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Say What?

Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops is getting a lot more comfortable speaking with the media. But he’s still boring as heck behind the microphones (Dr. Michael Huang Photo).

What’s more boring than a regular Mark Stoops press conference?

How about a Mark Stoops press conference at SEC Media Days 2022?

The University of Kentucky head football coach, entering his tenth year at the helm, spent his usual thirty minutes of hell at the podium earlier this afternoon. In front of local reporters, Stoops is typically guarded in what he says. Turn on the bright lights before the SEC Network cameras, and Stoops retreats even further into his vanilla shell. I won’t say he’s outright paranoid, but he’s careful to not blurt out anything that can be used against him in the future.

The mundane questions he’s asked by outside media don’t help add excitement to the festivities either.

With that being said, lets spice things up a little bit. We’ll play a game. I’ll tell you first what Stoops said at the podium to every question asked of him. Then I’ll follow up with what I think he really meant by his strait-laced answers.

On breaking Bear Bryant’s all-time wins record at Kentucky and being the longest tenured football coach in UK history.

What Stoops actually said: “I really don’t spend much time thinking about that. The ten years in Lexington is something I’m proud of because I know how difficult it is. I know how difficult it is to walk into this league with great coaching, with the recruiting, and starting like six feet below fourteen and trying to climb that ladder as high as we can.”

What Stoops really meant: Do you remember what Joker [Phillips] left me with? I took this program with a boatload of mediocre high school talent and developed it over the course of a decade into a program competing for championships in the greatest conference in the land. The Bear was great in his time. I’ve held my own. We both deserve statues.

On recruiting Kentucky kids.

What Stoops actually said: “Always a primary focus staying within a six-hour radius. Kentucky is home base for us and obviously some of southern Ohio we’ve had great success in as well. As we get better and win more and our brand expands a little bit, we’re able to branch out a little more than we have been in the past. But that’s always a focus for us.”

What Stoops really meant: Have you heard of the Big Dog or Will Levis or Dane Key or NIL? Kentucky can now go anywhere—in state or out—and recruit with the best of them. Kentucky kids want to come here. This isn’t your father’s Kentucky football program anymore.

On Barion Brown and Dee Beckwith.

What Stoops actually said: “Barion has all the tools. Super excited about him. Will [Levis] mentioned right away how special Barion is with the ball in his hands. Has a lot of juice. We really have to get him caught up. He just got on campus a couple of weeks ago. Need to get the ball in his hands. He’s a total playmaker. With Dee, he is a large athlete. He’s a big boy. He’s a guy that can confuse you at times because he can play so many different positions.”

What Stoops really meant: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Size, speed, and versatility. This is the type of athlete we’re now pursuing. We’re playing big boy football now. All others need not apply.

On the key to sustaining coaching success in the SEC

What Stoops actually said: “I can’t answer for other programs. I can only look at what we did. Just continue to stay the course. Adapt and adjust when you can. All of us are going to be accused of being hardheaded at times. You have to stay to your core beliefs. Just be authentic.”

What Stoops really meant: Gimmicky hype videos and smart-alecky soundbites aren’t going to win you many football games. I know what I’m doing. Give me players like Alabama and Georgia have, and I’ll win you championships too. And when all else fails, I’ll run the ball down your throat. That’s what I believe.

On particular challenges to NIL

What Stoops actually said: There’s so much good. It’s a complex issue. With the players that are here with me that help build the brand of Kentucky Football and benefitting from Name, Image, and Likeness, I think we all support that and want that to be a part of it. But I think everyone is concerned in the SEC as a head coach with play-for-pay, collectives, and paying players out of high school.”

What Stoops really meant: We’re trying to play by the rules while other schools are outright cheating. That’s the challenge I’m talking about.

On the youth in the receiver room.

What Stoops actually said: “We have some guys that we have to push. Dane Key is a special young man and definitely an impact player. You can see that right away he has the mindset that he can pick things up. Tayvion Robinson, bringing him in as a transfer from Virginia Tech, that has a lot of experience—we needed that as well. And then we feel we have young guys. Guys like Christian Lewis that were out there last year. DeMarcus Harris has been waiting for his role. We really feel like he’s going to have a big year. As a group, we’re probably as talented as we’ve been in a long time.”

What Stoops really meant: Lynn Bowden and Wan’Dale Robinson are not walking through that door. With all the talk about talented wide receivers, it’s time for these guys to put up or shut up.

On his hoops game

What Stoops actually said: “The H-O-R-S-E game. I had to go in. I bragged about it and then I quit playing. They tried to get me the next week, but I know better than that. I got fortunate one day and beat some talented guys. I’m going to retire that for the summer.”

What Stoops really meant: I more than held my own. Let’s see Coach Cal get out here and try to block and tackle.

On fans now being as angry when Kentucky loses in football as they are when Kentucky loses in basketball.

What Stoops actually said: “I really control the things I can control. I’m very passionate about building a program that people want to come watch, both locally and nationally.”

What Stoops really meant: I can tell you’re not from around here. People in Kentucky care just as much about football as they do about basketball. Our football team would never lose to Saint Peter’s.

On how to match Georgia and what he thought of that meaningless touchdown Kentucky put up at the end of the game last year against the Dawgs

What Stoops actually said: “It was definitely just playing the game. At that point, maybe the game was over as to who was going to win and who was going to lose. However, our players need to continue to fight. They need to compete. We’re into no moral victories. But we’re into getting better. We’re trying to improve. We’re trying to learn what it’s like to play the very best in the country. And that’s what we did…How do you gain on Georgia? I can’t answer that. I just saw Kirby [Smart] up there. I could maybe try to whack his knees out. I gotta worry about us and how to make us better.”

What Stoops really meant: I was joking about taking Kirby out. Quit trying to bait me. Not gonna give you any bulletin board material. Let’s wait and see what happens on November 19.

On working with his brother and on what makes Will Levis a good quarterback.

What Stoops actually said: “I needed a guy with great experience. Brad White does a tremendous job and I have great assistants on my staff, but I always look for great big picture guys as well. You need more than one. You need multiple coordinator minds on both sides of the ball… With Will, I knew what he was capable of. But what he’s done—I’m not going to lie. When I watch him at times, it does kind of blow you away. On a windy day, when there are gusts coming at you, the way he rips the football, the way he throws it, the way he works—he’s exceptional.”

What Stoops really meant: We’re just getting started, bro. I get to boss my bro around for a change. As for Will Levis, can you spell H-E-I-S-M-A-N?

On the biggest question mark he has with his team?

What Stoops actually said: “We have to have some playmakers step up at the wide receiver position because we have a beast of a quarterback. Then just consistency. Anything we’ve done well in the past doesn’t mean it automatically carries over. We have to go out and prove it. We have to earn it, we have to stay hungry, work our tail off and take it to another level.”

What Stoops really meant: Whew, I’m glad this dog and pony show is over. Time for a bourbon and a cigar. Sorry I didn’t give you guys any notable soundbites. Now, what’s for dinner?

There you go. On a serious note, the one thing I did take from Stoops’ prepared spiel was how genuinely appreciative he was of the continuity within the UK program during the time he’s been here. President Eli Capilouto and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart have been there from the very beginning—as has associate head coach Vince Marrow. Defensive Coordinator Brad White has remained loyal even though he’s had numerous opportunities to move on.

That type of stability speaks highly of the program. It speaks highly of Mark Stoops the football coach, the person, and of the culture he’s built. The guy may be boring as heck behind the microphone, but the excitement he’s building on the gridiron speaks volumes outside the lines.

Dr. John Huang is a UK columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. He also covers the NFL and MLB for Sports View America. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. If you enjoy his writing, be sure to check out his new book, KENTUCKY PASSION. https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

Dr. John Huang
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist and military veteran. As a lifelong Wildcat fan, a fledgling author, and an occasional guest host of Just the Cats Radio, he's now living out his dream as a UK Sports columnist. Dr. Huang also covers professional sports on a regional level. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs or contact him @KYHuangs@gmail.com. If you enjoy his writing, you can also read more at www.huangswhinings.com.
http://www.huangswhinings.com

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