By LARRY VAUGHT
Veteran college football writer Dick Weiss of the New York Daily News likes what he has seen from new Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops. Weiss, who recently was named the 40th winner of the Bert McGrane Award given member of the Football Writers Association of America, has covered college football with purpose and integrity for 30 years.
Weiss has covered college sports for the New York Daily News since 1993 and before that held a similar post for 10 years at the Philadelphia Daily News. He has covered 40 NCAA Final Fours and 28 national championship college football game.
He shared his thoughts on Stoops and what he could do for Kentucky football.
Question: What is the perception of new UK football coach Mark Stoops nationally?
Weiss: “I think the family itself has created its own heritage. All of them have been successful as assistants and all of them have become head coaches. It is that whole Youngstown (Ohio) thing with (Jim) Tressell and Bo Pelini. It is a hard-nose football where they understand how to get things done. For the most part their defenses have been very, very good.
“I would rather try it with a young kid like this than this just another recycled coach or just elevate from the bottom. Just by osmosis, some of this stuff has to sink in. His brothers were pretty good at what they did. His one brother struggled as a head coach at Arizona, but he was an exceptional defensive coordinator and Bob won a national championship at Oklahoma and is always around the rock pile every year.
“When he came, I just had the feeling he was going to be able to use the brand name the family had built up to pick up much better recruits than this program is used to and spread his wings a lot further in terms of recruiting and getting into other states and having more credibility in the deep South, particularly Florida.”
Question: What do you think of the staff he has assembled?
Weiss: “I think this may be the best staff Kentucky has ever had top to bottom. He knows the business well enough, and if he doesn’t his brother Bob has a great mind in the business. I guarantee you they talked. There were conversations about who he should get to fill certain positions. It looks like they made all the right moves with the staff.
“You don’t hear anybody out there questioning anything about their staff. I have had questions about the previous coach, and maybe the previous three or four coaches that they have had in this program. At least he is going to give himself a chance to win. I didn’t always think Kentucky football had a chance to win.”
Question: What do you know about knew offensive coordinator Neal Brown?
Weiss: “He actually spent some time in Connecticut. He has been at Texas Tech, so he has been in the big leagues. He is young, so he will have youthful ideas. I am hoping that they aren’t afraid to open it up. The key for them is going to be defense. They have to be able to stop people, particularly the mid-major teams who have put over 30 points on the board. He has to find a way to keep the scores in the high 20’s to win against those teams he plays in the SEC.
“His division sadly has gotten a lot better in the last two or three years. Take away Alabama and LSU, and that’s taking away a lot, but I think the East was a deeper division this year and frankly Georgia came very close to being in the (national) championship themselves.”
Question: What is a realistic time frame to give a new coach in the SEC to build his program?
Weiss: “You need at least three years, and maybe even a fourth, to know for sure. After a fourth, you will know. It is not fair to him to not give him a full recruiting cycle. Or I don’t think it is. This is not going to be like Tennessee where you knew it was time for a change after three years. Kentucky has never won a national championship like Tennessee had. They never have had those Peyton Manning moments like Tennessee did in the early 1990’s or championship team that won the Fiesta Bowl. Kentucky is always struggling to get to those second-tier bowls and struggling to get any quality wins at all. I am hoping this guy can turn that around. I know one thing, if he does, the fan support will be through the roof. It was through the roof when they lost until this past year. I wouldn’t want to count the attendance last year, but those Kentucky fans love football and will go crazy for a winner like I think he can be.”