Culture shift in progress at UK under Stoops


Head coach Mark Stoops looks on during the UK Football annual spring football game at Commonwealth Stadium. Saturday, April 16, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Joel Repoley | Staff.

Anthony Crawford

With Mark Stoops entering his fourth season comes the fact that he will be graduating his first senior class, and that makes this year as good as any to finally establish a winning culture with UK football.

There is no denying that UK has come a long way but that still doesn’t take away the fact that the team is coming off two disappointing 5-7 seasons.

Winning has come, but the belief that UK has arrived as a threat in the SEC east or just a perennial bowl team has not been realized.

After years of telling fans and recruits that UK football was turning the corner, this year the team looks prepared to deliver.

“The biggest change I’m excited about is the culture change within our program,” Stoops said at SEC Media Day in July. “I think it’s very easy to change a climate within a program and very difficult to change the culture, and I’m very proud of the administration, our coaching staff, our players, to continue to push for that winning culture.”

Related: PHOTOS: UK Football Media Day 2016

The seniors on this year’s team have effectively been a part of UK’s lowest point, joining the team on the tail end of a two year skid of 2-10 seasons.

Fans have had no problem investing after witnessing steps taken in the right direction, but eventually the team is going to be expected to get to their destination, in this case a bowl game.

Coming up just short obviously causes some pain and emotion but the important part is being able to build off of that.

The Cats largely overachieved in their second season under Stoops, but last year saw the team leave a lot of points on the board and games on the table.

The difficulties in culture shift were present in those two years.

Whether it was sloppy play that did the Cats away in close games or second half collapses, the team seems to have experienced it all and know what it takes now.

This year, oddly, UK’s biggest challenge may come in the form of trying not to underestimate its opposition.

In year’s past an upset was necessary in reaching six wins, but the Cats could reasonably be favorites in half of their games.

Related: C.J. Conrad, UK football have no excuses heading into the season

The new mindset needs to be just playing to their abilities, which will be pretty impressive especially looking at the offense.

Drew Barker takes the reins of the offense and is the perfect guy to lead the culture change after being the face of his recruiting class and a big advocate for the change within the program.

Coaches have also been really high on his growth and maturity which is exactly where he needed to improve before stepping into this leadership role.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how good the team looks on paper, but this group definitely seems different in that UK football might have finally arrived.

“We’re doing the things necessary to take the next step. I’m not a pessimist, but I’m not going to sit up here and boast a team if we’re not quite ready,” Stoops said. “We’ve done the work. We have the pieces in place. We will take the next step.”