Yesterday a minor firestorm started when several outlets reported that former Kentucky football head coach Fran Curci had gone on a rant regarding the struggles that the Wildcat football team faces on their quest to competing in the SEC. Curci should know, he was the last coach to win the SEC title in Lexington. That was 37 years ago. Curci was speaking with the 1st and Ten Club in Alabama and decided to let loose because he is “75 years old and it doesn’t make any difference.” Fresh off a visit to Commonwealth Stadium this week, Curci called Kentucky’s affinity for basketball “ridiculous” and noted it as a hindrance to football success.
Curci named basketball’s popularity and a lack of a recruiting base as the main obstacles facing Wildcat football. Curci tried to fight both in the mid-70’s winning behind the play of star quarterback Derrick Ramsey and recruiting his tail off. He may have wanted to hold off on the recruiting a bit, Kentucky ended up on NCAA probation midway through Curci’s tenure and lost some valuable momentum that winning had built.
Challenging basketball at UK will never be a popular opinion, but Curci knows more about the subject than any fan does. Even among those who are old enough to remember his coaching regime, it’s hard to doubt the man that went through it. It’s even tougher to doubt when one considers the stories of Bear Bryant’s watch and Rich Brooks getting so frustrated that he retired. Curci’s story about former Tennessee coach Johnny Majors encouraging recruits to visit UK so that they could compare the basketball dorms to the football facilities is quite telling. Recruiting is cutthroat and the big hardwood elephant is always in the room when Kentucky coaches are out recruiting.
Perhaps the most telling quote from the interview is this “People haven’t accepted yet that you have to have a commitment, a complete commitment, from the janitor to the school president and I’m not quite sure they’re ready to do that.” This in a time where Kentucky has shown increased vigor in supporting football and massive renovations to Commonwealth Stadium will be revealed this month. Many fans have found the idea of lacking support to be questionable. The reality is this, there has been an uptick in promotion and support since Mark Stoops was hired. The administration has said all of the right things and the state came through on the bonding issue. But none of that excuses a past where Kentucky football has always played second fiddle and toiled in the shadows.
What is happening is great, but it’s not enough. Not yet. The upgrades to Commonwealth will be good for UK football but the truth is that Kentucky is still behind most SEC schools in terms of football facilities and funding. Talent is behind but that appears to be improving. But Kentucky hasn’t bought in as a whole yet. One needs look no further than the student section at football games. A university where football is important fills more than 60% of it’s student tickets. Fans at such schools don’t roar louder for the basketball team being introduced between quarters than for their team taking an early lead over a Top Ten opponent. The list goes on.
People can complain about Curci airing these issues in public or daring to challenge roundball supremacy in the Bluegrass, but it needed to be said. Publically. People have tried and failed to motivate the University of Kentucky to get fully behind football for decades behind closed doors and you can all see the fruits of such labors. Despite a possible 2-10 finish to the 2013 season, there may never be a better shot at a bright future for UK football than now. A historic recruiting class, stadium renovations, a passionate coaching staff and a growing vocal part of the fanbase that loves football is could help drive this program to consistent heights. The key is not letting up now that the ball is rolling in the right direction. Start making plans for Spring Game 2014. Fran Curci wants you there.