Stoops: ‘I’m committed to this place’
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WYMT) - Mark Stoops addressed the media ahead of the final game of the regular season.
COACH STOOPS: We’re really looking forward to honoring the seniors here (on) Senior Day. We’re going to be recognizing 28 seniors, including Chris Oats. We all know and appreciate the support that the BBN has given Chris. Our fan base, our university, our players care deeply about Chris and the rest of our seniors and looking to end on a positive note.
We all know there’s been some ups and some downs through this season and looking forward to the challenge of competing against our rival at home on Senior Day. We need to continue to build and play with the great intensity that we did a week ago.
As I mentioned after the game and touched on it, it was not that much different after watching the film. I thought our guys played extremely hard. I thought our coaches gave us a good opportunity to be successful. Our players played very hard. They had a great competitive spirit about them and competed and were very physical, gave us our opportunities.
We know there’s some shortcomings, some areas where we need to continue to improve. Bottom line is they were 4-of- 5 in the red zone. Positive note for the defense, we held them to field goals on three of those.
And for us, capitalizing on the drives. I thought having four sustained long drives against that team, that defense, is good. The negative side, once again, is to come away with zero. Even with the opener, with an 11-play drive and getting stopped on downs, obviously very disappointed getting stopped on downs, but we set the tone to be positive for our offense and have the ability to move the football. And then, another long drive that ends in an interception. We’ve got to be smart there. Even with our play calls, with forcing it, kind of take what they give us there, at least get on the board, gives us some momentum.
So, there was a lot of good things to build on and some areas where we continue to fall short that we have to address and get better.
Again, want to compliment Louisville, Coach (Scott) Satterfield. Their team is a very good football team, coming off a big victory against a ranked opponent (NC State), coming in here. Big game for both of us and really looking forward to the challenge.
Q. Re: being a big game for players, fans, etc.
COACH STOOPS: You know that. You know it’s a big game, and you know I’m going to say every game is because it is. We sit in here and it’s a long season. And you have to compete and be ready each and every week.
I said it day one when I walked in the door when we had a lot of work to do and they were a top 10 (team) that it was important. I recognize that the first moment I walked in here that it’s important. I never shied away from that and I won’t.
It’s important for our fan base and important to our team. It’s the last game of the year. And we need to go compete and play well.
Q. The contract extension, why did you want to make that commitment in season now?
COACH STOOPS: Well, we made that commitment to each other a while ago. I kind of feel bad about the timing of it. I wasn’t very proud of some of the losses, certainly coming off the Vanderbilt game and all that.
But I told you, what, last January, that when Mitch (Barnhart) and I and Dr. (Eli) Capilouto make an agreement, we make an agreement. And I said that about Jimmy (Sexton) and lawyers and all that stuff, but we have worked together so long that we have a great commitment to each other and a trust and a belief in each other. The stability was important and early in the season there was a lot of noise. I just simply said, ‘I’m committed to this. I’m not going anywhere. I’m committed to this place’ -- and vice versa.
And so it was agreed upon, when things were really good. But obviously I feel bad for Mitch and Dr. Capilouto in not doing my part, truthfully. After that game, believe me, I better just stop there. I felt very bad about that loss and some of the parts of the season.
Q. Based on what you just said, as it relates to the contract extension, were the years and the commitment that they show more important than the dollars themselves?
COACH STOOPS: Absolutely. It’s important. And I think the contract that I had also could roll over for a very long, long time. And we got to that point where it was like, okay, I think that piece of it, we know we could let go and move on from the automatic rollovers and things of that nature.
We never know -- none of us can predict the future. So, it was a commitment. I was appreciative. It’s simply, as easy it was the last time, for me, it’s like, I know I’m committed here. If that proves to everybody, so people quit talking about things -- I know we lost, so everybody’s start saying the other way (laughter). But I get it. So, take the good with the bad. I’ve been here a long time. But I’m committed to this place and have been. This is my home. This is the place that I’ve helped build to this point. We have built it to this point. Do we want more? Yes. I think we want to continue to grow. Dr. Capilouto expects more. Mitch expects more, and I do, and I want to continue to build, continue to have the continuity, and I want to improve.
There’s a lot of people that would like to have the stability that we have had. And there’s a lot of people that would, much like us, be driven to compete at higher levels as well.
Q. There were rumors that some big-time programs were coming after you pretty hard. How seriously did you listen to any of their pitches?
COACH STOOPS: I don’t talk about any of that because I don’t like to disrespect any school or anybody or anything. I think with the work that we’ve done here, I think it goes without -- I don’t need to say anything.
There’s a lot of people over the years that have inquired. I really don’t push that. I’m in season. I’m committed to my players. I’m committed to this place and I’ve never strayed five minutes from that.
Q. Were you encouraged by the way your offense was able to move the ball in the fourth quarter? If you were, was there anything you could take from that over to the Louisville game?
COACH STOOPS: There is, the drives, even early, an 11-play drive, a 13-play drive, of course we want to start ending in some points, but I think that is encouraging.
To go 99 yards against a team like that and score a touchdown and then back it up with another 70-yard drive, we’ve got to get those points there and we’re one score away. That’s why we had to take the three at that moment and give us an opportunity, and we did get the ball back.
It’s also encouraging that the defense made some critical stops in some really big moments against an extremely physical team. I think that shows a lot of the guts and determination and things that we’ve done through the years to put ourselves in a position to win games.
Q. re: Ramon Jefferson not on the Senior Day list, will he apply for a medical redshirt to come back next year?
COACH STOOPS: Yes, could possibly.
Q. J.J. Weaver is on the list. Does that mean --
COACH STOOPS: J.J., much like last year, there’s guys that are on the list that already went through Senior Day that won’t go again -- that went through Senior Day last year, came back, I think there’s six. He’ll have an option, decision to make and things to look at.
Q. The O-line has taken some flack this year. The fact that you were able to establish the tempo against Georgia and kind of keep it for the whole game, what does that tell you about some improvements they made up front?
COACH STOOPS: I think it definitely is improvement. I think we’ve worked hard to, again, the last several weeks, talk about building and doing the things we’re doing well and maybe eliminating the areas where we’re falling short.
Our players play hard. They always have. We need to make sure we’re doing a good job of putting them in the position -- I thought they really strained and played to a high level.
You’ve got to give Deondre (Buford) credit again. I mentioned it after the game. But to really step in and really compete against a team like that and be thrown into it 20, 30 minutes before the game, really stepped up and did well. And I thought the guys really strained and played hard. That’s what we’ve got to continue to look at and build at and build on the positive things from that.
Q. Any update on Kenneth Horsey?
COACH STOOPS: Kenneth, things are good. I said it after the game, they appeared to be going well. I told you I’d update it again today. Things seem to be positive as it relates to his health. Not finalized yet, so I can’t say any more than that other than it’s looking good and continue to make sure we check all the boxes and make sure the young man is taken care of properly.
Q. re: Deondre Buford
COACH STOOPS: It says an awful lot about him. I listened to the O line as we were leaving, exiting the locker room here at the stadium and as they were talking, or Eli (Cox) was talking to him, and Eli was complimenting to the rest of the group about how his (Deondre) preparation never changes.
I think a lot of young people can learn from that. If you’re in a backup role, you’re not getting all the snaps that you want and maybe you’re striving for more, to still continue to prepare. And that says a lot about him and his character because he’s constantly working. And when he got that opportunity he really did well.
With playing, will help him in some areas where maybe he was falling short. That experience and as things change and the picture moves, you’ve got to continue to play at the same level.
And we’ll need that this week with Louisville’s defense. I really think that they’re doing a really good job of kind of attacking and mixing things up and creating some pressure. And that’s an area where we’ve struggled at times this year. So, we’ve got to make sure we really buckle down and continue to improve even through this last week.
Q. Speaking of that, they’ve forced 28 takeaways on defense. I think that leads all power conference teams. What have you seen, is it just that aggressiveness leading to a lot of fumbles and interceptions?
COACH STOOPS: I think that’s a compliment to them. The way they are attacking and moving and line twists and bringing different backers and doing a lot of different things, it’s created some big plays for them.
Q. After the Vanderbilt game, Will said this team sometimes has trouble getting up against lesser opponents. When it’s a ranked team they have no problem being motivated. What’s the mentality of this team heading into a rivalry game against a hot Louisville team?
COACH STOOPS: We’ll see. I meet with them at 1:30. We’ll see how it goes this week. I would expect our team to respond and to continue to build on just, again, the energy, the focus, the toughness, the preparation.
Last week was very challenging just through the week. The guys did a good job of holding themselves accountable and pushing and working hard to prepare, because as you know, mentally and physically, it gets challenging.
And, again, after that game, as you can imagine, that is a physical game. Kirby (Smart) said it prior to the game. I’m sure they probably feel the same way after. We do. It’s a big, strong team. And it’s a physical game.
I was pleased with our team stepping up to compete at that level and physically and mentally accepting that challenge. I want to execute in critical moments and make the plays to win like we all do. But that piece of it was elevated and we need to stay there.
Q. re: UK run defense vs. Georgia
COACH STOOPS: Yards per play, if you look at that, in that game, it was very good. It was very even. You’ve got to play a whole game and that’s a big, strong physical team. I thought we had some extremely tough physical fits and played extremely stout at times. And you played -- some of it again is perimeter stuff. Some of it is crack and replace. Some of it is things of that nature.
It’s not just a toughness where I mush you and push you around type of thing. It all fits together. It’s team defense, overall team defense was pretty good again.
Q. You mentioned Eli earlier. How has he played this year? How has he made a move to center?
COACH STOOPS: Eli is really coming into his own, I think getting better and better, getting more confident, continuing to find his voice as a leader and be that guy in the middle of that offense and he’s getting better. I love his work ethic and his attitude and he’s getting better all the time.
Q. Will’s legs were such a big part of last year’s game against Louisville. Looked like he was getting a little closer last week to his old self there.
COACH STOOPS: I think that’s a big piece of it. Definitely can’t go without being talked about. I think you look at Will, it’s the healthiest he’s been in a while. He felt better.
Just the threat -- and just his comfort level of just getting off schedule, you know what I mean? Buying a little time, scrambling. He scrambled on the 99-yard drive, pulled it down and just took that lane right away. Maybe he was hesitant before just because he wasn’t at 100 percent.
Just making those decisions is important and it’s a threat to a defense and that got that drive started. We go on for 99 yards, but that’s a piece of it. In the game we lost, the quarterback pulling it down and scrambling for a first down is frustrating. It hurts.
You look at Malik (Cunningham). And I don’t know if he’s going to play or not. Both of their quarterbacks are playing really well -- Brock (Domann) and Malik. But Malik always has that threat. It’s not only the designed runs, but it’s also just getting off schedule and creating plays, whether it be in the pass game or in the run game. But Will having that ability and showing it once or twice definitely helped us.
Q. When you have a couple of 10-win seasons, which didn’t happen around here a lot, and then you have the potential for an eight-win season, which you still do, to a lot of people that doesn’t look as great. Is that okay? Are you okay with that bar being where it is, or would you prefer a little more --
COACH STOOPS: Of course, I’m okay with that bar. I can handle the criticism and I want expectations high. It’s just like we asked that question earlier about how I handle preseason hype. I’m not hyping it up. I’m not going to talk bad about my team. Why would I do that?
I believe in them. I love them. I love the way they work and prepare and play for each other. I’m not going to -- I mean, again, if I say, yeah, I want to be 10-2, am I giving up on 2? That’s my philosophy. I don’t give up on any of them. I understand. I’m a big boy. I can handle people wanting more. I want more, too.
Believe me, I wish I could take some of that contract I just got and give it to my players and give it to the collectives that everybody -- because I certainly would. I wish they’d let me do that. I promise you, I’d donate back to the players.
Q. How much of a challenge is it preparing for two quarterbacks?
COACH STOOPS: Not much. Not much. We have to prepare for Malik. And they do the same with Brock, as far as some of the quarterback run game -- designed. Just with the zone-read keeps and things with the gun runs, you have to be prepared for.
Obviously, I think, Malik is a dynamic runner. We understand that. And that’s more off-schedule stuff -- pulling down, scrambling, pass-game lanes, all that kind of stuff. But preparing for both, we have to do that.
We have that built in all the time. We face enough of it where we have to be prepared for that.
Q. Jamarius Dinkins was involved in both of those plays at the 1-yard line. What have you seen of his development behind some of those guys?
COACH STOOPS: Definitely stepping up and getting better. As a D line in general, I love their energy. That’s one group where I have to give them credit because I think all of our team can learn from them even during the moments when we were talking about motivation and getting them ready and the grind of the season. Really have been pleased with the leadership and the growth in there.
The energy they bring to practice every day. They’re working hard to get better. It’s carrying right over to the field. And they’re setting a good example for a young guy like Deone (Walker). Deone’s playing good and he has good guys around him that are encouraging him and working hard.
And Stew (defensive line coach Anwar Stewart) is doing a good job coaching them. I really give a shout-out to those guys for their preparation, their work, and they’re getting better.
Do we want to be better? Yeah. We want pressure on the quarterback. We want it all. But they’re really working hard. They’re kind of setting the tone for a defensive unit that always has buy-in. And Deone had some, two QB pressures, I want to say. And the rest of those guys, they’re really playing hard.
Q. Zion Childress made open field tackles. Has he exceeded what you thought when you got him out of the portal, what you expected?
COACH STOOPS: We knew we were getting a good player. He had played a lot of snaps, we saw a lot of that on film. To step up and make an open-field tackle against Georgia and do that, you know that’s good. He really is stepping up and playing well.
Q. re: safety position with Childress and Jordan Lovett
COACH STOOPS: It gets thin because they get beat up, but we need them all when you play nickel and dime packages, and some of those guys are versatile, but it is good. And do have to recognize Jordan (Lovett), that you brought up his name as well. I really think Jordan Lovett is playing at a very good level and playing very fast and very confident for a youngster.
And, again, I talked about him earlier in the season, but he’s one of those guys, okay, situation happens, he’s thrown in and he’s a guy I’m really not worried about because I know he’s going to go. I know he’s going to go and he’s going to make some mistakes, but I know he’s going to go and play.
He’s really playing fast. And he’s learning with every opportunity. And I love that. That’s what happened, much like Trevin (Wallace). It’s not perfect; he’s going to make mistakes. But he’s a good player. Go play.
Sure, at times we really like that experience and want those guys back, but you also -- I’d love to have DeAndre (Square) back at any time, you know what I mean? But you also want the other guys to go play.
Q. You’ve been on the defensive side of the ball your entire career. You were a defensive coordinator before you got here. When you look at what Brad White does -- I know you work in concert with him -- how is it that he’s able to -- what are his strengths when it comes to putting together a defensive game plan for a team like Georgia or Ole Miss? You’ve got to change every week.
COACH STOOPS: That’s the challenging part of being a defensive coordinator, is you play so many different styles. You don’t always see that in the NFL but you see it in college. You see many different styles.
There’s a lot of things that we do that stay to the core of who we are, and then changeups are important. Even myself, when I was a defensive coordinator, it’s like you have your staple of who you were and then you get -- they may get comfortable, and then there’s subtle tweaks off of it.
But number one rule is not beat yourself, right? And we’re not always perfect at that, in any area. But certainly, defensively, if you get out of position with so many moving parts, you get hurt in a hurry.
We did a relatively good job once again this past week of limiting explosives (plays) and that’s important. But again, I think it was matching their physicality was the most important thing. Brad does a lot of good things, he’s very intelligent for a front guy. He has a great handle on the whole picture because secondary and how that fits and protection on them. When you pick your spots is extremely important. But he has a really good feel for the entire picture. He has good coaches and support around him that does a really good job.
Q. You obviously have still a bowl game to play. How important is it to play well in that last game, especially in a year like this where you haven’t reached your goals, you want to finish on a good note?
COACH STOOPS: There’s no doubt because we’ve had more downtimes than we’d like, and so it has been challenging. It is different. It’s a different era. It’s different times and things are changing fast with this landscape. For me, I think it’s very important to win the last game and it’s important to win the bowl game. It sets the tone for the whole offseason and the morale of your team. And so, it’s a big game. It’s a rivalry. I think Louisville is playing very, very good. I know they’re much more confident probably this year than they’ve been with the way they’re playing and the way in some of the games we’ve had. We have to be prepared and ready to go.
Q. After the game, Rich (Scangarello) was really emphasizing the importance of playing this complementary game plan. He said he never goes rogue on his play calls. Was wondering, how much influence, what’s the communication like between you and him, when it comes to making these play calls?
COACH STOOPS: Very little. People think I’m a defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator and special teams coach. But I’m the head coach, responsible for the structure of it all. And ultimately it’s on my shoulders to make sure it’s right.
But little to none, other than as we meet in the office and discuss previous games, things that are going good, things that are going bad, there’s only so long, with any area, if things aren’t right, then that’s where I’ll draw a line in the sand and say that’s enough of that. Like, do something else. But once the plan comes together, and during a game, very little.
The only time is just from a defensive perspective or 10 years of experience, if I feel like not letting a team off the hook. You know what I mean? That’s the only time I’ll step in. Like, again, Hayden Fry -- scratch where it itches. Learned that a long time ago, many, many years ago.
So if we’re doing some of that, and I mean I’m talking one, two times a game, we’re grinding, keep on pushing until they stop. That might be very few very few. So, no, it’s not my overall input in play calling. That’s his job. I just want to make sure, if things aren’t in place, then we review it and talk about it and watch it on film and come to a good conclusion together to make sure we’re putting our players in a position to be successful.
I felt like we had a good -- again, I’ve told the team this many times. You guys have heard me say it. It’s not coaching, not cliché, but if our preparation is right, if our plan is right -- that’s not to say -- we make mistakes with calls and things, it happens to everyone. But you’ve got to make sure you’re putting your players in a position to be successful.
And there are certainly times, in all sides, offense, defense, special teams, when we’ve fallen short, but there’s also times when we have done a good job. And I felt like as an overall plan we had a good plan this past week, not perfect. I could get criticized for that, but that’s okay.
I watched the film and I see it. There were some plays there. We left some plays on there. They were there. It might be pressure. It might be a tip, maybe a high pass. The third down to JuTahn (McClain), fractions off. The Y delay to (Jordan) Dingle through the middle was a big play. There were some plays there. The play-action off the fake toss, poker. We missed the throw.
There were some plays there. We left some points on the board, and that’s not pointing fingers at any position or anything, it’s just me making sure the overall structure is right.
Again, I don’t think we’re perfect at all. I know there’s areas where we’re all disappointed and certainly will be addressed at the appropriate time but I felt like we gave our kids a chance to win this past week.
Again, the special teams. That’s one heck of a Georgia team. We were plus 12 (in hidden yards) with making a bad -- even with the call on the kickoff return. We were still plus 12. But we missed another field goal.
We had an opportunity to be plus-20 against Georgia in hidden yards in the core four on special teams against the number one team in the country. That’s pretty solid. But we all know you can’t have a bad snap and hold and leaving three points on the board.
Q. With the coaches, what’s your philosophy on coaching the assistant coaches, is that something when you first came here as a new head coach you had to develop over the years?
COACH STOOPS: I think you always -- we are all held accountable. I have bosses. I have people that I have to answer to and they do as well. So, if things aren’t right, then we go through that and we go through every game and we watch the film and they have to be held accountable and make sure their position is playing right.
It’s my job with the football team, there’s times this year when, hey, again, I don’t need to beat a dead horse, but we’ve fallen short a couple times and that’s on me. I take pride in having Mitch not have to come over and see us (laughter), and not have to worry about it. Let me handle my backyard. I’ve always been that. As a position coach, I’m going to handle my backyard and as a coordinator, I’m going to handle it.
I’m a head coach now, obviously a lot more on your plate, but the coaches, everybody has a role. They have to do their role. And I’m not one of those guys that’s going to put my head in the sand and be oblivious to it. But I’m also not going to make knee-jerk decisions after all this time.
Q. You have recruits in play, you have 85 free agents, like you said, this big rivalry game. Where does the new contract fit into that in terms of stability going down the road?
COACH STOOPS: I think that definitely plays a role. I get asked all the time and I don’t ask things to get written. I don’t put anything out there. You know what I mean?
So, I constantly have to talk about that with recruits. Stability, as I say to them, show me any other programs that have been more stable. I’m committed to this place. I’ve shown it time and time again, and certainly I appreciate the commitment to myself and our staff.
So, I think it’s very important, and it helps, and I don’t like answering that to recruits.
Q. Have you had to answer it a lot?
COACH STOOPS: Of course.
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