There is comfort in the logic. If you buy into the axiom that defense wins championships, and you look at the fact that the SEC has fielded the best defensive teams in the land, then it stands to reason that the conference’s BCS championship run exceeds the average tenure of most college coaches.
To win in the SEC, and by extension to win national titles, teams have to play great defense, which means having a defense-obsessed coach.
Mark Stoops is just that kind of guy. That’s why Kentucky hired him.
The Wildcats ranked 88th in scoring defense this season, giving up an average of 31 points a game. Alabama, the No.1 defense in the land, gave up only 9.3.
Stoops, Florida State’s defensive coordinator since 2009, elevated the Seminoles defense from lackluster to a top-10 unit, ranking only behind the Crimson Tide in yards allowed per game at 249.4 yards. Stoops’ defense obviously caught the eye of Kentucky’s search committee, one looking to replace Joker Phillips.
“Our desire to get better defensively and continue to expand our recruiting base helped guide us to Mark,” UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “He comes from a coaching family and has been in big games and big atmospheres throughout his career. That has prepared him for this opportunity to become head coach at Kentucky.”
Genealogy isn’t the best predictor of coaching success — just ask Tennessee fans — but the fact that Stoops has lived football since he took his first breath 45 years ago doesn’t hurt. His older brother Bob is finishing his 14th season as head coach at Oklahoma, and his other brother Mike is the defensive coordinator at OU.
“I am thrilled to be named the head football coach at the University of Kentucky,” Stoops said in a statement released through UK. “My family and I are excited and looking forward to becoming a part of the Big Blue Nation.”
Not as excited as Wildcats fans are to have him.
Kentucky allowed 391 yards per game this season. At times, it looked as though the Wildcats couldn’t stop anyone. While the transition from coordinator to head coach does not always go seamlessly, Stoops brings a passion for defense that has even offensive-minded Kentuckians excited about the future.
“I support this hire,” former Wildcats quarterback and Fox Sports South analyst Tim Couch said. “I think it’s a great fit for Kentucky.”
Certainly this is a time for optimism, in part because Stoops has taken poor defenses and made them great, and also because he has the personality and passion to infuse some energy into a program that was sorely in need.
There has always been question about how well a football coach can do at a basketball-mad campus like Kentucky. Bear Bryant realized he was never going to win top billing in Lexington with Adolf Rupp around. With eight national championship banners and the winningest record in college basketball history, Stoops isn’t likely to change the culture either.
But he can change the record, and put Kentucky back on track to bowl eligibility. Good defenses will do that.
“I want to thank (Kentucky) president (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity,” Stoops said. “I promise the faithful of the Big Blue Nation I will be focused and driven to create a positive, winning atmosphere for the program and an environment that all of Kentucky can be proud of.”
That will be a welcome change if it happens. Only time will tell. But for now, Mark Stoops is the man of the hour, and defense is the word of the day.