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Mark Stoops talks program, injuries and more at SEC Media Days

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 7:17 PM EDT
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(WYMT) - When Kentucky football head coach Mark Stoops went to the podium on Tuesday for the annual SEC Football Media Days, he did so as the second-longest tenured coach in the league. Only Alabama head coach, and college football legend, Nick Saban has been at his current stop longer than the UK head coach.

Stoops and his ninth UK team will open the 2021 season at home against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 4. During his eight years in Lexington, Stoops has done what he set out to do when he arrived on campus.

”I really want to continue to grow this program. I said it when I got to Kentucky that we were going to recruit, we were going to develop, we were going to compete and I wanted to take this program to national prominence and people laughed at me,” Stoops said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.”

The beginning was tough for Stoops and his staff. UK went 2-10 in 2013, Stoops’ first season at the helm of the program. Kentucky went 5-7 in both 2014 and 2015.

But in 2016, the breakthrough really happened. The foundation that Stoops and his staff had laid started to pay dividends.

The Cats went 7-6 that season, ending the campaign by facing Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The following season, Kentucky again went 7-6 and ended the season by battling Northwestern in the Music City Bowl.

Stoops’ best team at Kentucky so far came in 2018 when the Cats, led by Josh Allen and Benny Snell Jr., went 10-3. The Cats capped that season with a win over college football blueblood Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. After that season, Stoops was named SEC Coach of the Year.

In 2019, Kentucky had an 8-5 record and finished the season by beating Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl. And last season, Kentucky went 5-6 while playing a 10-game SEC regular season schedule. The Cats finished the year by beating N.C. State in the Gator Bowl.

Stoops is the first coach in UK history to lead the program to five straight bowl games. Stoops and Rich Brooks are the only UK head coaches to ever win three consecutive bowl games.

Part of winning comes in a program’s culture, something that is not lost on Stoops. He appreciates being able to return to some of the team-building events that were not available last season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

”It’s very nice for us to go back to doing the things that we do in spending time with each other during the summer,” Stoops said. “A year ago, all of those things were taken away. This year, that’s a big piece of our culture is to spend time with each other. We do that every Wednesday. We have a speaker come in and educate our players on life, on some form of their life, and then we go out back and have a cookout and spend time with each other.”

Now, as the 2021 season approaches, Stoops likes where his team is.

”I feel good about where we’re at,” Stoops said. “We have a very good team. We’re constantly learning, we’re constantly growing and we’re getting better.”

Stoops will continue to put in the work and will continue to recruit and develop players. It’s a formula that has taken Kentucky football to five consecutive bowl games and one that the UK head man believes can get his program to that national prominence he seeks.

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