By Dr. John Huang
I know a thing or two about pulling teeth. Sometimes they slip right out of the sockets, and other times you’ll need a jackhammer and a load of TNT. Asking Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops to comment on his placement on the recently released rankings of college head football coaches definitely requires a lot more dynamite on my part.
Let’s start with the obvious. What Stoops has done rebuilding the Kentucky program from the ash heap left by his predecessor is certainly prize worthy. His 18 – 8 mark over the last two seasons includes a road win over Florida that snapped that ignominious 31-game losing streak against the Gators. It also included Kentucky’s third ever ten-win season and the team’s first winning record in the SEC in 41 years. And oh yeah, the Wildcats also managed to beat Penn State and Virginia Tech—two perennial football powerhouses—in bowl games along the way.
Appropriately then, national publications have been lavish with their praise, vaulting Stoops’ name up the leaderboards on their ranking ladders. Connor O’Gara of Saturday Down South recently slotted Stoops in the No. 15 position, Barton Simmons of 247/Sports had him likewise, and Bill Bender of the Sporting News just a few rungs lower at No. 27.
I knew the humble and unassuming Mark Stoops wouldn’t touch this topic with a ten-foot pole, but the reality of these rankings is that they really do help in recruiting. So, what does Stoops think about his lofty placement against the other brain trusts of the college football elite? Surely, he wouldn’t dismiss the query completely—would he?
“You want your program to be recognized for the growth that you have and the improvements that you’ve made over the years,” Stoops conceded. “That’s what’s important—the brand—and the national recognition of your program. Not so much individually. It’s just like the preseason rankings. If we had listened to that, we wouldn’t have done the things that we’ve been doing. We’ll really concentrate on ourself and try to grow the program. And certainly some of that helps, and again, from [just] a program standpoint.”
Okay, not a bad answer. At least Stoops acknowledges that these rankings do help the program. But what about his individual and personal accomplishments? The guy’s got to have at least a little bit of an ego, right? I mean, they ranked him above Jim Harbaugh for goodness sake.
“For individual things, I don’t really put any stock in that whatsoever,” Stoops said predictably.
Uh-oh. You know what comes next. We’ve all heard this speech many times before.
“You know what I’m going to do. I’m going to try and put my head down and go to work and grow this program to get better each and every day. That really is the mentality. Without being too much of a cliché, it’s bring a lunch pail, go to work, get the program better. If you’re down and out, nobody’s going to feel sorry for you. If things are going good, you better keep things in check and constantly try to improve. We always try to keep an even keel perspective around here.”
That’s our coach.
Like I said, pulling teeth.
Oh well, I tried.