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Dave Hopewell

By LARRY VAUGHT

Question:  What should be the message to Kentucky football fans about this program?
Jacob Tamme: “I think the message is that the program is improving right now and these players need you to be excited, optimistic and realistic. As a player going through a tough season, these guys want the fans to stick with them. This year’s team certainly hasn’t dropped their level of effort during a tough season, and if anything they have showed a lot of resilience battling back on the road in some tough games. Fans should appreciate that and support a team willing to fight like that. Going forward, I think the message is — get to Commonwealth Stadium and be loud and create an atmosphere that helps our Cats win games!
“I can tell you from experience that when our fan base buys in 100 percent, it is felt by everyone inside the program — from the talk around campus, to the Cat Walk, to the noise level when the Cats are on defense, you can ‘feel’ the support when our fan base really buys in to UK football and puts their heart in it. So I encourage the fans to stick with this staff and group of players, and stay the course with great support as they work to improve the program to a championship-level contender.”

Anthony White: “My message to the fan base would be to support the guys and get behind them through the rough and success. because although the past few years have not been successful, change is going to come and it can be facilitated by warm positive support from the beginning, not when the winning commences. the same way UK basketball teams come in with support and high expectations, lets lend that same support to UK football to finish off 2013 and into 2014 if that is the type of success we desire. Because we are now bringing in the guys to raise the bar and BBN is just fan to pull a team through when doubt starts surface. Change is no doubt is upon us lets be the force not the obstacle to success.

Freddie Maggard: “Be patient. Give this staff a chance. Support this team, everything on social media, in person, and stadium attendance will be used for or against UK in recruiting. Focus on the future.

Derek Abney: “Patience and support. Being a competitor, I have little patience sometimes but, as fans, we really need to be patient. We also need to support the staff and players. They have all the tools and we need to realize this season is very difficult (arguably the toughest in college football) and it’s the first year in rebuilding.”
Murray: “Hang on…..WE WILL WIN!”

Dave Hopewell: “Hang tight and be supportive. Let’s all come on out and show our support for these guys and support them now and in the future when we really are competing for SEC games week in and week out. It will send a big message to our recruits but it will also send a big message to our UK administration that a great football team is what we want and expect.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

After yet another loss, the head coach tried to let fans know Saturday he was not happy either.

“I certainly don’t like the product we are putting on the field, and that’s my responsibility. I take full credit for that. When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s not good, it’s not good — and it hasn’t been good. And that’s on me,” the coach said.

“I’m not asking for anybody to be happy. I’m not asking anybody to give a pass. This is the real deal. My expectation I’ll guarantee is as high or higher than anyone sitting in those stands. There’s nobody more let down or hurt or competitive-edge dented a little bit by this. So it’s on me. We’ll get it turned. I can assure you that.”

While that could have been Kentucky coach Mark Stoops after the loss to Missouri, it wasn’t. Instead it was Florida coach Will Muschamp after his Gators  (4-5, 3-4) lost 34-17 to Vanderbit. It was Florida’s second four-game losing streak in his three seasons, fueling more speculation about his future.

But could that be Stoops in 2015? Kentucky was 2-10 in 2012 when Joker Phillips was fired. Kentucky likely will be 2-10 again this year. Stoops has a highly ranked recruiting class in 2014, but will the UK fan base get restless before he can rebuild.

“The only way to fix this is recruit, recruit, recruit,” one UK coach said after Saturday’s game.

True, but that takes time and will Stoops have that kind of time. Former UK player Dave Hopewell, a die-hard Kentucky fan, has claimed for years that UK needs to raise the bar for football expectations. He talks SEC championships, not Music City Bowl bids.

But Hopewell did stun me last week when he said he thought by 2015 that Stoops and his staff “should win eight or more games.” Eight or more? How often does that ever happen at UK?

Hopewell’s implication was that if UK has not made that much progress, a change likely would be needed. He pointed to the quick exit UK gave basketball coach Bily Gillispie after two miserable years as justification for not being overly patient in football.

Myself, I still think UK could be lucky to go 6-6 in 2015. Yes, the 2014 recruiting class is talented, but you don’t rebuild in one year in SEC football. Even Vanderbilt is slowly building success, but that success just makes it that much harder for UK to succeed.

But do you agree with Hopewell? What’s a reason expectation for UK in 2015?

 

 

By LARRY VAUGHT

Question: What would be your major concern about the Kentucky football program right now?

Jacob Tamme: “Really my biggest concern is I get tired of people becoming negative on a coach or staff so quickly. I don’t think it is happening right now, but I can see the expectation level rising dramatically next year because of this recruiting class. Let’s keep in mind the reality is that all of these good recruits are still going to be freshman next year playing in the SEC East. I want to win as quick as anybody but I think if the team loses some tight games next season we can’t have the fan base going up in arms because the expectation level has changed so dramatically from year one to year two. I think improvement over the next year should definitely be expected, but to ask this staff and team to win eight, nine, 10 games and compete for a championship — that is probably going to take a couple of years at a minimum. I hope they prove me wrong!”

Freddie Maggard: “Obvious, the quarterback play. Jalen Whitlow is on the verge of breaking out if he can stay healthy. Without him, the offense has not been able to threaten defenses. I’d never criticize a player and won’t so let’s say passing game. I’m talking offensive unit as a whole. Defenses are pressing UK’s offense, this is unheard of in the Air Raid offense but at most times, they’re tempting UK to throw the ball downfield.  With limited play at quarterback, coach (Neal) Brown is extremely limited on what he can call, and when he can call it.

Anthony White: “My major concern about the program at this very moment is that they have to be prepared to capitalize on the success that the football program is expecting. I hope the fan base the administration and the athletic department is prepared to handle and market the success, if the football program happens to achieve what they expect. and not give them token publicity and coverage do to success being a surprise. I know they talk about having a plan, I hope sufficient and effective when/if we reach big time success.”

Derek Abney: “My major concern would be convincing the players it really is one play, one quarter, and one game at a time; relaying to them that other teams will have their runs but we have stay in the game mentally and with confidence. It can be difficult changing that mentality if a team hasn’t had a lot of winning seasons recently. Fortunately, all indications are Stoops has the character/integrity to convince them of this.”

Andy Murray: “Is that our fan base needs to stick with these guys and believe in what they are doing.”

Dave Hopewell: “Holding our recruiting classes together. Getting the players in here to change the culture and the future of the program and then keeping it at that level for years to come and not just be a flash in the pan for two-three years.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Jacob Tamme had “very realistic expectations” about Mark Stoops’ first year as Kentucky’s head coach and despite UK’s 2-7 record going into Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt, Tamme says he likes what he has seen.
“If anything I’m even more optimistic because of the way our young guys are playing and the fight that the team as a whole is showing — Mississippi State and South Carolina games being prime examples,” said Tamme, a former UK All-American tight end and current tight end with the Denver Broncos. “I am encouraged, not by the won-lost record, but by a lot of the little things I am seeing.”

Former UK players Derek Abney, Freddie Maggard, David Hopewell, Andy Murray and Anthony White joined Tamme in offering their analysis on this Stoops’ first year and the UK program.

Question: What has impressed you the most about Stoops and his staff?
Tamme: “Their ability to sell the vision they have for the program. I think they have sold the current guys on it and I think they’ve done an absolutely incredible job putting together this 2014 class. I’m also impressed with the improvement as this season has progressed. I was really disappointed in the way we played as a whole, but especially on defense versus Western Kentucky. It just felt like there was something missing in our attitude and approach. Every play WKU ran they ‘finished the play forward’ – going toward their end zone … 2-3-4 extra yards at the end of plays. But I have been amazed at the improvement I’ve seen up to this point in the season and was very impressed by our defense at Mississippi State and against Alabama State. The mindset of our defense seems to have improved a lot over the course of the season, which is impressive especially considering we’ve been losing. They are improving, and they keep getting up off the mat and bringing it, and that’s what you want to see on defense.”

Abney: “His ability to keep players accountable and committed all four quarters. There are no excuses with Mark Stoops and you, and the players, know where he stands.

Murray: “My first take on this staff is that they are very organized and are sticking to their plan. They know the task and are taking all the right steps in recruiting and fundamentals.”

Hopewell: “Their continued resolve.  Stoops won’t throw his players under the bus even though there are some names that would pop up regularly I bet.  I like his feistiness on the field and I think his players are gradually starting to pick that up.  Thats still part of the problem too, these players are picking things up “gradually”.

Maggard: “His fire, his demanding that players cannot ‘hide’, accountability and realistic expectations. He’s improved the defense dramatically, and is consistent quarterback play away from being a .500 team. Defensively is most noticeable improvement and that has a great deal to do with senior middle linebacker Avery Williamson. Offensively, unfortunately the quarterback play has not been close to what is needs to be. That would slow down any offense, any coordinator.”

White: “I’m extremely impressed how coach Stoops is able to bring in top notch talent and recruits, and not only have them commit to play at UK but also buy in to the belief that they can win big here in Lexington at UK.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Despite Kentucky’s 1-6 record going into Saturday night’s game against Alabama State, five former Wildcats all can see progress being made under first-year coach Mark Stoops.

“This coaching staff has focused on improvement and maximized effort with current roster,” former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard said. “Can you imagine the result if the true freshmen and junior college transfers weren’t playing? I feel even more confident in Mr. (Mitch) Barnhart’s hire today than last winter. Sure, results haven’t been what fans and myself would like to see, but it’s been brought to light just how deficient the roster.”

Maggard’s former teammate, Andy Murray, feels the same.

“I feel even better about our program. Coach and his staff know what they are doing and have made great in-game adjustments. I think it is very evident that we have a long way to go from a talent standpoint and believe we will look totally different next season and remarkably different in year three,” Murray said. “Our team is well conditioned and fundamentally sound.”

David Hopewell started on UK’s only Southeastern Conference championship team in 1977. He says “we all hate losing” but knows progress is being made.

“I just wished we started better. The excitement of Aug 1. has long since passed but this is a marathon, not a race. It takes longer to make progress in this game just for the sheer numbers involved. I still feel good about this coaching staff.”

Former All-American receiver Derek Abney anticipated a “difficult season” for Stoops.

“I’m slightly disappointed we couldn’t sneak in a quality win thus far. I was hoping for better quarterback play since Maxwell Smith had a good season before getting hurt and Jalen Whitlow was coming around and better wide receiver play,” Abney said. “Besides the lack of turnovers, I’ve been happy with the defense, especially during second halves.

“I was hoping for more contribution from special teams. I have to keep reminding myself to be patient because I know the potential is there to have a really good program, especially since we’ll have two great recruiting classes.”

Former running back Anthony White agrees.

“I feel that the UK program has the will to win as opposed to when the season began, I assumed the team would have a different coach, but still the same nonchalant attitude about winning or losing. Now they seem to really want to win no matter the score,” White said.

Vaught’s note: I wanted to make sure everyone noticed these comments that former UK center Dave Hopewell, my co-host for a Thursday night radio show on WHIR during football season,  had in regards to the protest by some college football players wanting to draw attention to the need for the NCAA to provide stipends for college athletes.

By DAVE HOPEWELL

I see both sides on this and see there needs to be lots of thought put in this for sure.

As a former student/athlete and out of state player who’s parents were gifted with love and caring but not a lot of $, I see and knew of the hardship it put on my parents to travel to our HOME games. I see and knew what it was like not to have any money in my pocket on some weekends for ME to eat let alone to do something extra. ($7/weekend for food & laundry $ and to eat at Duff’s Sunday Buffet was $4.00) I was willing to work anywhere I could pick up a dollar extra  but guess what, during school while on scholarship you can’t do that…under NCAA rules. My parents couldn’t stay with anybody either that was associated with UK because that was wrong to under NCAA rules. But guess what, they didn’t know anybody in KY that wasn’t associated with UK! So how does that work?

So where is the line?

If you saw all the little petty rules you’d be shocked. Like if you are a fan/booster and you want to pick up a couple of players who need a ride to church or home from the mall, technically you can’t do that. A coach can’t even do it! That my friend is crazy IMHO.

I’m not talking contracts either just something for the extra work that comes with being a student athlete. There is so much more than getting a free “education”. I really don’t understand that remark and I don’t think anyone else would if you understood all the other petty rules there are concerning student athletes on full scholarship.

Just stop and think, OK you are going to school and tuition, room and board and your meals are paid for and that’s it. What else will you need $ for? And oh by the way, while you are on full scholarship you can’t work for anyone during the school year (and by the way we want you in summer school too so you can work out and get better). Where does extra money for other expenses come from?

Before you say a “free education” is enough think about other expenses ALL students have. It’s just that the “normal” student athlete has the same extra expenses the “normal” student has but doesn’t have the same opportunity to work or do something other students can do to make a extra $ on. Let alone have the time to do it while trying to be a real student too.

I don’t have the answer for sure, I’m just saying there needs to be some changes.

Please don’t shoot the messenger I just want you to think about the other side. Bleacher Report reported the value of a Texas football player being almost $600,000/year! They were #1 and Arkansas was #10 with the value of a football player there close to $400,000/ year. Those scholarships are valued at less that $50,000/year on the high side I’m told now. Folks they can add a little and changes the rules some I’d think.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Bringing former Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown to Kentucky to run the offense for new coach Mark Stoops certainly seems to have pleased UK fans, but the move has been just as popular with former players. “I can’t think of anything that has gone over bigger,” said former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard of Lawrenceburg, who lettered at UK from 1989-91.

Four other former lettermen — Jason Todd (1992) of Stanford, Derek Abney (2000-2003) of Charleston, S.C., Dave Hopewell (1976-78) of Harrodsburg and Andy Murray ((1986-89) of Florence — all agreed on that as well as the overall excitement about Kentucky football since the hiring of Stoops.

Question: What is your reaction to UK spending the money to bring a creative, innovative offense mind like Neal Brown to the program?

Murray: “I am thrilled to see us participating in the financial arms race, and really believe we can compete with a creative offense. Hal Mumme could score with anyone and would have taken us to another level if he believed in defense. He also had a few quirky thoughts on his special teams approach and simply believed that he did not have the talent to defend some of the guys that were returning kicks in our conference. When you add his offensive scheme to a program that has a head coach with a defensive pedigree, it will be scary. You can look at what his brother did in OK with the same approach, and OK was at a low point in their program’s history from a talent standpoint. I think most everyone will agree, our team has more young talent on it today than the first two Mumme teams. The other key to this is approach is the fact that Brown’s system has done a better job of running the ball as you can see in their rushing yards per game at Texas Tech.”

Abney: “I have not heard the final numbers but it’s very encouraging. To get Neal, you would need to provide a substantial financial incentive. This is the last justifiable beef the BBN can have with Mitch Barnhart; financial support of the football team. This could be the beginning of a beautiful thing.”

Maggard: “My feeling  reflects reserved euphoria. I am dang proud of UK, but understand re-building a roster is both challenging and takes time. Neal Brown, in my opinion, is the best offensive coordinator in college football and now he’s home in Lexington. But Neal will be more about business than homecoming pats on the back. I like that. College football is a mere Econ 101 text book case. Re-distributing funds to any entities major money maker is sound business and also is on par with the rest of the SEC. Mr. Barnhart has set the stage.”

Todd: “It is an exciting proposition to think we will have the defensive coordinator of the second ranked 2012 defense and the offensive coordinator of the second ranked 2012 passing offense teaming up at UK. I personally feel that this is the first step that UK has to take to see us get back to a competitive situation with our football program. It is great to think that we are in a situation to attract successful coaches to our program. I feel the next step is for the administration and the fans to do their part. By that I mean, the administration preparing and executing a plan to make the facilities and ‘extras’ for UK football to match the rest of the SEC.  For the fans, I think that means they have to be willing to support the program with their attendance and the financial commitment that comes with that. Neal will bring an offensive style that we have seen before. It was exciting and successful and actually led to the last major financial expansion by UK when they expanded Commonwealth Stadium.”

Hopewell: “I’m certainly glad to see it. And again everyone knows how much I like offense. To bring in a coach who is has put together teams that have run offenses in the top 10 in the country at a couple of different schools is a step in the right direction.The added bonus that he is a Kentuckian and a former player, that is pretty sweet too.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

I asked former University of Kentucky football players Derek Abney, Freddie Maggard, Jason Todd, Andy Murray and Dave Hopewell a series of questions about Kentucky football. This is the first of a series of posts over the next few days with their answers.

Question: Do you remember a time when there was more excitement over UK football, especially coming off a 2-10 season?
Hopewell: “For me personally only one time. I was a freshman at UK in 1975 and we went 2-8-1. I sure hated to go home that Christmas. I could feel the embarrassment for me from my entire family. But we as a team knew we were better than that and the next two years we went 9-3 and then 10-1 and won the last SEC Championship UK has ever won in football. That’s still my dream for this team.
“But as a parent of players and as a fan, no I have never seen this much excitement. I do feel most fans are really happy about the way things have gone with this hire. It looks like coach Stoops has been given free rein on what he was wanting to do and I am really glad to see that.”

Todd: “The only thing I have to compare this to is the transition from Coach Curry to Coach Mumme between the 1996 and 1997 seasons.  UK spent a lot of time and money getting out the word about the “air raid” offense that Mumme was bringing.  Now we have the “air raid” part II and to go along with it, we have Coach Stoops and his background on the defensive side.  As much as most fans will be excited about the offensive potential, I am just excited to see what Coach Stoops will be able to do with our defense.  I would like nothing better than to have a defense that can stop people in the SEC.  Regardless of the outcome, I will forever be a UK fan and avid supporter.”

Maggard: “I can’t, and I’ve been a fanatic since birth. Maybe after coach Jerry Claiborne’s first-second season, but today’s instant communication and social media takes this to a level uncharted at UK.”

Murray: “Not since the afternoon of us beating  Louisville  and listening to the Air Raid sirens in Commonwealth Stadium.”

Abney: “Absolutely not. And the excitement seems entirely justifiable.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Former Kentucky All-American receiver Derek Abney says he can’t remember being so excited about UK football as he was Tuesday when Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was named the team’s new coach.

“It’s just amazing. I can’t wait to see who the offensive coordinator is going to be,” said Abney, who lives in South Carolina now.

“This state loves football. I believe the whole place is ready to explode with excitement. The journey to a championship is the most fun,” said Burgin’s David Hopewell, a starter on UK’s 1976 Peach Bowl team and 1977 team that finished 10-1 and won the Southeastern Conference title.

Former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard of Lawrenceburg is excited, too, but also expressed appreciation to Joker Phillips and his wife for their “love and dedication to Kentucky” and noted that they have been “avid supporters” of the Kentucky National Guard and the state’s military.

“For that and many other reasons, I’d hope as Kentucky fans we don’t forget their 20 plus years dedicated to Wildcat football and continue to show our appreciation and support for their future endeavors,” Maggard said. “Also I’d like to wish his staff the best and pray for them to land on their feet and continue to lead young men on the football field. That’s the tough part about the business of college football. But I am definitely excited about Mark Stoops.”

So is former UK fullback Andy Murray, who lives in northern Kentucky. “I love the fact that we have a hard-nosed defensive minded coach. Football is about attitude … and defensive guys bring attitude,” Murray said.

The four players responded to various questions about the hiring of Stoops and what impact it will have on UK football.

Question: Has the hiring of Mark Stoops changed your enthusiasm about Kentucky football?
Hopewell: “Let me say 1st our hearts bleed Big Blue. My family loves coach Phillips and Leslie and all they meant to this program. We all hate things did not work out for him and we want to thank him for everything he has done for us. Thank you coach Phillips.
“Coach Stoops brings name recognition for sure. We have all heard of him and his family for a long time. I can say those close to me have already circled the spring game and are ready to travel to all the away games, too. Listening to the radio as things unfolded I had chill bumps as I read the release on the UK website and I cannot wait to hear the press conference Sunday. All the talk was positive as it should be at this time.”
Murray: “Without a doubt. He is connected in Ohio. This is the largest miss in Kentucky football history. We have more players per year in Cincy alone than the entire state of Kentucky and we have never had success recruiting there.”
Maggard: “My enthusiasm and passion for UK football stays pretty high, but coach Stoops brings a change that is exciting for UK fans. My family attends games at Commonwealth Stadium thru good and bad, so we’ll be there as we always have been. Just may have some more friends ask if they can tag along. Coach Stoops’ name and track record as a coordinator and recruiter brings on thoughts of competing in the SEC East. It’s going to be a fun ride.”
Abney: “I’ve surprised myself in that I’m more enthusiastic than I would have been with an offensive-minded coach. That is because I have yet to hear a negative thing about Mark Stoops, save he has no head coaching experience. Results will tell the whole story but, preliminarily, I really like the Mark Stoops choice.”

Question: Do you think he can immediately win the overall UK fan base back that seemed to bail out this year?
Hopewell: “Oh, no doubt about that. Coach Stoops has a good resume. He deserves a chance to run his own show based on that. I think UK and (athletics director) Mitch Barnhart naming a leader for our program is a big hit. Knowing who is in charge brings all the excitement back. Larry you have done a great job turning Kentucky into a football state and I want to thank you too. We need reporters like you to keep UK fans not only in Kentucky informed but nationwide and those abroad. I know how hard this particular change has been on you but I thank you for staying with the work you had to do. It has been good to hear and read all the news about UK football with the tough year we have had. How crazy will it get when we win the SEC!”
Murray: “I think the fan base is in shock. I really think that they were convinced Mitch could/would not close a deal on a guy like Stoops.”
Maggard: “I don’t think Nick Saban could win over 100 percent of our fan base, but this hire is hopefully a step in the right direction to re-connect the BBN. The last couple weeks have been unique, and not in a good way. I’ve been a UK fan for 40 years, and had never seen such divide and at times apathy. That can be attributed to many factors, I hope now we can all agree to support our student-athletes, coaches, and university. The initial press conference is vital; winning at Sunday’s event will definitely set the tone. From what I hear, it’s going to be incredible. I am confident that today’s excitement will be reflected in ticket sales. I’ve always said UK football fans are the best in the nation. They, we, should be rewarded for years of dedication to the program and deserve the very best.”
Abney: “Absolutely. The only fans that may be disappointed are the die-hard ‘air raid’ fans that want to see lots of touchdowns on offense. Fortunately, a great defense doesn’t necessarily mean an anemic offense.”

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