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From the Pressbox: Herbstreit thinks UK on the right track with Stoops

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As ESPN's lead analyst for college football, Kirk Herbstreit knows all about the challenges Kentucky football faces in trying to climb the ladder in the nation's toughest conference. But he also thinks UK hired the right man for the job in Mark Stoops.

"I've known him for the last 12 or 13 years and I've just always appreciated how competitive he is--and I think it's infectious. I think it affects his staff and it affects his players," Herbstreit told "The Leach Report" radio show Monday. "I do think his leadership will affect his team. And I think people that play for him are going to believe he's giving them the best plan (to succeed)."

Herbstreit said he and Stoops talk on a weekly basis and Herbstreit says being in the Southeastern Conference plus having the talent-rich state of Ohio on the northern border of Kentucky means Stoops has the ability to upgrade recruiting. We certainly saw that happen in UK's latest signing class but Herbstreit says the thing that really validate all of this enthusiasm for Kentucky football is to have success on Saturdays this fall.

"I think it can happen within a year," he said. "Number one, you get a great recruiting class. Then, that's got to carry over into spring and summer. And the best way I've seen coaches be able to change the culture is to have success on Saturdays in the fall. It makes it a little easier to say, 'We told you if you do this, you're going to see if pay off for you.' I've seen it happen within a year and I've seen it take two or three years and sometimes they're never able to turn it around.

"It's one thing to hire a coach like Mark Stoops, who gives you that initial wave of interest, but now you gotta win football games--and Mark would be the first one to tell you that," Herbstreit added.

Recruiting is the fuel of any improvement in college football and Herbstreit says landing those players and then being able to successfully coach them requires a coach to undertake a balancing act.

"We are in an era that is unprecedented when it comes to the way high school basketball and football players are pampered and exposed to so much and treated as if they're above the rules. What I've seen from coaches is understanding that those are the rules of engagement. If you're going to be a top-25 program, you've got to be able to go out and recruit these prima donna type of athletes and maintain a culture of not just winning but having a selfless approach to how you do it," Herbstreit explained. "You can around the country, there's not a set of rules for (star players). You have to make sure everybody follows the same rules. You make it tough, you make it demanding, you love on them but you make sure they don't walk around with a sense of entitlement. If they can't deal with that, goodbye.  I think Mark has that (approach). He's been around great programs and he's been around programs that have struggled and he knows what it takes."

He said that balancing act is evident in the success that John Calipari has had with Kentucky basketball.

"That's why they win and that's probably why they come back in the offseason. They're so used to 'yes men' that when they get a guy that actually pushes their buttons and challenges them, they appreciate it," he noted.

Herbstreit says turning a program around starts with the staff the head coach hires.

"Every great head coach that I know has a great staff, that gets his philosophy and goes out and helps that become a reality. And Mark gets that. He knows what it takes," he said.

Herbstreit also likes the fact that Stoops followed the game plan of his brother, Bob, at Oklahoma - a defensive-minded head coach who found a branch of the Hal Mumme/Air Raid offense coaching tree to direct that side of the ball.

"I think it's tough to defend," Herbstreit said of that system. "When you have a quarterback that understands it and can get the ball out of his hands with some accuracy and good reads, you've got a chance to pick apart defenses."

And Herbstreit says the next evolution of that system is seen in what Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is doing at Texas A&M.

"You've got to have a guy who can throw it and is just as dangerous running it. If you do that, unless you dress 12 or 13 on defense, I don't think you can stop it. I think that's the next wave of that offense and it'll be interesting to see if Kentucky can find a guy like that," he said.

"I think today, it (that offense) gives you a chance. It spreads out the defense and it makes them tip their hand, as far as where the pressure is coming from. (But) without the trigger man there, it's not going to work."

And Herbstreit believes Stoops will be a perfect fit with Big Blue Nation.

"When he took the job, I said 'Have you ever been to Keeneland? With the city of Lexington, you hit the bonus.  Your wife and your family are going to love Lexington,' " he said. "They're going to fit in there just perfectly on a personal level."

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Herby makes some really great points here.

The one thing that has stood out about Coach Stoops to me is, we didn't have to go out and recruit him and convince him to come here. He came to us and convinced us he was the man for the job. A job many good coaches thought was beneath them. Fans will not soon forget that.

Coach Stoops is not just a talented coach, he's a hungry coach and is working 24 x 7 to prove himself. He already has shocked many with his recruiting, I wouldn't bet against him doing the same thing on the field and sooner rather than later.

Many thanks to Herby for taking the time with Tom to express his thoughts.

Go Big Blue!

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  • marc: Herby makes some really great points here. The one thing that has stood out about Coach Stoops to me is, read more