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COLUMN: Mark Stoops staying in Lexington is the best thing for Kentucky right now

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops coaches his team during the Kentucky vs. Alabama football game on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky lost 49-21. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff

Big Blue Nation was thrown into utter chaos on Saturday night when reports broke that Mark Stoops was set to become the next head coach at Texas A&M.

Prior to the news, Kentucky had recorded a 38-31 win over No. 10 Louisville to officially shatter the Cardinals’ playoff hopes and earn a fifth consecutive Governor’s Cup triumph.

Prior to the win, the news had first begun speculating that Stoops was linked to the A&M job, with it even going as far as to be reported on College GameDay.

And, finally, prior to that, Kentucky had fallen to 6-5 on the season with a poor loss — one that Stoops himself described as a “very difficult loss” — at South Carolina, leaving fans frustrated with the stagnation and struggles of the program.

That’s a lot to keep up with and a rollercoaster of emotions.

Before the Louisville game, many fans and reporters, myself included, began to think that maybe a Stoops departure in Lexington wouldn’t be so bad for the Wildcats.

The program had just completed its second consecutive losing season in the SEC, and it seemed apparent to many that down programs like Missouri and South Carolina were catching back up.

Transfer quarterback Devin Leary was struggling, and even the return of offensive coordinator Liam Coen couldn’t seem to make the Wildcat offense click the way it had during his first tenure.

Many valid questions were raised regarding Kentucky’s ability to develop quarterbacks, overreliance on transfer portal players, seeming loss of culture and overall stagnation.

While all of those things remain valid concerns going into the 2024 season, as Kentucky defensive lineman Deone Walker tweeted regarding rumors about the transfer portal, “the grass ain’t always greener…”

Going into the Governor’s Cup against a 10-1 Louisville squad, few had much hope for a Kentucky win, but that’s exactly what fans were treated to.

The Wildcats, if for no other reason than spite, put together one of the best performances fans have seen all year in the second half, clicking on offense, scoring on special teams and recording multiple turnovers on defense.

As a wise man once said, “winning cures everything.”

With that in mind, the news late Saturday night that Stoops was all but certain to go to Texas A&M was met by many Kentucky fans with fear, concern and regret as opposed to the bemusement or apathy many had shown when it was first reported that morning.


Well, there’s a few reasons.

Many Kentucky fans were forced to remember that, while far from perfect and, arguably, sometimes even directly at fault for issues at times, Mark Stoops is the winningest coach in Kentucky football history and pulled the program from being a bottom feeder in the SEC to one that recorded two of the program’s four total 10-win seasons.

Many fans also remembered that, if Stoops were to leave, the program otherwise would not simply remain intact. Fans took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to ponder what would happen with Coen and associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow.

That’s not even touching on the potential transfer portal and recruiting implications that would come with Stoops’ departure.

In the midst of all the chaos several players took to X to express their reactions, including Walker who quote-tweeted his own tweet about greener grass and simply said, “it might be tho lol.”

Even if all of those losses were to be accepted, the next logical question was who would replace Stoops.

While many fans were quick to prop up former Kentucky linebackers coach turned Troy Trojans head coach Jon Sumrall, the facts of the matter remained that, even if Sumrall were to agree, there was no guarantee that he would be able to find immediate success without first struggling.

To emphasize that point further, the 2024 season will be a monumental one in the world of college football and the SEC more broadly with conference realignment. As far as the SEC is concerned, Texas and Oklahoma are joining the conference looking to make an impact with the former still having active College Football Playoff ambitions.

The SEC, often regarded as the toughest conference in college football, is about to get that much tougher.

Starting over fresh in the first year could be a death sentence for the program as far as recruiting and the portal is concerned.

Simply put, the potential upside to a new man in charge at this point in time was risky at best and far outweighed by the potential downside.

While one win does not completely erase the entirety of the disappointing season, it did open many people’s eyes to the fact that, at the very least, perhaps many jumped the gun on wanting the man in charge to go elsewhere.

There are plenty of valid criticisms of Mark Stoops’ tenure in Lexington and, while he may solve some of them in the offseason, I’m sure there still will be after next year and the year after that.

With that said, he put Kentucky football in a place few would have envisioned to be possible prior to his arrival. Kentucky’s last 10-win season was just two years ago. Prior to 2018, Kentucky’s last 10-win season had been in 1977 — 41 years in the past.

Fans should not accept mediocrity, that is not my point, but rather, have some perspective. Criticism of Stoops’ flaws and pressure for results can and should coexist with the idea that he is still the right man for the job and best equipped to right the ship.

With Kentucky set to travel to Austin, Texas, next year to face the Longhorns, the Cats need to be ready and not in the midst of a massive rebuild.

Kentucky needs Mark Stoops, and it is very lucky he is staying for at least the foreseeable future.

Sports editor Cole Parke can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter/X @ColeParke_wsc

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