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Notebook: Stoops eager to move from banquet halls to meeting rooms

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Mark Stoops was joined by Governor Steve Beshear and U of L head coach Charlie Strong at the Governor's Cup Luncheon on Wednesday. (Jake Most, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops was joined by Governor Steve Beshear and U of L head coach Charlie Strong at the Governor's Cup Luncheon on Wednesday. (Jake Most, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops has had a busy July, but not for the reasons he'd prefer.

The Kentucky head coach is in the middle of the preseason crush of non-football responsibilities. He has appeared at Southeastern Conference Media days, taken part in the ESPN "Car Wash" and spoken at more functions than he'd care to count.

Serving as the face of a program for the first time, Stoops is getting more comfortable in the role by the day. But while he certainly enjoys talking football, Stoops would rather be coaching it.

"I'm getting anxious to get in that room and be in there for long periods of time and to help this team win some games," Stoops said at the Governor's Cup Luncheon on Wednesday.

With fall practice set to start in a little more than a week, Stoops doesn't have much longer to wait. Nonetheless, he still has a few events to get through, namely the Greater Louisville UK Alumni Club Wildcat Kickoff Luncheon on Friday, UK's Women's Clinic on Saturday and the Kickoff Luncheon on Aug. 2.

As excited as Stoops may be to shift his focus to coaching, he's thankful to be in demand. He knows how important fans are to what he is building and he's aware of the value of publicity, but none of that will matter much if UK can't deliver substance to accompany the flash.

"You want to get out so much you appreciate all the people that support you in all corners of the state and in all communities," Stoops said. "You want to get out and you want to get back to them and just give them some exposure to yourself and your program. But there is a balance."

Stoops is learning quickly to prioritize.

"I think there is a time when you have to say no, and I hope people understand that," Stoops said. "Because it's time to put your kids, put your program, put your players in the best position to be successful."

Stoops excited to be part of UK-U of L rivalry

Even though their showdown won't take place until the third game of the season for both Kentucky and Louisville, the Governor's Cup Luncheon is all about the instate rivalry. Because of that, Stoops spoke at length for the first time about U of L and what the annual game means to him.

In fielding questions, Stoops abandoned coach speak.

"Let's face it: It's important," Stoops said. "All you folks are here to talk about one game that's our third game into the season."

Stoops has coached in big rivalries before - Florida/Florida State and Arizona/Arizona State, to name two - so he doesn't hide from the meaning of those games. For that reason, he wants to see UK-U of L continue.

"I think it's very important," Stoops said. "It's important to everybody. We all enjoy the rivalry, and we all embrace the rivalry. It's very important. I know how important it is to people of this state. With that being said, I can't control things. Our administration fights to keep some things in perspective as far as scheduling goes in the SEC. But if they expand, I don't know."

It's impossible to know exactly what the future holds, but at least in the short term, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart doesn't see UK-U of L going anywhere.

"I don't think we're going to nine conference games at this point in time," Barnhart said. "Through 2015 or so, we're solid, maybe 2016 ... somewhere in that range. We're not going to be at nine for a while and if we are, that's another conversation down the road. But I don't sense that's an issue for us."

Stoops: 'It was time' for Commonwealth upgrades

Within months of Stoops being named head coach, Governor Steve Beshear - who was in attendance Wednesday - and the Kentucky legislature approved plans to renovate Commonwealth Stadium and the Nutter Training Facility. Since then, those upgrades have become an important part of Stoops' recruiting pitch.

"Our administration, the commitment that we have, the commitment that we have from the governor's office and so on from the renovations that are going to take place was needed," Stoops said. "And people are excited about that."

Stoops has big things on his mind in the coming years for Kentucky football, goals that likely wouldn't be realistic without the facility improvements.

"Well, it was needed," Stoops said. "It was time. So, our facilities are adequate to win some games, but the level that we want to take our program to, they were needed."

Yahtzee talk

Wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord started it, and the Yahtzee craze has picked up steam with every recruiting win for Kentucky. On Wednesday, Stoops had a great (and rules-compliant) answer when he was asked whether he actually plays the dice game.

"What do you think we're so excited about on Twitter?" Stoops said. "Absolutely, we play Yahtzee. I'm pretty good, but Coach (Vince) Marrow, he's kind of the best."

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