Most Recent Posts
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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.”