Yesterday it was announced that Kentucky had extended Mark Stoops’ contract by two years and given him a raise. The deal having been done a few weeks ago, Mitch Barnhart cited excitement around the program and recruiting success as two major factors in the decision to give Stoops a little extra. And in those two areas one can’t really argue that Stoops has excelled since he was hired. On the field however, Stoops finished his first season 2-10, the same record that got Joker Phillips fired. Although the transition to a new offense and defense coupled with a first time head coach and a dearth of talent should likely be factored into the equation that led to 2-10.
Some will likely take issue with a coach being rewarding after one (losing) season, but the reality is that everyone at UK believes that this program is on the rise and that rise started with Mark Stoops walking into Nutter Field House to meet Kentucky boosters and media. The talent level on the roster has risen dramatically in just a year. Fan excitement is amazing considering the record. And he is basically John Calipari’s best work friend. The raise was coming in other words.
For those naysayers, look at it like this, the raise is for about $250k total over two years. Hardly breaking the bank. Stoops will still be the least paid coach in the SEC. Bobby Petrino will out-earn Stoops by a million dollars unless he earns another raise. The extension didn’t affect his buyout, so Kentucky could still cut ties with paying any more money.
In the meantime you have extended a good will gesture to the coach that seemingly has your football program pointed in the right direction in short order, even if the destination is still a ways off. You have stability for when opposing coaches try to negative recruit (and they will do it a lot) telling players that this staff won’t stay at Kentucky long. You have added to the positive buzz surrounding the program. It’s really a very low risk gesture.
Add that to the fact that Kentucky also extended an gave raises to each assistant on Stoops’ staff and you see that Athletic Director Barnhart is pleased with his hire and the direction of the football program. He is looking to establish something most great football programs have and Kentucky has long lacked: continuity. Each member of this staff is valuable and plays their role in recruiting and developing talent. Neal Brown’s offense stalled at times without a pure passer but he hasn’t forgotten how to call plays. DJ Eliot’s defense biggest fault may have been depth last season, as they would have great early efforts that often faded as the opposing teams dominating time of possession. All of the assistants are great on the recruiting trail. Mitch Barnhart, after a poor stretch of football support, seems to be on to something and undoubtedly made the right hire.