Stoops Energized by New Hires

Mark Stoops has been nothing if not consistent in building the Kentucky football program.

He has been adamant that there are no quick fixes in the Southeastern Conference, that turning UK into a consistent winner will take time and an unprecedented effort by all parties involved, from players, to coaches to administration to fans. He’s called that process a “grind” more times than he cares to count.

More than three years in and on the heels of a second straight five-win season, Stoops is fully aware of how that sounds to the fans he’s asking to remain “All In.”

“People get tired of hearing about that,” Stoops said. “I know that. By the time I sat up here for my (introductory) press conference to now, people have heard me so many times they get tired of it and I get it. I really do. I would be tired of looking at my ugly face too and hearing the same things.”

The thing is, the consistency behind that familiar refrain is exactly what’s needed to take the Wildcats to the bowl game they’ve missed the last two years and well beyond.

“We are going to stay the course and make adjustments and we are always in an environment to make improvements,” Stoops said. “That is our business. … We are going to look at everything in our program from strength and conditioning to offense, to defense, to special teams, to leadership to everything we do we will look to do it better. I feel very good and very optimistic.”

Stoops, introducing newly hired offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw earlier this week, seemed as energized as ever. The sting of a season-ending defeat at the hands of archrival Louisville hadn’t washed away, but disappointment had clearly been replaced with the same focused intensity and enthusiasm that so quickly endeared Stoops to Kentucky faithful on his arrival.

“After some time off and after these new hires and after being able to retain some of the quality coaches that we have here, I am extremely excited, extremely optimistic as we move forward,” Stoops said. “I really feel rejuvenated.”

Parting ways with Shannon Dawson and Tommy Mainord was not easy, but doing so and making the hires to replace them has put into place a staff with exactly the personality Stoops wants.

“I walked into the office last night and going to get some work done and I am in my office,” Stoops said. “Then Coach (D.J.) Eliot was in his office so I went into there and was BSing around and next thing you know, I hear guys coming in and it’s Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw. And Eddie has the music playing and that put a big smile on my face. So I am excited and energetic and ready to go. I really feel good about these guys and where we are headed.” 

That was no accident.

“I know exactly what I am getting with Eddie Gran,” Stoops said. “That was the big thing. We have a history, we go back, we worked together at Florida State.”

Gran was the special teams coordinator and running backs coach while Stoops was the defensive coordinator at FSU. He would then go on to become offensive coordinator and running backs coach at Cincinnati, where he guided the Bearcats to a No. 6 national ranking in total offense in 2015.

“Eddie will work his tail off,” Stoops said. “He is extremely detailed and most importantly he is a great leader. I could not be more pleased to have Eddie join our staff. I think he will do a great job.”

Gran – who will carry the title of assistant coach of the offense – was nearly Stoops’ offensive coordinator twice before, but the two couldn’t nail down the timing. 

“This year when I made the change I pursued him and wasn’t going to let him tell me no,” Stoops said.

The third time around, Gran couldn’t pass up the opportunity to return to the Southeastern Conference. Now it’s time to go to work.

“We have a system – one that we feel like is a great system,” Gran said. “We’re going to put it in place, we’re going to go 800 miles per hour and they’ve got to buy in. Everyone’s got a new resume at the beginning. We’re not going to make judgement on anybody. To me, that’s the best way you do this. We’re going to come in here, go 800 miles an hour and do what we do. We’re going to make it simple for them, make it fun for them but also make it disciplined because offense is about execution.”

Gran will be relying heavily on Hinshaw as he installs his offense. Hinshaw coached under Gran at Cincinnati and the two enjoyed a fruitful partnership they now bring to Lexington.

“You know, Darin played quarterback and, to me, being a quarterbacks coach and have played the position, it’s different,” Gran said. “I mean, I stand back there and watch and try and figure out some of that stuff and those bullets are flying and it’s tough. He’s been there, so that relationship with the quarterbacks has been really good for us.”

Hinshaw will serve as co-offensive coordinator, sitting in the coaching box upstairs while Gran patrols the field. Hinshaw – ranked one of the nation’s top-10 recruiters in 2011 – is eager to begin working with the personnel Stoops and his staff have in place.

“We are going to learn our personnel,” Hinshaw said. “What are the exciting things we have to work with? We call them new toys, so to speak, and Coach Stoops has done an unbelievable job with the recruiting class that is coming in. We have gotten to see all of those kids and we will continue to recruit them as we get them in here and be able to put the offense together from that standpoint.”

The work begins at spring practice in just a couple months.

“We are very excited and very optimistic and ready to get this done,” Stoops said.