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Stoops' mailbox full with responses to Christmas card

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Mark Stoops received nearly 150 Christmas cards from fans after he sent out one of his own before the holiday. (Guy Ramsey, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops received nearly 150 Christmas cards from fans after he sent out one of his own before the holiday. (Guy Ramsey, UK Athletics)
Members of the Big Blue Nation got a holiday surprise this year when new football coach Mark Stoops and his family sent Christmas cards to season ticket holders. Word that the cards had been sent spread quickly, as fans took to message boards, radio call-in shows, Twitter and Facebook to talk about it.

The football office was aware of all that, but staffers still got a holiday surprise of their own when they returned from a week-and-a-half break after New Year's.

Normally, enough mail is sent to the Nutter Training Center daily to fill one regular-sized United States Postal Service bin. But on Jan. 2, Lisa Ellis and her coworkers found four bins full of mail from fans. It took a while for them to connect the dots.

"We thought about it and thought about it and one of the other ladies downstairs said, 'It's the Christmas card. This is in response to that Christmas card,' " said Ellis, the assistant to the head football coach. "I started going through it and, sure enough, everything looked like it was a Christmas card."

The cards - 147 of them, to be exact - came in from all over Kentucky and even Knoxville, Tenn., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Savannah, Ga. Almost all of the them expressed gratitude for Stoops' gesture, but many included more personal touches.

Sue Fenwick from Louisville, Ky., sent a card to each of the young Stoops boys signed by her 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.

James Simpson from South Shore, Ky., wrote to say he had already brought his old "Air Raid" game cap out of storage with offensive coordinator Neal Brown's arrival.

Susie and Mike Oder from Frankfort, Ky., wanted to tell Stoops that they are in the RV lot at Commonwealth Stadium from Friday to Sunday during the season and that he could stop by anytime.

Barbara Neal from Louisville, Ky., said she and her husband Dan - a former football captain at UK - would be willing to help in any way possible with his 15 years of experience coaching at the NFL level.

Mike Coyle, another former UK football player who played for Blanton Collier in the late 1950s, sent a card because of his wife Moninda's rule of Christmas card reciprocity.

"We were impressed that we got a card and my wife has a policy that if we get a card from someone, she likes to send them a Christmas card in reply," Coyle said in a phone interview.

Coyle, now living in Elizabethtown, Ky., took the opportunity to introduce himself with a note on the inside front cover of the card. He welcomed Stoops to Kentucky and told of his football-playing background, but he really wanted to make a connection between his Iowa roots and those of the new UK head coach. Coyle grew up in Fairfield, Iowa and has a brother who attended school there, while Stoops played in college and began his coaching career at Iowa.

Coyle's story and that of each fan that sent a card to Stoops are unique, but the sentiments are not. Something drove all those people to want to make a personal connection with Stoops and something has them excited about Stoops' arrival. Coyle can't put his finger on exactly what that is.

"You just kind of know it when you see it," Coyle said. "I just get a feel of some kind of steely determination he has. I just have a good feeling about the hire and where we're going, what he had to say and the determined look in his eye and the determined tone of his voice."

Coyle is right about Stoops' determination, because the coach has been working tirelessly since he was hired a little over a month ago. Between putting together a staff, recruiting and getting to know his new players, Stoops has hardly had a moment to breathe, let alone sort through a mountain of Christmas cards word by word.

He may not have time to answer all his mail, but every piece served as a reminder of what his new job is all about.

"He is aware of it and I think he's in awe of it," Ellis said. "He knew about the Big Blue Nation, but until someone's here and they actually experience it, they have no idea just exactly the power of it."

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