The UK football team defeats Alabama State 48-14, on Saturday, November 2, 2013, in Lexington's Commonwealth Stadium.
The impact of Mark Stoops as the new head coach at Kentucky has been both immediate and remarkable.
The announcement on Nov. 27, 2012, that the Florida State defensive coordinator was coming to Kentucky unleashed a torrent of enthusiasm. Wildcat fans immediately swamped the ticket office with phone calls, renewing season tickets or buying new ones, and competed to come up with the catchiest slogan for the new era of UK football ("Stoops Troops ... Don't Stoops Believin' ... Stoops, There He Is! ... Unstoopable!").
After staying in Tallahassee long enough to help guide the Seminoles to a win in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, Stoops was introduced on Dec. 2 to a cheering throng of Wildcat supporters who were captivated by his passion and his vision for UK's future.
The momentum continued in the hiring process as Stoops' first move was to bring D.J. Eliot, considered one of the bright, young minds in college football, from FSU to lead the UK defense. Next, Stoops lured former Wildcat player Neal Brown, one of the nation's most accomplished offensive coordinators at Texas Tech, home to Lexington. Stoops completed his staff with a set of hungry, relentless coaches, averaging under 38 years of age, who combine intensity and a history of success.
That success translated instantly on the recruiting trail. Inheriting a class ranked in the 60s by the national evaluation services, the coaches secured 14 new commitments in two months. UK's national rankings zoomed into the 20s and 30s, an incredible performance given the short time available, including a No. 29 ranking by Rivals.com that is Kentucky's highest ever in the 12-year history of the ratings.
UK's returning players embraced the new direction in spring practice, which was capped by a record crowd of 50,831 for the Spring Game.
This fall, he begins his quest for the on-field turnaround of UK football fortunes. Part of the acclaimed Stoops coaching family, he has a history of dramatic improvements during his time as defensive coordinator at Florida State and Arizona.
Stoops was defensive coordinator at FSU for the last three seasons, inheriting a unit ranked 108th in the NCAA in total defense and turning it into one of the nation's best. In the 2012 season, the Seminoles were second in the nation in total defense, allowing 254.1 yards per game, and sixth nationally in scoring defense at 14.7 points per game. Playing well against the run and the pass, FSU was third in the country in rushing defense and led the nation in pass defense. FSU led the ACC in seven defensive categories. Stoops also coached the defensive backs under head coach Jimbo Fisher.
Eight Seminoles on defense earned 2012 All-ACC honors, including four first-team selections, highlighted by one of the nation's top defensive end duos in Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine, who combined for 24 sacks and 31 tackles for loss. Werner was a finalist for the 2012 Bronko Nagurski Award as the National Defensive Player of the Year and was among the national leaders in sacks with 13. Stoops also coached cornerback Ronald Darby to ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. An astounding total of seven FSU defenders were chosen in the 2013 NFL Draft, including a pair of first-rounders.
The Seminoles' prowess was a continuation of the 2011 season, when Stoops' defenders led the nation in fewest yards allowed per carry (2.3), ranked fourth in the nation in total defense (275 yards per game), second in rushing defense (82.7 ypg), fourth in scoring defense (15.1 points per game), and eighth in tackles for loss (8.6 per game) and quarterback sacks (3.1 per game). FSU led the ACC in eight defensive categories.
Stoops overhauled the Florida State defense in 2010, his first season as defensive coordinator. The Seminoles gave up 19.6 points per game, third-best in the ACC and 20th nationally. FSU ranked 42nd nationally in total defense that season; in contrast, the team was 108th nationally in total defense and 94th in scoring defense in 2009, the year before Stoops' arrival. FSU improved its overall defense by more than 80 yards per game, primarily by limiting opponents to 75 fewer rushing yards per game. The Seminoles ranked third in the nation in quarterback sacks and were 21st in tackles for loss. In the secondary, Stoops coached Xavier Rhodes to ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and National Defensive Freshman of the Year accolades.
During Stoops' three seasons, FSU went 10-4, 9-4 and 12-2, including wins over South Carolina in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl, Notre Dame in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl and Northern Illinois in the 2013 Orange Bowl.
Stoops was defensive coordinator and DBs coach at Arizona from 2004-09, working for his brother, Mike, who was head coach of the Wildcats. During Mark's time there, Arizona's records improved steadily, going 3-8, 3-8, 6-6, 5-7, 8-5 and 8-5. The Wildcats advanced to the Las Vegas Bowl and Holiday Bowl during the last two years. Mark and Mike are brothers of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, with Mark being the youngest. Mike is currently the defensive coordinator on Bob's staff at Oklahoma. The eldest of the four Stoops brothers, Ron, Jr., is the linebackers coach at Youngstown State.
Stoops inherited an Arizona unit that was 109th in the nation in total defense and 107th in scoring defense in 2003, the year before he arrived. By the end of his term at Arizona, the Wildcats ranked in the nation's top 25 in total defense his final two seasons and ranked as high as 33rd in scoring defense.
Prior to Arizona, Stoops coached the defensive backs three years at Miami (Fla.). The 2001 national champion Hurricanes led the nation in pass efficiency defense, scoring defense and turnover margin. That team also established a school record with 27 interceptions and 45 total takeaways.
Stoops' 2002 secondary led the nation in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. Despite having to replace all four starters in the defensive backfield, the 2003 team led the nation in pass defense. In his three seasons, Miami went 35-3, including the 12-0 Rose Bowl title campaign, plus appearances in the Fiesta and Orange bowls. Ten Miami defensive backs who played at least one season under Stoops were eventually selected in the National Football League draft - seven in the first round.
Stoops got his first experience in leading a defense as co-defensive coordinator at Houston in the 2000 season. He coached the secondary at Wyoming from 1997-99 and the Cowboys notched three straight winning seasons. A highlight of his time there was a school-record 24 interceptions in the `97 season. His first full-time coaching job was in 1996 at South Florida, helping USF in the start-up of its program before the Bulls had their first kickoff in `97.
Stoops has recruited and developed numerous outstanding defensive backs, many of whom went on to NFL careers. Among the notables are Antoine Cason and Michael Johnson at Arizona, Miami's Philip Buchanon, Kelly Jennings, Brandon Meriweather, Ed Reed, Antrel Rolle, Mike Rumph and Sean Taylor and Wyoming's Brian Lee.
Stoops was raised in Youngstown, Ohio. As did brothers Bob and Mike, Mark played in the secondary at the University of Iowa for Hall of Fame coach Hayden Fry. He participated in four bowl games as a player. Fry hired Stoops as a graduate assistant coach at Iowa in the 1990 and `91 seasons. The Hawkeyes won the 1990 Big Ten title and played in the Rose Bowl, duplicating feats Stoops also achieved as a player. Stoops went on to coach four years in high school before entering the collegiate ranks.
Stoops and his wife, Chantel, have two sons, Will and Zack.
What They're Saying About Head Coach Mark Stoops ...
"He is one of those assistant coaches who has been elevating his game as a defensive coordinator ... He has great pedigree being a Stoops brother and the fact that he has worked with some outstanding head coaches helps his cause. I think he is ready to go (be a head coach). That is a great choice (for Kentucky)." - ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit
"The more I learn about the youngest of the college-coaching Stoops brothers, the more I like about what Mitch Barnhart did in luring him to Lexington. Stoops turned around Florida State's defense in short order, which was impressive (and why he got the job), but I really like the way he's gone about hiring a young, respected staff." - Travis Haney of ESPN.com, who rated Stoops as the second-best coaching hire in the nation.
"I think he's one of the big reasons for the turnaround at Florida State. He's just done a fantastic job. I think Jimbo Fisher himself would say he's probably the biggest reason for their turnaround." - Legendary Florida State Head Coach Bobby Bowden
"If it was a 3-2 pitch in the bottom of the ninth with the game on the line, then Mitch Barnhart has hit a long drive that's headed straight for the seats. Time will tell if it's a round-tripper, but from this vantage point it sure looks like Barnhart has hit a home run ... " - John Clay, Lexington Herald-Leader
"If new Kentucky coach Mark Stoops' results are any indication, UK's defense can expect quick and sustained improvement. As a defensive coordinator at Florida State (2010-12) and Arizona (2003-09), Stoops inherited defenses ranked outside the top 100 in yards per game. Both teams improved to the top 25 by the end of his time." - Aaron Smith, CatsIllustrated.com
"I'm very proud of him. Very happy for him. He got an opportunity to go on and further his career and it's something he wants to do. I'm happy for him. I think he's a hard worker. He cares about what he does. He's very diligent about what he does. He truly loves coaching." - Florida State Head Coach Jimbo Fisher
"I was more happy for Coach Stoops than anything. He's a coach that's put in his work. He doesn't have to explain that it's best for him and his family and sets him up for what he needs. That's a blessing for him. He's a great man and he deserves it."- Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner
Media Reaction from Coach Stoops' First Recruiting Class ...
Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated graded the recruiting performance of the 16 new head coaches in the BCS automatic qualifying conferences. Mark Stoops and Auburn's Gus Malzahn were the only ones to receive a grade of "A."
"Kentucky locked up an impressive crop of signees," Ellis wrote. "Stoops managed to lure 6-foot-3 250-pound defensive end Jason Hatcher away from USC, effectively putting a bow on the highest-rated Kentucky class in more than a decade. Four-star safety Marcus McWilson also added to the haul, and the Wildcats' class came in No. 28 in Rivals.com's final rankings; Kentucky finished no higher than 50th in any of the previous three cycles. It's too soon to tell if the program is primed for a renaissance under Stoops, but this freshman class will certainly be intriguing to watch."
"After a very successful signing day," wrote Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com, "Stoops' popularity is surging throughout the Bluegrass State. His class was extremely balanced and met Kentucky's major needs.
"Thanks to relentless recruiting efforts from UK's staff, Stoops' bunch moved in front of the eight ball with some big, late splashes."