Column: Coen’s departure a symbol of success for Kentucky


Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen looks over to Kentucky assistant head coach Vince Marrow during an open practice in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

Hunter Shelton

Kentucky football coaches are departing for jobs with Alabama and the Los Angeles Rams this offseason. 

Think about that statement for a second.  

The Wildcats are just six years removed from back-to-back 5-7 seasons. And while it feels as though Mark Stoops’ tenure in Lexington has lasted forever, the 2-10 Joker Phillips-led team isn’t that far behind in the rearview mirror. 

You’ve heard people go on and on about the remarkable job that Stoops has done at Kentucky. Long gone are the days of struggling to make a bowl game, UK has now claimed two Citrus Bowl titles in the last four seasons. 

Football season has become an exciting time in the Bluegrass. There is no more “basketball school” conversation happening at the water cooler at work on Monday mornings.  

The departure of offensive line coach Eric Wolford and offensive coordinator Liam Coen solidifies the fact that UK football is no longer at the bottom of the SEC totem pole.  

Wolford left Kentucky after spending just one season as the Cats’ offensive line coach, replacing the beloved John Schlarman. He inherited a great situation, as Kentucky’s O-line was arguably the strongest group on the team, headlined by seniors Darian Kinnard and Luke Fortner, as well as LSU transfer Dare Rosenthal.  

The “Big Blue Wall” turned in a decent résumé, helping running back Chris Rodriguez garner a career-high in yards and touchdowns. Quarterback Will Levis was sacked on 6.5 percent of all snaps, just the 63rd best percentage in the nation.  

Wolford also helped in the recruiting landscape for Kentucky, primarily patrolling the Nashville area. Three four-star recruits signed to play for Kentucky in 2022, with another four-star from the Class of 2023 committing in January.  

While the coaching carousel works in mysterious ways, Wolford’s departure to the Crimson Tide leaves a bad taste in the mouth of BBN.  

Per a report, Wolford was recruiting an offensive line target, when he then received a call to come and interview for the Alabama job. He would then get the new gig in Tuscaloosa and not return to Lexington, failing to say goodbye to his OL.  

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, like Stoops, Wolford seems to have burned a big blue bridge on his way down south to the Dixie State.  

The reported departure of Coen is much more friendly and responsible.  

Coen, like Wolford, will be leaving the Commonwealth after just one season in blue and white. Coen left his position as the Rams’ QB coach to take over for Eddie Gran in the OC role at Kentucky last season.

As is happenstance with Super Bowl-winning teams, members of the Rams coaching staff began to get plucked away to other jobs around the NFL. Former Rams OC Kevin O’Connell made the jump to Minnesota to become the Vikings head coach, leaving a nice, familiar seat open for Coen.  

Being gone just one season, Coen was a sensible choice for LA head coach Sean McVay, as he impressed the football world with what he turned Kentucky’s offense into in 2021.  

In 13 games, Kentucky averaged 425 yards and over 32 points per game, unprecedented numbers for UK football. While at times Kentucky stayed true to its hard-nosed running game, Levis and Wan’Dale Robinson had a special passing connection that BBN hasn’t seen in quite some time. 

The move for Coen is one that makes sense and shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.  

Kentucky was always a steppingstone for Coen. There should have never been any long-term thoughts of him calling plays for the Wildcats for years and years to come.  

Sure, the move comes a year or two quicker than people thought, but Stoops has prepared for this.  

Part of building a program comes with turnover. Once a team hits that threshold, other programs of the same caliber or higher are looking to see what they can plug into their own systems.  

When Kentucky was struggling to reach a bowl game, there were no phone calls from Nick Saban or McVay coming the way of assistants. With great success comes great job opportunities. This is now the boat that UK finds itself in.  

Stoops is locked in with a new contract, defensive coordinator Brad White and tight ends coach Vince Marrow don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, but after that it gets dicey, and it is going to stay that way every couple of offseasons. 

It speaks volumes to what has been built at Kentucky, more so than any trophy or record could suggest.  

While perhaps gratifying to see his previous staffers move onward, Stoops is now faced with multiple big choices to make over the course of this offseason.