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- Mark Stoops says offense “took a little step back” in Friday’s practice
By RENE CORNETTE
A rivalry is defined as competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field and with only 70 miles separating Lexington from Louisville, that field is uncomfortably close. It gets even closer when you consider Louisville’s head coach, Rick Pitino, was once a well beloved coach at Kentucky.
It’s almost as if this rivalry were scripted and it’s only grown more heated since Kentucky and Louisville won back to back championships in 2012 and 2013. It’s no longer just a battle for the Bluegrass but a battle for the worldwide stage, fame and glory. Who’s the best fanbase? Who has the best team? Who has the best coach? Those are all questions both fan bases squabble over daily as if there can be winner. It’s the same old song and dance, comment and joke day after day. It’s a fight that’s never ending and since the hiring of Bobby Petrino at Louisville that fight has taken a nasty turn.
Twitter exploded recently with a picture of a child dressed as Bobby Petrino wearing a neck brace while throwing up L’s. His parents were taking him to the Louisville game dressed that way. It provoked quite the response and somehow a rivalry that had always been fun for me took a turn as anything but. I watched fans on both sides fire back and forth taking personal shots, making threats and became saddened by it all. Is this what it’s come to? Using our children as pawns in a rivalry and opening them up for hatred that they don’t deserve.
It’s madness and it has to stop. We have to become more responsible and mindful of our actions. It’s not okay to hide behind a computer and type personal attacks over what in the grand scheme of life doesn’t matter. It’s time to turn down the dial, take a step back and get some perspective.
A rivalry is supposed to be fun. You crack jokes at our team and we crack jokes at yours. It’s lighthearted banter and at the end of the day it’s all in good spirit. The problem lies in when you start seeing everything thru blue/red colored glasses. You allow yourself to only see the other team’s faults while becoming blind to your own in the process and becoming so full of hate you draw rage at the most nonsensical things. It’s pushing a rivalry so far that it loses it’s fun and crosses over into bullying. It’s personal attacks and threats made over a game. It’s writing someone off before you even know who they are because they don’t cheer for your team. It’s silly and it’s childish.
It’s okay to make jokes, share funny pictures and most of all laugh. It’s also okay to show respect to fellow fans who wear a different color from your team. This nonsense of being so into the rivalry that you let it dictate your friendships is ludicrous. If you’re nice to me, I’m going to be nice to you. I don’t care what team you cheer for. That’s how it should be.
A rivalry that makes fun of children, threatens harm on others and crosses over into bullying isn’t one that I want to be a part of. We’re all better than that. We always have been. It’s time to get our sanity back. It’s time to start worrying about our team more and the other one less. It’s about recognizing a rivalry has crossed a line and pulling back.
We have so much to be proud of as Kentucky fans. We have a great basketball coach and team. We also have an outstanding football coach and staff who are pulling in a top recruiting class. Coach Mitchell and our Lady CATS are doing big things as well. Let’s take a break from the vitriol and focus on the positive, myself included. I’ve gotten caught up in the rivalry. too. My hands aren’t clean but I want to do better. I need to do better. Let’s all get back to cheering for the blue and white. This is the year of the Wildcat. Don’t let it pass you by.
Vaught’s note: Alex Otte is a high school junior pursuing a career in sports journalism and has her own sports journalism/photography website all at athleticaspirations.com. “Mainly, I have opinion articles and exclusive interviews with NFL/NBA/NCAA athletes, among others,” Otte said. This is her take on Louisville’s hire of Bobby Petrino and the first of more columns to come from here.
By ALEX OTTE
It has been confirmed that Louisville fans got exactly what they wanted! Immediately after the resignation of Charlie Strong, other than questioning his loyalty, Louisville football fans were quick to say how badly they wanted Bobby Petrino back. Petrino comes with a lot of personal baggage, a history of immorality, and a questionable past (adultery, staying with a program for a season at a time, resigning or transferring without informing his players, etc.), and most recently the loyalty issue of leaving Western Kentucky University after only one season with them.
Last season, the University of Kentucky passed up the opportunity to hire Petrino because of his past. Although we recognize that people are capable of change, the University of Kentucky did not want his personal baggage, which he would likely be bringing with him, to reflect negatively on our program or to influence the young men with which he would be working.
The University of Louisville does not want Petrino because they have hope that he’s changed; they want him because they want to win football games. I understand that winning is a major goal of any athletic team, but there are much better coaches out there with a more respectable reputation. Unfortunately, the hiring of Bobby Petrino reiterates that, at least for the University of Louisville, winning is all that matters.
With an 83-30 record in his career, it’s tough to deny that Petrino knows the game of football and is more than capable of coaching a winning team, but is a winning record really all that matters in the grand scheme of things? Obtaining a first class organization seems like it isn’t even a factor to the University of Louisville and to their athletic program.
On the basketball side, Rick Pitino is a coach who is undeniably talented and is most certainly knowledgeable about his sport, having led both the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville men’s basketball teams to national championships, but also has somewhat of a shady past, primarily focused on him being the subject of a sex scandal that took place in 2009 with a woman he met in a bar who was later accused of trying to extort him for cars, money, and college tuition for her children. This just reiterates what the Louisville athletic program invests in coaches for, and it’s not their heart or positive influence on athletes.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich says he will move quickly to pick his next football coach, and he hopes the new hire will stay for the long term. Jurich is keeping his options open for the “100 or 200” candidates he joked have shown interest in replacing Charlie Strong, who told the AD on Saturday night that he’s leaving for Texas. Jurich didn’t mention potential candidates Sunday but said “everybody is in play” — even Western Kentucky’s Bobby Petrino, a former Cardinals coach.
Losing Strong four days after star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said he would enter the NFL draft wasn’t what Jurich expected with Louisville joining top-ranked Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference next year. But he believes the pending move will make for a stronger field of candidates.
“As we’re (going to) the ACC and it’s very strong, it’s going to be an added benefit for us,” said Jurich, adding that Louisville is a go-to coaching job rather than a steppingstone. “This is a program that’s really made it on the map, so we want to make sure we do everything we can to sustain that.”
Jurich was quick to credit Strong for turning Louisville into a destination during his four years at the school. He went 37-15 in his first head coaching job, including 3-1 in bowl games and a BCS bowl victory over Florida in last year’s Sugar Bowl.
Louisville’s success has lifted the school’s profile among recruits — whom coaches can begin contacting Jan. 15, with national signing day Feb. 15 — and especially coaches.
Jurich provided no timetable for replacing Strong but has a history of moving rapidly in hiring. One name that has been mentioned as a potential candidate is Duke’s David Cutcliffe, a two-time ACC Coach of the Year who led the 10-4 Blue Devils to the conference title game and a second straight bowl appearance.
Jurich also said Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson would be considered if he applies. He even floated the possibility of considering the controversial Petrino, who went 41-9 at Louisville from 2003-06 but frequently entertained possibilities of going elsewhere. Petrino is coming off an 8-4 finish in his first season at WKU after his April 2012 firing by Arkansas for misleading school officials about a motorcycle accident involving his mistress.
“It’s a wide-open job; there’s no preconceived notions right now,” Jurich said. “I want to go quick. Time should be of the essence. I want to get the right person, I’ll tell you that. … I’ll consider everybody. Everybody is in play.”
As Jurich begins the process of sorting through a potentially large pool of coaching candidates, the question is which Cardinals players will stick around.
Besides Bridgewater, wide receiver Damian Copeland and safety Calvin Pryor have announced their intentions of entering the NFL draft. But deep-threat receiver DeVante Parker and leading rusher Dominique Brown have said they plan to return, as does sacks leader Lorenzo Mauldin.
Poised to replace Bridgewater is Will Gardner, who showed flashes of his potential in completing 8 of 12 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns as a backup. Redshirt junior offensive lineman Jake Smith wouldn’t be shocked if more players leave. That sometimes happens with coaching changes, but he said the main thing for the returning Cardinals is to unite behind Jurich’s choice to lead the program.
“At this point we have to really emphasize sticking together and moving forward,” Smith said. “It’s a players’ program. So, how the players respond and react is how well we are going to do next year.
“A lot of older guys like Dominique Brown and others are going to have to really try to bring the team together.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Western Kentucky coach Bobby Petrino spoke to the Louisville Quarterback Club Wednesday and said Western’s secondary should be good because it returns three cornerbacks and two safeties who “played a lot” last year.
“Defensively, we have a chance to be pretty good,” Petrino said as he looked ahead to Western’s season-opening game — and his Western debut after not coaching last year after personal problems led to him being fired at Arkansas — against Kentucky in Nashville Aug. 31.
He noted that junior linebacker Andrew Jackson, named CBS Sports’ Preseason Defensive Player of the Year for the Sun Belt Conference, led the Hilltoppers in tackles last year (122), forced fumbles (4) and quarterback hits (3) even though he weighed 272 pounds.
“Now we have got him down to 254 pounds. He is faster, quicker. He really knows how to play,” Petrino said. “He has great instincts. He can play both the pass and run.”
Jackson has been named to the preseason watch lists for the Rotary Lombardi Award, The Butkus Award, Bronko Nagurski Award and Bednarik Award. He led Western in tackles six games last year, making him Western’s leading tackler in 14 of the last 26 games he has played. His 17.5 tackles for loss last year ranked second on the team behind Quanterus Smith’s 18.5. Smith is now a rookie with the Denver Broncos.
“Our challenge on defense is replacing our front. Five guys that played last year all graduated. One (Smith) led the country in sacks,” Petrino said. “We have to rotate guys in and develop a front and find a couple of guys that can rush the passer. We need to get to the quarterback in a four-man rush. We got better as the spring went on, but we are still not where we need to be yet.”
He said the offensive strenth will be at running back where Antonio Andrews returns after rushing for 1,684 yards and 11 scores last year.
“He almost broke Barry Sanders’ (national) record last year for all-purpose yards. He can run and catch, but he can also return punts and kickoffs,” Petrino said. “He is very talented. But he is going to be pushed.”
Petrino likes the size of backup running backs Keyshawn Simpson (245 pounds) and Leon Allen.
“Keyshawn is very physical and will help us a lot in the fourth quarter. Allen just tested out as one of the strongest and fastest players on the team. He does not know how good he can be, but we are going to get him the ball a lot,” Petrino said.
He says Western has a “good group” of offensive linemen and tight ends, but no clear No. 1 quarterback.
Junior Brandon Doughty, who has thrown for only 113 yards and no scores, came out of spring practice No. 1.
“He is intelligent, coachable and can make the different throws. We need to put pressure on him to see how he reacts when things don’t go well,” the Western coach said.
Sophomore Demarcus Smith “is very talented” but Petrino said he “struggled” in spring practice. “He shows splashes of being a good quarterback but has a long way to go to be consistent,” Petrino said.
Western has two new quarterbacks — Nelson Fishback, a transfer from Butte Junior College, and Todd Porter, a true freshman.
“Remember that name (Fishback),” Petrino said. “He has a chance to be a pretty good player. He’s from the same junior college as (Green Bay Packers quarterback) Aaron Rogers. That’s a good system. He is a young man with a lot of confidence and leadership qualities. He will be in the mix (to start).
“Porter is 6-3 and is up to about 207 pounds now. He can really throw the ball and is a great athlete. He started three years in high school, which is something I look at, and has been in a lot of big high school games and was very successful. He’s in the mix, too.”
Petrino signed six true freshmen receivers — part of 34 new players he has on scholarship counting ones the staff added in January that counted toward the 2012 scholarship allotment — he hopes can help.
“We had a couple of guys in spring show they can make plays, but we need more,” Petrino said. “Out of our freshmen, a couple are fast, a couple have good size. We re going to need help right away with them. I am excited about their ability and talent. It’s just really how quick they adjust to coverages they’ll see. But we need them.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Former University of Kentucky football player and assistant coach Mike Cassity has been battling cancer, but Western Kentucky coach Bobby Petrino said Wednesday he is “doing well” now.
Cassity was defensive coordinator under Petrino at Louisville and the two were reunited this year after Petrino took over at Western and Cassity lost his job at UK when coach Joker Phillips and his staff were fired.
“He had a battle with cancer and fought through it,” said Petrino. “He is doing very well. He is working half a day right now.
“He has beat the battle and will get better and better. He is a great coach and tremendous recruiter, and he is getting better.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
LOUISVILLE — He had a smile on his face and a message to sell about Western Kentucky football.
“It’s great to be back in Louisville. I remember standing here a few years back and speaking. It’s awesome to see all the familiar faces, as well as new ones,” said Bobby Petrino.
The former Louisville coach was speaking to the Louisville Quarterback Club here Wednesday exactly one month from the day he’ll make his coaching debut for the Hilltoppers against Kentucky in Nashville on Aug. 31.
“I am extremely excited about what it is going on,” Petrino said. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but we have a lot of good players coming back.”
There was no mention of his controversial departure from Louisville to coach the Atlanta Falcons or his personal woes that cost him his job as head coach at Arkansas. There was no mention of other coaching jobs he pursued or whether he viewed Western Kentucky as a way to revive his career or a spot to stay a long time. Petrino took questions from the club members, but turned down an interview request after his talk.
He said the Hilltoppers have a “tough schedule” that starts with Kentucky and takes Western to Knoxville the next week to play Tennessee.
“I do get nervous thinking about the schedule, but it is also exciting,” Petrino said. “To open in Nashville against Kentucky is great for our program. It motivates our players all summer and winter. It should be a great game. We do not know a lot about them and they do not know a lot about us.”
Petrino said Western coaches have been studying Florida State’s defense and Texas Tech’s offense to get an idea what UK coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown might do Aug. 31.
“But we have to figure out how they will change and what they will do different because they will make changes,” Petrino said.
He said there is also one other unknown about the game on ESPN.
“In the first game, you do not really know what to expect from your own players. I do not know how they will react when things go well or do not go well,” Petrino said. “We will have to learn and get better as the game goes on. We have to do a great job on the sideline teaching and making adjustments during the game. We are going to have to be tough enough mentally and physically to win the game in the fourth quarter. But it will be kind of fun to see what we are all about.”
Western beat Kentucky in overtime in Lexington last year and had UK on the ropes in Nashville two years ago before the Cats won. Several Western supporters were at Wednesday’s lunch and one already wore her “Beat Kentucky” button.
Petrino made it clear he doesn’t intend to back down from UK, Louisville or anyone else in recruiting.
“You need to compete. We are going to recruit the state of Kentucky and then go south into Georgia, Alabama and Florida,” Petrino said. “I like to recruit there (the south) because of how players grow up. Those kids grow up knowing football. Being a college football player is hard. You have to be very dedicated. But we are not going to be afraid to recruit the best players.”
Arkansas is known for its quality football facilities, but Petrino said Western’s facilities could appeal to recruits now.
“I am amazed at the facilities we do have. We have an unbelievable weight room, as good a locker room as you can have, tremendous training room,” he said. “We have all kind office space and everything you need to coach and teach players. I would like to get an indoor practice facility in the future.”
While Western opens with two Southeastern Conference teams, Petrino said there are quality players at other schools like Western.
“The difference in the SEC is the size and speed of the defensive linemen and length of the corners. The defensive linemen are unbelievable and the corners are all 6-1, 6-2 and can play press man coverage. That’s the biggest challenge the SEC presents for offenses they face,” he said.
HOOVER, Ala. — Kentucky defensive tackle Donte Rumph says the Wildcats “owe Western a little something” after the way the Hilltoppers came into Commonwealth Stadium and beat UK last year 32-31 in overtime.
“It is a lot of pressure on it. We have to keep our composure and work and prepare because we owe Western a little something from last year. That is our focus right now to control what we can,” said Rumph of the Aug. 31 season opener in Nashville against Western. “Any first game, not just WKU, is big. You have to take it serious and not lay down because you may have a lesser opponent.”
Rumph wouldn’t talk about what he remembered from Western’s postgame celebration in 2012.
“It brings back some memories I don’t want. I just have to grind,” Rumph said.
Senior running back Raymond Sanders was a bit more blunt about the game.
“We want to beat those guys. We’re looking forward to Aug. 31, I can tell you that. Those guys were pretty disrespectful on our field, and disrespectful with some tweets and Facebook and some stuff,” Sanders said here Wednesday during the Southeastern Conference Media Days. “After the game, jumping and stomping on the field. It’s our field. You got to take pride in that. Just little things that they said. We’re just waiting until Aug. 31 and we’re going to let that talk.”
Rumph wouldn’t contradict Sanders, but he had a different view.
“That’s last year. We can’t dwell on last year,” Rumph said. “We are working hard to beat Western Kentucky this year. That is a little bit of revenge to seek, but we are excited for season to start on the right foot and start a new era with coach (Mark) Stoops. I am just anxious see how it turns out and go out and play. It’s not like Western was the only team to beat us last year. We have a lot of revenge to seek.”
Not only will the game at LP Field be the first in the Stoops’ era at UK, it will also be the first for new Western coach Bobby Petrino. The former Louisville coach was mentioned in connection with the Kentucky coach search after he lost his job at Arkansas before the Cats hired Stoops.
“I really do not know coach Petrino very well. I expect a very good team, good offensive mind,” Stoops said. “He’s had some great success. I’m sure they’re going to be very excited to play us. But we are, as well. That’s our first game of this new era of our program.
“We have an awful lot on the line. We can’t take anything for granted at Kentucky right now. We can’t just show up and beat anybody. We have to play very well. We have to play to the best of our abilities. That’s our job to be ready to play in that opener. It will be an exciting time for both of us.”
Linebacker Avery Williamson, UK’s top tackler last season, sees Western as a “huge opportunity” for Kentucky.
“They did a great job last year, so kudos go to them. They outplayed us,” Williamson said. “We’re just going to take it out on them this fall.”
Stoops wouldn’t back away from the feeling some have that Western could be the most important game of the season for him.
“I would agree with that certainly because it is our first game,” Stoops said. “It’s important because we’re doing an awful lot of work and the players are working hard, coaches are working hard, the fans are buying in, there’s a lot of momentum going right now. It’s our next game. It’s our first game. So it’s very important to us.
“Like any of our games, we’ll approach it as a one‑game season after that. I’m not hiding from the fact that the Western games are important to us.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky is going to have a lot of challenging games in Mark Stoops’ first season, but there will be no more intriguing game than the season opener in Nashville against Western Kentucky and new coach Bobby Petrino.
The Hilltoppers will be trying to beat UK for a second straight season — a huge no-no for a SEC team. And Petrino will be trying to make a statement immediately that Kentucky and other schools made a mistake by not hiring him.
Petrino named his coaching staff this week and the assistants have a wealth of football experience, both as players and as coaches. Combined, the seven assistants have over 100 years of combined collegiate coaching experience, which include coaching stints at schools such as Arkansas, Baylor, Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Louisville, Marshall, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Wisconsin. Together, the seven announced assistants have coached in a combined 14 bowl games, including four BCS bowl games.
Florida State’s defense led the country with 236.3 yards allowed per game before falling to Florida Saturday. He is a finalist for the national defensive coordinator of the year. He has no head coaching experience,
Stoops has never been a head coach, but he has held many jobs throughout college football. He has coached defensive backs at South Florida, Miami and Wyoming and been defensive coordinator at Houston. He was defensive coordinator at Arizona from 2004-09 before moving to Florida State.
Last season his Seminoles only allowed 15.1 per game (4th nationally), in 2010 they allowed 19.6 (20th), and in 2009 they surrendered 30.0 (94th).
He certainly has a strong coaching bloodline. One brother, Bob, is the head coach at Oklahoma. Another brother, Mike, is the former head coach at Arizona. A third brother, Ron Jr., is an assistant coach at Youngstown State.
— Conference realignment could be UK’s best friend in pursuing Cincinnati coach Butch Jones. He may or may not have said no to UK — Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart said Saturday that no one has been offered the job — but with the Big East continuing to lose teams it appears Jones may now have interest in UK if enough money is involved.
— Several media members at Tennessee Saturday indicated that they did still believe Phil Fulmer was on UK’s radar. The former Tennessee coach has been out of coaching four years, but knows Barnhart well. I was also told that Fulmer and UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders are still friends even though Fulmer fired Sanders at UT. Remember a few years ago Barnhart relied on Rich Brooks for guidance in a coaching search and ended up hiring him. Fulmer could well be a backup plan for Barnhart.
— Louisiana Tech Sonny Dykes seems to have dropped off the UK chart for some, but remember there has been contact with his agent. Don’t write him off yet?
— Bobby Petrino? The rumors continue, but several UK folks told me again Saturday that this is a move Barnhart will not make.