Creativity and positivity, Liam Coen’s game one philosophy


Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen coaches his team during an open practice in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

Barkley Truax

The hype Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s debut as the primary play caller for the Wildcats this Saturday is unprecedented for a UK coach. Coen, however, doesn’t feel the pressure as much as you’d think.

He prides himself on creativity and positivity, which he says will help Kentucky develop a winning formula early and often. Coen feels his team has come a long way from when he first took over from Eddie Gran after the 2020 season.

“If you look at us from this spring till now, a lot less just communication issues,” he said about what’s changed from then to now. “We’re just really being a little bit more efficient in and out of the huddle. You know, communicating at the line of scrimmage, ball security, taking care of the football, little things like that. I think we’ve done a nice job since the spring.”

Since the spring, Coen’s offense have really bought into his new up-tempo offense and it’s showed over the summer and through fall camp. His quarterbacks have noticeably started throwing better, his receivers are better at catching, everyone’s decision making, etc. 

“Understanding our base core concepts in the past game,” he said about what his team has improved on.  “And obviously, the run game is still getting better in terms of the wide zone, you know, these guys have run the ball really well over the years.”

Despite being a pass-first type football coach, Coen said that he’d be stupid if he didn’t hand his running backs the ball. Chris Rodriguez Jr., who is one of the most decorated pre-season backs Kentucky has ever had, to Kavosiey Smoke, La’Vell Wright, Michael “Donut” Drennen II and even Travis Tisdale makes for one of the deepest backfields in the Mark Stoops era. 

“We brought in a little bit of a different scheme that they were used to running,” Coen said. “So that’s taking some time to get used to, but those guys definitely are trying to work at it and getting better at it each week and each practice.”

What’s really helped Coen get his offense on board is that he genuinely cares about his players. Just about every player on the offense has called him a player-first kind of coach.

“It’s something that I always I tried to learn from my dad, who was my football coach in high school,” Coen said about his coaching philosophy . “He was a division three head college coach for a bunch of years.”

“I saw the way that he interacted with his players and with and with his staff,” he continued. “I think that was something that you can get your point across without being abrasive, and you can be positive and be confident in the way that you speak to these kids and to your staff.”

Coming in from the NFL, Coen has seen first hand what it’s like to not only make it to the Super Bowl, but being a part of a winning process and knowing what it takes to create that winning mindset.

“The way Sean [McVay] communicated with people on a day to day basis was something that I had never really seen before,” he said. “It was just his energy, his enthusiasm. His positivity was so contagious, that had bled into the rest of the program into the into the culture of the team.”

With the new scheme, players have come out of nowhere throughout fall camp, adding their names to the fans pre-season watch lists in guys like Wright, Rahsaan Lewis, Tae Tae Crumes, Chauncey Magwood,Eli Cox and others who are all vying for a starting role prior to game one.

“That’s just something I’m trying to do here on offense is to create some positivity and create a competitive culture,” he said.

The offense still isn’t perfect, there’s still some fine-tuning to do and Coen knows it. He’s taking this season one game at a time while he gets into the swing of things, something he feels goes the same for his players. 

“We’ve added a lot of offense, and we put it all in within the first few days of training camp to try to test these guys,” Coen said. “Now that we’re in game prep, it’s about cleaning up some of that stuff, and really honing in on what we do best. I think that you guys will see, hopefully, that those guys go and execute at a high level on Saturday.”