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When new UK football coach Mark Stoops arrived at Commonwealth Stadium for his introductory news conference Saturday, you would have to forgive him if he forgot the Wildcats’ football season ended a week ago.
Stoops was first met by a small group of fans at R. J. Corman’s airplane hangar in Nicholasville upon arriving in the Bluegrass State Sunday afternoon. He was then met by more than 500 fans, boosters, and current and former players at Commonwealth Stadium for his introduction to the Big Blue Nation.
“I felt like it was game day in a way,” Stoops said. “It was really exciting.”
Less than 24 hours after coaching the Florida State defense to an ACC Championship, Stoops completed his first official task as the Wildcats’ head man.
Wearing a blue UK hat and flanked by UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and UK President Eli Capilouto, Stoops fulfilled his dream of becoming a head football coach.
“A big part of who I am comes from how I grew up with my father,” Stoops said. “He was a high school coach for over 30 years, a tremendous person. I think that’s where I started preparing to get to this position where I’m at right now: those days and those nights spending time with my father at Cardinal Mooney, many nights when I’ve been sitting at the kitchen table eaten my dinner and watching my father watch film and using the refrigerator as his canvas.”
Stoops signed a five-year contract worth a total of $11 million. He also could earn as much as $1.575 million in incentives annually for accomplishing goals ranging from winning two Southeastern Conference games to winning a national championship.
“We wanted to make sure that Mark knew we wanted him here,” Barnhart said. “We wanted to make sure that he knew we were committed to football, that he has got the resources in terms of dollars to go out and get the staff necessary to get it done.”
Barnhart and Capilouto also spoke of UK’s plan for football facilities upgrades in the near future, though no concrete timeline or written guarantees were outlined in Stoops’ contract.
“I think when Mr. Barnhart and I talked at length for a long time, I believed in him,” Stoops said of the plan for facility upgrades. “I believed in what we had here and what we were moving toward. I think that’s a big part of it.”
Stoops acknowledged that UK doesn’t have the football tradition of a Florida State or the recruiting base of some other states, but he made no qualifications in his goals for where he wants to take the program, saying he thinks the Wildcats can play in and win SEC Championship games.
“Kentucky’s had success,” he said. “The key will be to build on that success and be consistent with it and take it to another level.”
Part of establishing that success will be changing the mindset of a program and fan base that is accustomed to finishing toward the bottom of the SEC standings.
Stoops thinks he is up to the task.
“We’re going to embrace the process,” he said. “We’re going to attack each and every day. What I’m worried about right now is meeting with our players tomorrow morning, and we’re looking forward to going ahead.
“Really not interested in what happened before. We will embrace the past, all the past great players, the past teams, but we’re worried about going forward. We’re going to do that.”
You might also be interested in the KyForward feature, “With Stoopsâ€™ defensive mindset in place, new head coach looks for offensive staff.” You can also read contract highlights and watch video from the Stoops’ news conference on the KyForward UK Sports Notebook Tumblr.