Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen speaks on his return to Lexington


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)

Luke Fetzer, Reporter

With the news being confirmed less than one week ago, it’s official: Liam Coen has returned to Kentucky as Mark Stoops’ offensive coordinator. 

Coen departed Lexington for the Los Angeles Rams after the 2021 college football season, forcing Stoops to scramble to replace the dynamic play caller. 

Following the hiring, and subsequent firing after just one season of Rich Scangarello, Coen couldn’t refuse the opportunity to rejoin the Wildcats.

“Just being a part of the Kentucky culture again and coming back to a place that I truly didn’t want to leave (is special),” Coen said. “We truly did not want to leave Lexington. The opportunity to come back and coach for Coach Stoops and be around these players and have an impact in (their) lives was ultimately (the deciding factor that led me) to come back and do this at a high level. (I) couldn’t be more thankful.”

Coen initially joined the Rams after their victory in the 2022 Super Bowl, with Los Angeles zeroing in on the Wildcat, who had been the team’s wide receivers coach from 2018-19, to be the new offensive coordinator. 

Despite sporting an all-pro lineup that included the likes of Matthew Stafford at quarterback, Cooper Kupp at wide receiver and Cam Akers at running back, the Rams took a beating in the 2022-23 season, finishing 3rd in the NFC West with a 5-12 record. 

Deciding to return to where he felt most comfortable, Coen made the choice to depart the Rams following the disappointing professional season.

Despite missing just one season at Kentucky, Coen will have an uphill battle to re-familiarize himself with the offensive unit after his stars, quarterback Will Levis and running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., have both departed for the NFL Draft. 

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) warms up throwing the ball during the Kentucky vs. No. 25 Louisville football game on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 26-13. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff (Isabel McSwain)

“I haven’t had a ton of time to truly dive into each player as much as I’d like to, but I do feel as though there’s enough guys on the offensive side of the ball that I do have familiarity with,” Coen said. “Ultimately the personnel decisions can be expedited in some of those conversations when I do get there.” 

Like any shift from collegiate to professional sports, tactics and philosophy must change, but rarely is the move from professional to collegiate seen without a firing. Coen has now done both, and his philosophy from the Rams looks to carry over to the collegiate game. 

With the Rams finding themselves in a dire situation in terms of injuries, Coen was forced to learn how to manage and get the best out of the players who step up. 

“I think when you go through some of these things it gives you the perspective that it’s truly always about the players,” Coen said. “(The injuries forced us) to pivot and somewhat evaluate week to week how we were gonna move the football, and that wasn’t always what we wanted.” 

Following the busy transfer window that the Cats had, headlined by NC State transfer quarterback Devin Leary, Coen will have to shift his offense to tailor to his new quarterback’s skill set, much like how he did with Levis. 

“Each season each offense is going to be tweaked a little bit,” Coen said. “I do believe that this guy can throw the football as good as anyone in the country. So, I think we’re all on the same page in terms of that dialogue, what we’re trying to get accomplished in terms of his development and how that can relate to the other players on the offensive side of the ball.” 

Looking back on the Cats’ season, which was plagued by inconsistent offensive line protection, Coen looks to reevaluate and use both veterans like Kenneth Horsey and new faces like Jager Burton to bolster his “big blue wall” for the upcoming season. 

“That’s the number one priority when I get there,” Coen said. “Just diving into that position group personnel wise, schematically, fundamentally (and in) technique, attitude (and) demeanor. All that needs to (be) delved into really quickly when I get there.”

The offensive line woes didn’t just affect that quarterback though, also playing to the detriment of the running back room that was headlined by Rodriguez Jr. 

Following the veteran’s departure, and the incoming transfer of Vanderbilt’s Re’Mahn Davis, Coen will look to find ways to constantly move the ball forward with the run.

Kentucky Wildcats running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the No. 22 Kentucky vs. No. 16 Mississippi State football game on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 27-17. Photo by Carter Skaggs | Staff (Carter Skaggs)

“I think the spring is a really good time to just let these guys go out and roll the ball and let them go to see who’s gonna take over,” Coen said. “Whoever can run, execute, gain yards, break tackles and be the guy in that room is who (the starter is) gonna be. I’m excited about some of the guys in that room, but somebody needs to emerge and take it over.”

While there is still plenty of figuring out to do, Stoops, Coen and the entire offensive staff will have nine months to prepare the team for the 2023 season. 

Despite the minor hiccup to the program that was on an otherwise upward trajectory, with Coen now at the offensive helm, the Cats may truly be ready to be a contender in the East.