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Notebook: Stoops settling in after 'overwhelming' but productive first weeks

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Mark Stoops is less than a month into his tenure as Kentucky football coach. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops is less than a month into his tenure as Kentucky football coach. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops had never been a head coach before, but he had a couple good resources at his disposal as he prepared to make the transition.

When his conversations with Mitch Barnhart turned to contract negotiations it became just a matter of time before he'd be occupying the big chair at Kentucky. At that time, he did as he often does and solicited the advice of his two brothers Bob - the current head coach at Oklahoma - and Mike - the former head coach at Arizona.

"They said, 'The first couple days your head will be spinning and you'll sit there and ask yourself what in the world you've done to yourself,' " Stoops said. " 'Because your life certainly has changed.' "

Having watched his brothers for so long and worked at high-profile programs like Miami and Florida State, Stoops had an idea what he was getting into. That doesn't mean there hasn't been a lot to deal with.

"I don't know if there's been surprises, but it definitely has been overwhelming at times," Stoops said. "I don't think there's any way around that for anybody, whether you've been a head coach or not."

After he coached his last game as the Seminoles' defensive coordinator, Stoops flew to Lexington for the first time. He held his introductory press conference on Sunday, then sat down in his office on Monday, quickly realizing he was alone. Support staff and graduate assistants were there to help, but Stoops had not yet hired a single assistant coach. It was up to him to meet his current players, introduce himself to committed prospects, recruit new ones and find coaches to join him.

Needless to say, he had a lot on his plate.

Days later, D.J. Eliot signed on as defensive coordinator. A few more and Neal Brown joined as offensive coordinator. Barely a week later, Stoops had assembled a seven-man coaching staff, leaving just two slots open, and the recruiting dead period began. With the holidays around the corner, Stoops finally has a chance to return to something that approaches a sense of normalcy.

"Feel very good this week, being able to put your feet on the ground, settle in a little bit today and this week," Stoops said. "Again, the staff came together very nicely...It's been a hectic two and a half weeks. The first two weeks were a complete blur, this week able to settle down a little bit."

Of course, normalcy is very different for a head football coach less than three weeks into his tenure. His wife and two young sons still are living back in Tallahassee, Fla., and Stoops has had nary a free minute to call and check on his family.

"We understand that goes with the territory," Stoops said. "My wife does a good job of keeping me grounded at times."

She'll surely do an even better job keeping him grounded when the family is back under one roof again. That process is underway.

"I pick the job, she picks the house," Stoops said.

Stoops happy with coaching staff, coordinators in particular

Kentucky fans and media are still learning about the seven coaches Stoops has brought in as assistants, but one thing already sticks out about the group: youth.

John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader compiled the ages of the staff and found the average age of the eight - including Stoops - to be just 39.4 years.

Stoops confirmed on Wednesday that youth was an attribute he sought out in assembling his staff. But more than that, he was looking for a little hunger.

"I felt like the mold that I wanted was some guys that really had a little chip on their shoulder, wanted to prove something," Stoops said. "That fit very nicely with the coordinators and the rest of the staff."

The first two coaches to join Stoops were his two new coordinators, Eliot and Brown.

Brown, even though he's only 32, has five years' experience as an offensive coordinator. Not only does he fit the hungry bill, Brown's offense matches the description Stoops laid out at his introductory press conference.

"I think just being able to dress things up here and there, being creative in how you run the ball, being creative how you distribute the ball," Stoops said. "You've got to be obviously very well-balanced, but you've got to be creative to move the ball."

Brown would seem a good fit on the strength of his coaching credentials alone, but his background as a Kentucky native and former Wildcat wide receiver make him something close to ideal.

Stoops and Brown are still in the process of getting to know one another, but no such orientation is necessary between head coach and defensive coordinator as Eliot coached under Stoops at FSU. In spite of the fact that Eliot has never before been a coordinator, Stoops reported he had to "fend off" other schools seeking his services.

"It was important for me to be able to hire him here," Stoops said. "He's fired up and ready to go and done a tremendous job, full of energy and organization and work ethic, the whole deal."

If there were any lingering doubts before, Stoops knows now just how much he'll have to rely on Eliot.

"It would be impossible for me to run the defense the way it needs to be run with me being a head coach," Stoops said. "So Coach Eliot will run that. I have 100 percent confidence in him and he knows what I want and the way we do things together."

It's not as if Eliot will be on his own though.

"I will, of course, be there to help him because he has not been a coordinator, so I will be there to help put things together and game plan certain problems that he may be having," Stoops said. "Just the experience factor, I'll help him in that area. But I have tremendous confidence in him."

Stoops aware of excitement surrounding program

Stoops found out everything he needed to know about the passion and buzz surrounding Kentucky football at his introductory press conference.

He hasn't had a lot of time to gauge fan opinion since with all the responsibilities he's juggling, but he knows the assistants he has hired and the signing of junior college standouts Za'Darius Smith and Steven Borden have done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm.

"I'm not surprised by that," Stoops said. "This is the SEC and I know the fans of Kentucky want great football. That doesn't surprise me one bit. I expected that. I expect great support. I believe in the fan base here, I see their passion and so we're all in this thing together and working forward to it, embracing it."

Athletics department staffers help keep Stoops up to date on the goings on outside of his program and he also had a chance to meet with former UK quarterback Tim Couch on Tuesday night on the matter. Couch, who participated in the interview process that led to Stoops' hiring, made sure to pass along the belief that fans are very much behind him.

"It's great to hear," Stoops said. "We're going to need that. We're going to need great support. We're all in this together, and I need that. I mean it."

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