Once forgotten excitement helps introduce Stoops as head coach

The University of Kentucky held a press conference to welcome new football coach Mark Stoops on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at Nutter FIeld House. Photo by Latara Appleby

By Ethan Levine

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Upon walking into UK’s Nutter Field House Sunday afternoon, one got the sense they were walking into a pep rally instead of a press conference. Fans and boosters assembled outside the field house clad in blue and white. The marching band blared the school’s fight song and other stadium anthems while cheerleaders hooted and hollered with a sense of excitement foreign to the program in recent years.

And then, just when you thought the atmosphere of the building couldn’t get more thrilling, Mark Stoops walked in, escorted by athletic director Mitch Barnhart and President Eli Capilouto, to be introduced as UK’s new football coach.

“It felt like gameday,” Stoops said of the atmosphere at his introduction.

Stoops reached an agreement with the university Monday night, agreeing on a five-year, $11 million contract with additional incentives.

Formerly the defensive coordinator at Florida State, Stoops helped coach his Seminoles to an ACC championship Saturday night before arriving in Lexington.

Stoops admitted he reached out to UK about the open job position, as opposed to being contacted by the university about the position.

Other SEC schools like Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas also had head coaching vacancies, but Stoops said he came to UK to be a part of the Big Blue Nation.

“You deserve a football program that competes on a championship level, and that’s what we’ve hired (Stoops) to do,” Barnhart said.

“The one thing I ask you to do, I ask the Big Blue Nation to fill Commonwealth Stadium each and every week,” Stoops added.

Stoops explained to fans and the media that it was his goal to have UK achieving consistent success in the SEC and eventually competing in Atlanta in the SEC championship game. But Stoops also explained that achieving success would be a process, and that the program was more focused on the process than immediate success.

“We’re going to embrace the process,” Stoops said, adding he’s not concerned with the past, but rather the future.

The new coach said his search for an offensive coordinator was a top priority in the program. As a defensive-minded coach, Stoops recognized the importance of his offensive coordinator hire, and the entire offensive coaching staff. That being said, the new coach refused to discuss specifics, especially regarding coaches he could bring with him from Florida State, explaining it would be unfair to those coaches and the players in the FSU program.

In regard to recruiting, Stoops said his primary goal is to entice the top high school talent in Kentucky to stay home and attend UK. He also said he has strong recruiting ties in the state of Ohio, a hotbed for high school football talent, and he will try and utilize those ties for the Cats. UK will now also have a recruiting presence in Florida following Stoops’s stint at FSU, and Stoops said the

Cats will extend recruiting to the Carolinas and Georgia.

When asked what kind of presence he will make in the FSU program as it prepares for a BCS bowl game, Stoops said he was committed to his new job in Lexington.

“There is always a balance there because you know how I feel about my players, my past players at Florida State, the journey that we’ve been through,” Stoops said. “I may try to go back and help a little bit with game planning.

However, for now, Stoops said, “I’m here. I’m working for you now. I’m a part of the Big Blue Nation. That’s where I want to be.”