that. He had a tremendous plan for what he wanted to do and he had been waiting on this opportunity for a long time,” Couch said.

Stoops already knew that Couch was an iconic name in UK football.

“I understand the impact that Tim has on this university. Again, I want to lean on Tim and visit with him about some ideas because he’s been around football,” Stoops said.

That’s good because Couch will certainly have some ideas for UK’s offense. Give Stoops credit for quickly admitting Sunday that defense was his forte and he knows he needs a big-time offensive coordinator.

“I’m planning on going out and interviewing a few offensive coordinators here real soon. I’ve been in conversations. I feel real good about the prospects for the offensive coordinator.  o I’m going to head out on the road and talk to a few people, put together the offensive staff first,” Stoops said. “I feel very good about the defensive staff.  I feel like I have my defensive coordinator targeted, on board and ready to come. From there, it will really concentrate on the offense. I realize with my background in defense that the offensive staff and the offensive coordinator will be critical to our success. That’s priority for me right now.”

Couch knows a program can make a major turnaround in one season because he was on a team that did. He came to UK in 1996 to play for Bill Curry and the Cats went 4-7 his freshman year when he barely played. The next year under new coach Hal Mumme, UK went 5-6 and then in 1998 the Cats finished 7-5 and played in the Outback Bowl.

“That is a conversation I had with Mitch. My freshman year we were the worst offense in the country and the next season we were the best. If not the best, one of the best in the country, with the same players, just a different system,” Couch said. “I am not saying that is going to happen here. It was a 2-10 football team in the toughest conference in America, but I am saying it can turn around.

“You get guys in the right system and put them in a position to  make plays and get them in the right mismatches on the football field .. and that is what coaching is all about. There are already some talented young wide receivers on this program. There are talented young quarterbacks here in this program. I think it could turn quickly.”

One guy who might be able to direct that turnaround is former Boyle County star Neal Brown. He was a successful offensive coordinator at Troy before going to Texas Tech three years ago and he has continued to lead offenses that put up big numbers. Plus, he is Couch’s former teammate.

Could Brown be the right guy for Stoops?

“ I think Neal is a hot candidate at a lot of places. I think especially with him being a Kentucky guy … Neal was an old teammate of mine and has went on to do great things. He is one of the hottest young offensive coordinators in the country right now. I think he has the second-rated pass offense in the country at Texas Tech. He does a great job. If that is a route Mark wants to go, I would fully support that and I know everyone in Kentucky would as well,” Couch said.

Why not? It would seem like a perfect marriage. Tough-minded head coach with a defensive personality and recruiting ties in Ohio and Florida and younger offensive coordinator with a proven record with recruiting ties in Texas.

Could that be a combination to allow UK to reach a point where it could challenge for a SEC championship since both Stoops and Barnhart made it clear Sunday that was t he goal?

“You come into these things and you have a plan and he has been successful wherever he has been,” Couch said. “You look at what he did at Florida State. They were not a very good defense when he got there and now they are one of the tops in the country. He has a proven system that works and I think he thinks he can do that here.

“It’s the SEC, it’s Kentucky and there are a lot of things you can come in here and sell recruits on in my opinion. You sell recruits on playing in the SEC, the best conference in America. You sell Lexington. You sell this town. You sell early playing time. You sell all those things to kids and if you have an exciting offensive coordinator, you sell that to the skilled position guys. I think that is how you rebuild this thing and you do end up playing for championships.”

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20 comments

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  1. UKFAN197TONE

    I’m stoked. Now, time to go get the types of recruits at UK that can make the HC, DC and OC look good! GO BIG BLUE!!!

    1. Larry T Clemons

      All those people who Bashed Mitch , should apologies…I was pulling for Petrino, but I’m happy with this Hire. Mitch was working, getting it done, with help, like you wanted…come on, Give Mitch some thank you, I’m Sorry, great Job, with all those vacancies out there, Mitch, you got us a Great Fit, Thank You….I never Bashed MB, I don’t need to say I’m Sorry, but some of you should, come on, laugh it off, MB did UK, good, ” again “…

  2. OldFan

    I think this will turn out to be a great hire! People and players seem very excited and that is where it all starts.

  3. Bill

    You have to be able to run the ball in this league, too. Or, you better have a quarterback with Johnny Manziel’s talent, which, isn’t going to happen. We’ll never get to Atlanta running the Air Raid.

    1. UKFAN197TONE

      Good point, maybe UK can find a few of those LB turned RB like Bama and GA have. Lacy and the GA freshman, can’t think of his name. Lacy is a beast!

      1. UKFAN197TONE

        Those two are built like LB’s, not sure if they were LBs, but they LOOK like one. HA.

      2. Larry Pup

        The UGA back was Todd Gurley. He finished with 122 yds. rushing against a stout Tide defense. I think Mobley, the kid from Powell, TN could be that type back for UK with the right coaching and system. I agree with Bill. You have to be able to run the ball in the SEC if you want to win. Throwing every down is exciting, but it will not win championships. Winning football is stud backs breaking tackles and running over people. What an exciting game for the SEC Championship. Two great football teams.

    2. Bryan

      I agree Bill. Alabama showed that last night. That is the only reservation I have about Brown coming in as OC. Tx Tech was 86th in rushing offense this season, 1 spot ahead of UK. Not saying he can’t be successful, but an air-raid offense can only get you so far.

    3. Jason Mahoney

      I agree we have to run the ball to win! To argue against your point with the Air Raid Offense. If you look at Texas Tech they are 60/40 Pass/Run. I think that Balance will win the SEC. I hate hearing you have to only run the ball to win. NOT TRUE. I know alot of us wanted Petrino but his Offense was very Pass happy and then would run the ball late. I think Neil Brown with Chad Scott could be the Hires we need to have a great Offense. I’m just going to get behind Coach Stoopes and be there cheering on the BIG BLUE every Saturday!

  4. Tom R

    Bill, Coach Stoops said you need a physical running game to go with a passing attack in the SEC.

  5. john l

    I don’t think Stoops is going to be a one demensional coach/He gave me the impression he will be consistent particularly with his defense,but will be open to options on offens/He mentioned consistency several time at his introduction.

  6. shinny

    I think we have some very good running backs in the stalls now. We just need to bring them to the gate and ring the bell! We also can turn the sirens on again if we get Neal Brown. Run to set up the pass or pass to set up the run!!!

  7. LindaS

    I heard Mitch say someone told him Stoops was interested in the job. Sure would like to know who that was!

    1. larryvaught

      believe that might have been Tim Couch Linda

  8. Larry Pup

    I am real interested to hear who coach brings in as his DC too. We gotta get off the field on defense before we can do anything. That has been UK’s age old problem. That has got to get fixed in a hurry.

  9. RJ

    If Neal comes to KY it won’t be for the opportunity. It will be because his blood runs blue. The OC job at TCU and KY is a lateral move. The only positive gain is maybe getting a better HC job if he turns the offense around. My hope is that he takes the job. We’ll see.

    1. Here's Hope

      RJ and coming back to the SEC. A challenge only a few coaches are really ready for.

    2. LarryPup

      The only thing I don’t like about Brown is he left UK for UMass. If you look on his resume, at least the one I saw, he lists UMass as his alma mater. I do believe he would be a good OC though. But I say let coach pick his own OC without pressure on him to pick a fan favorite.

      1. larryvaught

        LarryPup, listed as alma mater because that is where he graduated. He left just so he could play more. No hard feelings. Just knew there were better guys ahead of him at UK and he wanted to play,.

  10. 70'sDHS'er

    Larry — Lately I’ve seen several pieces on Neal Brown’s possible future at UK and his success at Texas Tech. Here’s some perspective from West Texas. Although I graduated from DHS and love UK athletics, I live in the West and became a TT Red Raider fan by marriage. We’ve attended many TT games in Lubbock and loved the Air Raid offense of Mike Leach. However, the last three years, Tuberville and Brown have guided the Red Raiders and I’m not sure anyone in Lubbock now thinks their offense is an Air Raid offense. In fact, I think most in West Texas believe the program has fallen off considerably under Tuberville and Brown. Although it’s hard to tell if the problem is Tuberville’s coaching or Neal’s offense; the change has been dramatic. Under Leach from ’07 – 09, Tech went 9-4, 11-2, and 9-4. With Tuberville, Tech has gone 8-5, 5-7, and 7-5. I think the consensus in Lubbock is that the Red Raiders have had talented players, but under-performed in the last three years. Also, TT success is judged by their Big 12 record and W-L’s against OU, UT, OSU, and KSU. Tuberville and Brown have yet to produce a winning Big 12 record; going 3-5, 2-7, and 4-5 during the last three years. So, although QB Seth Doege has run up big numbers at Tech, their record has been average when it counted – against quality teams. During most of the games we’ve seen over that 3 year span it’s been sad, with OSU and KSU looking more like the old Tech Air Raid offense than TT. So, as UK searches for an OC, Wildcat fans should have the full story on TT. Neal might make a great OC at UK, but the past 3 years have been rough in West Texas.

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