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Mark Stoops feels prepared for first game as a head coach before UK debut vs. WKU

As the only member of the UK football coaching staff with head coaching experience, special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto has an idea about how Mark Stoops will feel when he runs out of the tunnel for his first game as the UK head coach.


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It did not take long for Peveto to correct some of his misconceptions about being a head coach when he got his first chance at the job.


“You’d look at head coaches as an assistant, and it looks like a pretty easy task,” Peveto, who was the head coach at Northwestern State from 2009-2012, said with a laugh. “But you forget that every single minute of the game you’re directing and you’re in charge. There’s really never a down moment.”


It’s those game-day specifics that have occupied Stoops’ thoughts in the days leading up to his first game at UK.


“Just the travel, the procedures and all that, just making sure myself, the team and the coaches are all on the same page,” he said.


Mark Stoops coaches in the spring game. (File photo by Jon Hale)

Mark Stoops coaches in the spring game.
(File photo by Jon Hale)

Stoops will look to become the first UK head coach since 1954 to post a winning season in his first year in Lexington. Against Western Kentucky, he will attempt to become the sixth UK coach since 1945 to open his career with a win.


A win in the opener has not necessarily been a precursor for coaching success in recent UK history. Stoops’ predecessor, Joker Phillips, opened his UK career with a 23-16 win versus Louisville but finished his first season at 6-7 and was fired in the middle of his third season on the job.


Stoops’ debut will come 10 years to the day after Rich Brooks coached in his first game at UK, a 40-24 loss to Louisville. Brooks finished his first season at 4-8, but after starting his UK career with three losing seasons he posted four consecutive winning seasons before retiring.


UK coaches are 23-10-3 in their debuts in program history and 5-6-1 in debuts since 1945. Since Blanton Collier lead UK to a 7-3 record in his first season in 1954, the Cats are a combined 31-66-3 in coaches’ debut seasons.


While history may suggest Stoops will face some bumps along the road this season, Peveto is convinced he is ready for the task ahead.


“He doesn’t need any advice,” Peveto said. “He’s very prepared. He’s way above his years with head coaching experience. I’ve been very impressed with him on all fronts.”


Part of Stoops’ advantage entering his first season as a head coach comes from being the brother of two current or former head coaches. His father was also a long-time high school coach.


While he has leaned on his brothers for advice at times, Stoops says they have not talked about what to do in his first game.


“Those guys, they know I’m prepared,” he said. “They just tell me to go with my gut, go with my instincts, and I’ll be fine.”


His lack of head coaching experience has not hindered Stoops in earning the respect of his players. Several veterans, recruited to UK by a different staff, have voiced their approval of the changes Stoops has made in Lexington.


“Everybody feels like the right choice was made,” said senior defensive tackle Donte Rumph. “I feel that deeply.”


“We feel like we got the best guy,” said senior tailback Raymond Sanders. “He doesn’t feel pressure. He comes out there ready to go. He’s very confident.”


That confidence has come across in Stoops’ comments to the media during his first game week.


He has repeatedly noted that he feels good about the preparation his staff and players have put in thus far. He even made headlines in his first in-season Monday news conference by predicting if his team plays to the best of its abilities it could “shock a lot of people.”


Part of that confidence involves acting like he’s been here before, but Stoops acknowledges he will likely take a moment Saturday to savor his first game.


“I mean, I’m human, and it will be exciting for me,” he said. “It is to this point. It will mean something to me, but then it’s getting right back to the task at hand and getting your team ready to win.”


You can see a chart with results from the first game and first season for every head coach in UK football history on the KyForward UK Sports Notebook Tumblr.

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