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COLUMN: Stoops is next coach at Kentucky

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By Bob Watkins

Mark Stoops is Kentucky’s new football coach.
For times Big Blue Nation citizens live in, it is a reasonably good hire.
Stoops The Younger (of four brother college coaches) defines himself.
“I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy.”
Sounds good, smells good. Because Kentucky is a meat-and-spuds kind of Commonwealth, as long as the menu includes soup beans and corn bread with an occasional dash of Cracker Barrel, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Sifting through and putting context to the new coach’s honeymoon remarks, these things:
•Tim Couch’s involvement in the Stoops hire is a feather-in-cap for Mitch Barnhart, but fans stampeding to renew season tickets expecting a Turn-the-Deuce-Loose redux, better slow down and consider the coach-speak.
“We’ll get out there and rip it around it a little bit, we are going to throw it,” the man said dutifully (with three returning quarterbacks).
Then came the meat and potatoes.
“But you have to be creative. I’m a defensive guy. This is the SEC. It’s a physical conference.  ... I want to be tough ... I want to be physical. We have to build this foundation with great defense. There’s no way around it. If you don’t play great defense, you’re not going to win consistently.”
Translation? Along with you, Stoops watched the Alabama-Georgia SEC title game. Yes, the Tide and Dawgs featured quality quarterbacks, but this bone-crusher classic was vintage how-to-win in the SEC assault and battery. Defense played by gladiators.
Stoops gets that.
Couple reminder for fans.
•Be keen to gauge philosophy, personality and track record of Stoops’ offensive coordinator choice. Then, see who and how many quality beef high school seniors and junior college prospects he lures to Lexington not so much this recruiting cycle, but the next.
“... With the offense, I want somebody that has a plan that’s been successful, and we have to be creative. We will have a physical presence about us, but we will spread it out and use some bells and whistles, get the run game going and, again, be a little bit creative.”
•Those of us old enough to recognize historical echoes have heard the bells-and-whistles talk before ... John Ray ... Fran Curci ... Hal Mumme and, well, you remember the names.
For post-honeymoon perspective, a few sobering reminders.
•When Kentucky lines up against Western Kentucky on the last day of August in Nashville next year, Stoops will officially be Kentucky’s 12th head coach in 60 years. Only one left Lexington with a winning record. Blanton Collier, 41-36-3, (1954-61).
•Five of UK’s dozen hires arrived with no head coach experience. Like Stoops, they were assistant coaches somewhere else. None succeeded. Collier’s record did not move him out of The Bear’s shadow, prevent him being asked to leave.
•Unofficially, in a few cases at least and as will be the truth this time, UK will be paying two head football coaches at the same time. Joker Phillips is due $2 million plus through 2014. Relevance? You pay increases in access to buy prime tickets, I call it extortion, and you pay regular ticket price hikes.
•From “The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same Department,” Stoops’ five-year contract with Kentucky pays him $2 million-plus a year. About the same as Phillips. Meanwhile, his revenue-producing ball coach counterpart, John Calipari is paid triple that.
Let the honeymoon begin.

UK & NEWS CYCLE
Anyone feel the earth move after stunner back-to-back losses by John Calipari’s No. 9 ranked basketball team?
Nada. Reasons?
• Buzz with Mark Stoops hiring.
• Eastern Kentucky University men’s basketball off to best start in 66 years (7-0).
• SEC title football game.
With national championship ramifications adding to the stakes, Alabama and Georgia played the most entertaining and talked about college game in decades.
For television viewers, CBS’s Vern Lundquist and Gary Danielson made the game a first class show.
Footnote: Work by Lundquist and Danielson puts into sharp relief ESPN’s amateurish judgement as the all-sports network continues to assign Dick Vitale to its headliner basketball games which creates a Good Game Spoiled.
• Next, BCS bowl game pairings on ESPN.
•College football title dream game: Alabama and Notre Dame.
•Ongoing flap about Northern Illinois going to the Orange Bowl.
•Delicious matchups: Oregon-Kansas State in Fiesta;
•UK’s women defeated Louisville at Yum Center.
•And, trade buzz linked to Major League Baseball as winter meetings opened in Nashville.

GOIN’ BOWLIN’
Finger lickin’ good. Louisville and Western Kentucky reward fans with a holiday option. Bowl game.
Sugar Bowl. Charlie Strong’s Cardinals were 16.5 underdogs to Florida after pairings were announced. Kickoff at noon on Wednesday, Jan. 2, in sunny New Orleans. Back at Yum Center Rick Pitino’s team is scheduled to host Providence the same evening.
Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl. A surprise capping a week of pleasant ones for Hilltopper fans. Solid season starts by the men’s and women’s basketball teams was put into eclipse when Willie Taggart’s team became the third Sun Belt team invited to bowl game play.
In what looks to be Triple-A entertainment possibility, Western Kentucky and Central Michigan play the day after Christmas.

HUMOR DEPARTMENT
Northern Illinois, headed to the Orange Bowl against Florida State, took a hammering from one analyst or another.
“It’s an absolute joke!” growled one TV expert.
Perfect for college football. A bit of righteous rage for ratings. Reminded us of Billy Packer at the NCAA pairings.

WORTH REPEATING DEPARTMENT
About basketball at University of Kentucky.
“(Only thing) Kentucky fans care about is winning. They want educations for their kids but wins for their teams. Admit it, college sports are just primers for pros. Money has ruined athletes forever, so sit back and enjoy a winner (John Calipari) while you have him.” – Jim McElroy, of Waverly.
And so it goes.