Pre-Taxslayer News Conference Quotes
Commonwealth Stadium – Lexington, Ky.
Dec. 5, 2016
Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops
Opening Statement …
“As you could imagine, it’s an exciting time for myself and our team as we accept the bid to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl. We’re looking forward to that. We’re still on a high after the big victory (vs. Louisville). Our feet have really not hit the ground. We’ve been recruiting and having a recruiting weekend, so we’ve been very busy, but it’s been an exciting time. So we’re looking forward to this opportunity.”
Re: Recruits reaction to bowl bid MARK STOOPS: It was really good. It was really good. We have a big weekend, as you know. We had about 16 kids in and really just wrapped up with one of them just now. So it was a really good weekend, a lot of good players, a great reception, and some guys were committed. Some aren’t. So, you know, we’re working through it. But it’s been a good week. It’s always an exciting time. It’s a busy time to get done with that last victory and hit the ground running, so I was gone all week. I left last Sunday early and got back Friday, and we had 16 kids in this weekend, and that went very well. Actually had to leave last night and was out of town for the night, came back this morning. Gonna have this press conference. Met with another recruit this morning, and going to have a team meeting at 2:00, and leave right after that. Leave about 2:30, 3:00 o’clock again today.
Q. You mentioned this is a busy time, and one you have to prepare for a bowl game at this time, at the same time it’s valuable recruiting time, so how do you juggle? MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it’s all recruiting right now. So our team is here preparing for finals, finishing up the school year, lifting and running, and all the coaching staff is primarily recruiting at this time, except the guys that are not allowed to recruit and they’re here breaking down Georgia Tech. So that part of it is easy. It gives us a few weeks to really concentrate on recruiting. We have to. We only have two weeks to get in front of kids in December, so we’ll do that and we’ll be recruiting for the most part these two weeks and then when we get back this weekend, we’ll start our bowl preparation. We’ll start our bowl practices this weekend.
Q. Does the bowl in Florida help with recruiting? MARK STOOPS: I think so. It can’t hurt. It’s good for our players that are from there. They’re excited about it, and that always helps with the other kids, yeah.
Q. When did the current players find out about where y’all were going and what was their reaction? MARK STOOPS: Well, as Mitch mentioned (athletic director Mitch Barnhart on conference call Sunday), I think we had a good feel for it. Nothing was set in stone. But he had a meeting with them (the players) while we were on the road, he and my ops guys and recruiting guys and the folks that were here on campus. But Mitch was at that meeting and we were just talking to him about some things. From my understanding, they were very excited about that.
Q. From the looks of it, several bowls were interested in Kentucky, what do you think of that and what that means for you are why program? MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I’m excited about that. It bodes well for us in the future as well, with our fan base, and I think certainly our fan base is energetic and excited about this opportunity. I think we all wanted to go to a bowl, and it was nice to finish strong and to go to a bowl game in Florida. It’s nice to go to this bowl game because we become the 14th school in our league to participate in this bowl, which is kind of nice. We were the only school in the SEC that has not participated in this bowl. So it will be fun for us. Just trying to knock down another door.
Q. Speaking of knocking down doors, Louisville was a big door. MARK STOOPS: Yeah.
Q. How do you keep the mindset of a team or program, for that matter, thinking, hey, we have arrived? MARK STOOPS: No, I think it’s just the opposite. I think it’s just the opposite. Our team realizes that we can be a good football team, and we’ve shown flashes. We’ve done some good things. We’re working hard to become a more consistent team, but I think it gives a team a lot of confidence and a lot of energy as we focus. And you’ve heard me in here every week, and I say the same things and they hear the same things about going to work and getting better and embracing the work during the week, and they’ve done that and will continue to do that. That will be the message as we prepare for this bowl game. We’ll work on ourselves for a good dose of the bowl and just getting better playing football, and then we’ll, obviously, put a lot of time in on Georgia Tech, because it will be extremely important to try to get that victory. The only negative I could see in that at all is the style of offense is so different. So it will take away a little bit of our good against good to some extent. Like I said, a lot of the bowl will be just about us and our young players and getting better. But that definitely is a unique offense and a real challenge. So that will take some time. But it’s a good thing that we have some time.
Q. Coach Eliot, you said he faced those kind of offenses before and was familiar with them. When has he done that and what does he provide you guys? MARK STOOPS: Well, I credited coach (Eliot) during that ACC Championship game because that was the time when I was in conversation about this job as well. So obviously I had some things going on, and it was extremely important for me to finish that job at Florida State, and I did not want to spend the three years and do the things we were doing in building that team and leave with losing the ACC Championship game. So it was extremely important to win that game, but as you can imagine, I had a lot going on that week. So we did it together, and he did a lot of it. So he had spent some time with it, different places. We had been different places for many years. We worked together for a lot of years, but also he was in several jobs, so I can’t tell you exactly where it was or who it was. But he had some background in that, and we sat there and hashed out a game plan and figured it out. Fortunately we got a few stops because it’s not always easy.
Q. This being a busy time and you traveling and conference calling and everything, but have you found out anything at all about Georgia Tech on such short notice? MARK STOOPS: No, no, the only thing I know about Georgia Tech is I did watch them some in crossover (film study) this year and watched them — it must have been Vandy. I was watching them as we were prepping for Vandy. So I had a chance to watch then some, but I didn’t know we were going to play them at the time. But, no, I have not had a minute to watch any film on Georgia Tech, other than looking at their schedule and looking at who they beat. I know they had an impressive win against Vandy, and obviously winning Georgia is an impressive win as well and they finished strong, beating Virginia Tech, beating Virginia. So obviously they’re playing very good football at the end of the year.
Q. Based on what you did see, what did you learn? What did you learn when you watched them? MARK STOOPS: As I said, at that time I wasn’t studying them. I was studying the other side, so I wasn’t really digging too far into them. It would be silly for me to comment on them at that time. Let me watch them. Obviously, they’re a good football team that’s very well coached. Coach (Paul) Johnson’s been around a long time. Again, from my background of playing him, I knew it was a real challenge. That was a stressful week for me, and so we’ll have our hands full, but I don’t know much else, sorry.
Q. Vandy being a really defensive team, what does watching some of that game tell you about them? MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I was watching the other side. But anybody that rushes and scores against Vandy like that, obviously, they have a good offense. So what was it, 38-7? That’s an impressive win, because we all know Vanderbilt can play some defense.
Q. In your experience as a coordinator at bowl games, how much can young guys in the bowl practice improve? MARK STOOPS: I think they can improve a good dose. We’ll have, not exactly sure, but we’ll have in the neighborhood of 15 practices, and that’s another spring practice. So, again, a portion of that will be about development, period. Just playing football and developing our team and a portion of that will be getting ready for the game.
Q. You’ve remained so confident this entire year and never flinched. Was there a defining maybe off the field moment on the sideline, social gatherings with the team that you just knew this team was going to finish so strong? MARK STOOPS: No, I don’t think there was any one. I can’t point to any one meeting or practice or game, no. I think it was just staying steady and knowing the pulse of the team and knowing the pulse of everybody in our building. We knew the organization was moving in the right direction, and we knew it’s also important to get some victories so the guys can see, again, getting paid off for their hard work. So that was fun, and it was certainly great to end the season the way we did.
Q. When you all came back from that Louisville game and fans were here to greet you at the stadium, was that kind of the most fan support you’ve had? MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it was. It was a great moment. Great for our team, for our assistant coaches, for everybody, for our fan base. It’s really been exciting. You know, it was weird because I left right after that, like I mentioned. But that night, yes, it was special. It was fun. It was fun for our team, and everybody in our program. Then I was gone, and then I got back and I had to run an errand and go to the bank and everybody starts beeping and waving and yelling at me, it was like what’s going on, man? It was just another normal day for me. But it was good. It was a fun time, and it was really nice to come back, have that weekend and get recognized at halftime of the basketball game as well for our players. You know, like I said, they’ve worked hard. You guys know that. They’re a good group, so it was fun.
Q. Looking at Coach Johnson’s offenses over the years, what are some of the challenges? MARK STOOPS: What are some of the challenges?
Q. Yeah, against a Georgia Tech defense? MARK STOOPS: Number one, it’s unique. You don’t see it every day. There’s a lot of misdirection, and it’s just very different. You don’t see it every day. Obviously, coach has done it for a long, long time, so he knows exactly what he wants to do. He has a good feel for what people do against him, his go-to. So whether you’re in an odd front or an even front, he knows very clearly what he could come back to. So for us, it will be very different, and they also present some problems with the way they run the ball with some play-action off of it.
Q. With all the things they do on offense, you know you have a potpourri of things that they do. Is there one word about their offense, what would you pick? MARK STOOPS: I don’t think I’m in a position to say that. I don’t want to be quoted on that. That wouldn’t be — I’m not prepared for that answer. I don’t know if I could put one, you know. That’s difficult. That’s difficult.
Q. You coached in bowl games at previous stops and then Florida State it wasn’t if you were going, it was where were you going. What does that mean to you in your coaching career to get this breakthrough bowl game that’s big here? MARK STOOPS: Well, it’s very gratifying. It is. You know, first and foremost for our team, again, for everybody in that building over there, there’s a lot of people that put an awful lot into what we do. It’s not a job for us. It’s a lifestyle. It’s our life and to a good extent outside of our families, of course. But it means a lot to a lot of people, and I’m very happy. I’m happy for our players first, and our assistant coaches and everybody in that building, it affects a lot of people. All of our administration, our secretaries, everybody, they invest a lot in what we do, again, certainly our fan base. They’ve been waiting a long time and, you know, together we’ll continue to achieve a lot more. So, very — I’m just happy, and it is very gratifying.
Q. We always talk about you guys possibly might play, are you surprised that that is your opponent? MARK STOOPS: I would have no idea about that. About who — no, I would have no comment at all about whether it would be somebody else. I had no clue. We had some ideas, but I would have — that’s not for me to comment on that.
Q. Is there any chance guys with long-term injuries would be back by the bowl game? MARK STOOPS: The guy I was hoping was Darius (West). I was hoping Darius would be back just for him to get some work. He was trying to. He had a little setback, nothing major, just like tendinitis and things like that that sets back some of the rehab, so he will be fine. But I don’t think ready to do much in this prep.
Q. What is the practice schedule? You’ve got 15 coming up? MARK STOOPS: We’ll get started this weekend coming up, and then we have to give them a little break for finals because our finals will be all throughout the day and they need some time to study. So we’ll practice this weekend. Friday, Saturday and Sunday is what I have tentatively planned, and then we’ll be off Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday for finals, we’ll try to squeeze one in Thursday, even if some of the guys — a few guys still have some finals, then they’ll be excused if they can’t make it at that time. Then we’ll continue to go back then Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. Don’t quote me exactly. Then they’ll get a little break. They’ll getting to home for a few days and then report back to the site and we’ll continue to practice a normal week down there.
Q. From a coach’s perspective, what are your thoughts on the College Football Playoffs and the four teams that are in? MARK STOOPS: I haven’t had much time to digest that. I saw a bit of it. Four teams that seem very deserving to me. So good for them. There’s always going to be some discussion. That’s the fun of your jobs, right, to debate the ones that did not get in, but those teams certainly seemed deserving to me and very good teams.
Q. You played Alabama, can anyone defeat them? MARK STOOPS: You know you’re not going to get a quote out of me on that. I know this: It will be very difficult.
Q. If you have players that are pondering going to the next level, what are the things that you talk to them about during this process? MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we’ll do an evaluation and send it in to the NFL and see what their experts say, what they could be projected coming out and give them as much information as we can.
Q. It’s a long break between games. How do you come out if you haven’t played in a month? I mean, you’ve practiced, but how are you going to go over that with them? It’s a month. MARK STOOPS: Well, it is, and originally I was going to come back and practice this past weekend. I looked at several other coaches’ schedules and I thought it was not in our best interest to do that. They needed some time to heal up, to mentally and physically get away from it for a minute. We are hitting it hard in the weight room and running, and that’s good for them. I just think it benefited us to have a couple weeks off. They deserve that. And we’ll come back and work our way into it. So they’ll pick it up. The nice thing is it’s not too long before we practice. It’s two weeks before we hit the practice field. We’ll deal with it just like everybody else does.
Q. What would you tell (sons) Will or Zack if they came home with a participation trophy? MARK STOOPS: Oh, wow, you’re trying to get me. They do come home with a participation trophy once in a while, and it goes on a shelf that nobody sees (laughter).
Q. How important has Jordan Jones become to this defense? Looking back, he didn’t have a starting job in August. MARK STOOPS: I’ve been very pleased with him. He’s one of those guys, he’s a live wire, but he’s been very consistent. He brings — one thing he brings every day that’s undeniable is he brings great energy. He brings that juice to practice every day and our players feed off it. So I love watching him. I love coaching him. He’s always got a smile. He’s always bouncing around, and he could practice all day, and that’s a good thing. That rubs off on a lot of people. The more experience he gets, the more disciplined he becomes, because he’s seeing things and understanding things. But he wants to win. He’s a competitor and brings a lot of excitement and energy, and like I said, that rubs off on a lot of people. And the beautiful thing is he’s just a true sophomore, so he’s got a lot of good football ahead of him.
Q. You’ve got a chance to, as you said, heal up and Stephen (quarterback Stephen Johnson) is banged up, but using this break, where would you like to see him take strides? MARK STOOPS: I think we’d all like to improve and see the pass game be as efficient as it was in the last game. I know that gives Stephen a lot of confidence, and all of our team and players to build off of that.
Q. Have you had that exhale moment yet? MARK STOOPS: I don’t know. I didn’t. I went home and enjoyed that victory Saturday, and I’ve been on the run since, I really have. I haven’t sat down for five minutes since last Saturday evening. I did enjoy that bourbon last Saturday evening though (laughter).
Q. Recruiting in Florida, how has it made the priorities shift there and how important has that become? MARK STOOPS: It was important. With some of the hires that I made, I wanted to continue to get some players out of Florida. We know the areas where we’ve been very successful and we’re going to continue to do that through Ohio and through this region within a six-hour radius. But I think it’s important to supplement your team with some Florida players. So we brought in some guys with some experience in that area, and it’s paying off.
Q. What, if anything, did Coach Petrino (Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino) say to you after the game? MARK STOOPS: Oh, no, there was no time for that. Just to shake and move on.
Q. Drew Barker, will he be healthy enough to travel, and if he does travel, what do you think he can give to the team from the study sidelines? MARK STOOPS: He’ll travel and he’ll participate as best he can with meetings and helping Stephen and the other quarterbacks, so we’ll continue to work with him with rehab and things like that. But it will be business as usual for him. It’s been a tough time, but I know as I mentioned before, it was a successful surgery, he felt better immediately, and that’s a good thing. So with all that waiting and doing the best we can and trying to do it non-operative, but after talking with the doctors, they’re happy with the way things went.
Q. What are you still focused on in recruiting? MARK STOOPS: We’ve always got to hold everybody we have, number one. That’s always an issue, and nobody’s going to stop recruiting. So we’ll continue to try to hold everybody we have committed and continue to get some other positions. I think we need offensive linemen still, D-linemen, like to get a couple DBs and linebackers. We recruit so many guys, as you know. We’ll end up recruiting a bunch. We’re not going to — we’re going to keep on trying to get them in the boat.
Q. Recruiting in Florida, how does it help playing a bowl game in that state? MARK STOOPS: It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt. Like I said, I’m kind of excited for our players that are from Florida, for them and their families. You know, so with recruiting and the exposure, it can’t hurt us.
Q. If the signing class numbers have changed since the summer. MARK STOOPS: They have. Just the normal attrition that happens throughout the year. The competitive nature of our team, guys winning and losing jobs and injury and different things. So attrition happens. It happens everywhere. So that’s a good thing. It gives us a little room in there.
Q. Re: potential number for the signing class MARK STOOPS: It will be between 20 and 20 and up, yeah. Not up to 25. I don’t think we have that kind of room.
Q. Anybody currently on the team that will not return? MARK STOOPS: I don’t. Not that I know of at this point.
Q. When Coach (Rich) Brooks went to his first bowl game, he said we’ve seen more of the reaction positively by recruits maybe down the road. But you made it sound like there was an immediate benefit. MARK STOOPS: Well, of course, anytime you win, it helps. But it also gives some verification for the guys that gave you their commitment. So, of course those recruits were excited. As you know in football, recruiting never stops until signing day. So, you know, those victories certainly help.
Q. When will you look at extending some of the guys on your staff’s contracts? MARK STOOPS: We’ll talk about that with some of them immediately. This is the time of year where there’s always some interest and it happens, and we’ll continue to work hard at keeping this staff. I do feel very comfortable with this group. So I’d like to keep it intact as best we can.
Member of Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. Former co-host of UK Radio Network's pregame football & basketball shows. Founder & former publisher of The Cats' Pause. Former publisher of East Kentucky Voice. Former editor of The Hazard Herald. Winner of 41 awards from Kentucky Press Association & Kentucky Weekly Press Association. Winner of 1977 U. S. Basketball Writers Association sports feature of year. Native of Hazard, Ky.