Stoops ready to adapt to keep up with change

Published 4:42 pm Wednesday, August 9, 2023


Kentucky Today

The second decade of the Mark Stoops era is officially under way, and the Kentucky coach hasn’t stopped upon arrival. It started with changing the culture and has transformed into adapting to change in a matter of 11 years.

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“Sometimes it feels like an eternity, and sometimes it feels like the blink of an eye,” Stoops said. “It’s been a journey to say the least. I think the times are very different right now than when I stepped into this job.

“As I mentioned many, many different times, you better be ready and willing to adapt and to change or else you will be irrelevant very quickly. So, we’re trying to keep up with those times.”

The Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) and the transfer portal in collegiate sports have forced Stoops and other coaches to speed up on the recruiting trail and fill much-needed needed spots on the roster now rather than later.

“You’ve heard me say a million times, even went over this with our team a bit (Thursday), but the first 10 years you constantly heard me talk about build, build, build, build a winning culture, select the right teammates, constantly developing them,” Stoops said. “Things are different. We have to do that very quickly now.

“You look at the roster, the roster turnover, and there’s not a hundred guys in that room that have been there for years and have heard me talk and heard us build that culture. It’s different. We have to do it very quickly. We have to adapt.”

In the past, the transfer portal has been kind to Stoops and his coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The Wildcats nabbed Will Levis, the team’s starting signal caller for the past two years from Penn State in the portal. His replacement, Devin Leary, also is a transfer who will be tasked with leading the team’s offense under Liam Coen, starting his second stint as offensive coordinator. The North Carolina State transfer has drawn rave reviews from Stoops, the coaching staff and the players during the off-season.

“Devin is a very natural leader,” Stoops said. “He doesn’t overdo it. He still wants to work and take care of his own backyard, ultimately finding his voice and finding that leadership role to whatever level it goes to. It will happen authentically in time.”

Although Coen spent last season as offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, the feeling inside the team’s locker room is as if he never left.

“There’s no question the comfort level with bringing Liam back is there,” Stoops said. “I mean, it’s evident. It’s obvious in our building, with our players. He knows so many of them. But he has that energy.”

This time, Stoops said Coen brings proven experience as the team’s top offensive boss. In his first stint, Coen led the Wildcats to a 10-3 record and a win over Iowa in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

“He’s proven himself, that he can be successful in the SEC,” Stoops said. “When I hired him the first time, he hadn’t had that proof yet. I believed him or I wouldn’t have hired him. I think this time you could feel that confidence. I like the creativity.

“We have to play to our strengths and be adaptable. He does that very well.”

In less than a month, Kentucky will open the season against Ball State in a noon kickoff at Kroger Field.

“We have to build this team,” Stoops said. “I feel like we have a very good football team, but we have to come together and be united and be a team very quickly.”