Mark Stoops surpasses Bear Bryant to become winningest football coach in UK history


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops talks to his team on the field during the No. 20 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Florida football game on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. UK won 26-16. Photo by Jack Weaver | Kentucky Kernel

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky football head coach Mark Stoops earned his 61st head coaching win with UK over No. 12 Florida on Saturday, becoming the winningest head coach in program history.

Having tied the record in week one over Miami Ohio, the win in Gainesville saw Stoops surpass hall of famer Paul “Bear” Bryant, who led the Cats from 1946 until 1953.

Bryant, who is often regarded as one of the best college football coaches in the history of the sport, is more well known for his 26 seasons at Alabama that saw the Crimson Tide hoist six national championships, but prior to Alabama and Texas A&M before it, he coached eight seasons in Kentucky.

During his tenure in the bluegrass, Bryant led the Cats to an SEC Championship in 1950, a feat Stoops has yet to accomplish despite breaking his record.

Having inherited a program that was at the bottom of the SEC, Stoops started his tenure at Kentucky with a combined record of 12-26, but turned things around for a combined record of 49-27 since then; a win percentage of 64%.

While proud of what he has accomplished in Lexington, Stoops himself has hesitated in putting himself on the same level as the famous coach.

“You can’t put my name in the same [sentence] as Bear Bryant’s,” he said after tying the record. “When we’re in the midst of competing for six national championships then let’s talk about that, but I am very appreciative to be here a long time and have the opportunity to win this many games and I’m excited to keep building this program.”

While able to keep that mentality when tying the record, the emotion came through after breaking it in Gainesville.

“I just really appreciate all the coaches from the dog days – early on until now – because there’s been a bunch of really good people and great players,” Stoops said. “I love each and every one of them. I’m just appreciative to get this opportunity, the commitment from [Kentucky athletic director] Mitch [Barnhart], [Kentucky president] Dr. [Eli] Capiluto, it’s been a group effort. You can’t do this and win that many games or stay in this conference without a lot of people doing a lot of good things and committing to what we’re trying to achieve.”

Stoops continued to refuse to accept full credit for his feat, calling himself “fortunate” to have so many great players and coaches to help him persevere, saying he has nothing but respect and appreciation for everyone who helped him get to where he is.

Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, despite only joining the team in the offseason, also felt the weight of the moment, speaking on how deserving Stoops is as a record holder for the program.

“It means a ton [to be on this coaching staff when he breaks the record] and to see his emotions in there today,” Scangarello said. “His genuine feelings for the players and coaches that helped him build this. He’s a very good man and a very good head football coach. I’m very lucky to work for him – he’s one of the better people that I have been fortunate enough to work for – and I’m very proud of him.”

Scangarello touching on the genuine feelings he has with the players seemed to ring true after the fact for Stoops, with the head coach saying he had over 300 messages congratulating him and reaching out after the win, a testament to the relationship he builds with his players.

“[My phone] was difficult [to keep up with],” Stoops said on Monday. “I think I responded to most, I may have a few more to clean up, but it’s in the 300 range. I mentioned it afterwards but it is so true, the current players and the past players all the way back to 2013 and all the past coaches, I just have such a great appreciation, and respect and love because there’s a lot of terrific people that have been through here that I greatly appreciate.”

With Stoops signifying he has no intentions of leaving the bluegrass in favor of continuing to build a Kentucky program he has essentially built from the ground up, it’s hard to predict how high the win total will get for the head coach, but one thing is for certain: with every new win from this point forward, the record only gets harder and harder for a future coach to attain.

With fans on social media already clamoring to have a statue built of the coach, there is little argument he has already solidified himself as one of the greatest coaches in program history, the only question remaining is how large that legacy will continue to grow and whether or not Stoops will one day go from Kentucky legend to college football legend just like Bryant before him.