Kentucky football: Mark Stoops changes should signal more open offense

Kentucky Wildcats, Mark Stoops, Eddie Gran, Darrin Hinshaw
Kentucky Wildcats, Mark Stoops, Eddie Gran, Darrin Hinshaw /

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops makes coaching changes seeking more offense.

It has been widely speculated and something many Kentucky football fans have been wanting and Sunday that came to fruition as head coach Mark Stoops announced he was making staff changes. Those came in parting ways with offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Darrin Hinshaw.

Stoops didn’t want to comment after last night’s 41-18 win over South Carolina and rightfully so as he undoubtedly wanted the seniors to enjoy their big day.

But there have been grumblings and hints from players that something was just off. Did they want to continue down this course or did they want something to change?

Per Lexington’s ABC 36, Stoops had this to say about the change:

"“Eddie and I pondered about this for weeks and mutually agreed that this was the way to move forward. I appreciate Eddie for the true professional and friend that he is. I also want to recognize the success we had, going to a bowl game every year since his arrival, with a reflection of our shared vision to do what was necessary to win games.”"

Despite coming in from Cincinnati with a reputation for a wide-open offense that is something we just haven’t witnessed although some also wonder if Stoops is handcuffing the play calling. He is after all a defensive grind it out kind of coach.

Whatever the case the immediate search for a replacement is underway.

Gran came to Kentucky in 2016 with a 30-year coaching resume and he came into a program with some talented runners and a reputation for developing running backs.

The first year he had Stanley “Boom” Williams and Benny Snell in the backfield with each going for over 1,000 yards in a season and a combined over 3,000 yards, a first for the Cats program.

Snell would go on to a three-year career with 3,873 rushing yards and 48 TDs in 39 games. Only he and Hersel Walker accomplished running for at least 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns in their first three years in the SEC.

Last year was a tumultuous year as quarterbacks Sawyer Smith, Walker Wood, and Terry Wilson all were lost for the year and Lynn Bowden was moved from receiver to quarterback.

What we witnessed with Bowden was an amazing job by Gran and Hinshaw at getting the most out of the offense despite Bowden not being able to really throw the ball well.

Expectations of Wilson’s return just never fully materialized this year and seemed to have the injury weigh in the back of his mind.

Or was it the play calling where we never could hit receivers, or receivers catch balls thrown to them. Kentucky has wasted the talents of its tight ends most notably former player CJ Conrad and Justin Rigg this season. Tight ends should be able to get you those 5 to 7 yards catches to move the chains.

It took till last night in his finale for Rigg to get a career-high 72 yards receiving.

Hinshaw came to Kentucky with Gran and unfortunately, the woes seemed to be a package deal. In 2016 he also lost starting QB Drew Barker and has to develop Stephen Johnson.

He was a record-setting quarterback at the University of Central Florida and served as an assistant at Tennessee and Cincinnati.

So where does Kentucky go from here? According to Stoops, the search is wide-open.

Wide-open should carry over into the resume.

Kentucky needs to let loose no necessarily the Hal Mumme “Air Raid” days but becomes more than one-dimensional. Bubble screens and hand off to your backs just won’t allow the progression up the SEC East ladder. Stoops’s first two hires at OC were Shannon Dawson and Neal Brown both also “air raid” style of coaches.

The Cats have proven they can beat teams, Florida and Tennesee sometimes but must do it consistently. We have had Missouri and Vanderbilt as sure wins a year in and year out.

A few early names to consider but it’s wide open

Cale Gundy co-offensive coordinator for at Oklahoma who was hired by Bob Stoops in 1999 and is still there. He too has coached running backs like Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray, and CeeDee Lamb. But he does not call the plays since that is done by Lincoln Riley.

Tim Beck – maybe also look at another Big-12 connection and current NC State offensive coordinator. Beck coached at Nebraska, Texas, and has also been at Big 10’s Ohio State and now in the ACC. He has yet to be on the sidelines in the SEC.

Brian Hartline Lord knows Kentucky has receiving issues so why not bring in a proven winner. Harline is a former player and now wide receivers coach at Ohio State, and he played for the Miami Dolphins in the NFL. Would he leave for Kentucky or wait for an NFL job who knows but it’s worth a call by Stoops.

Willie Korn – sure this is maybe a stretch but if you don’t want recycled OC’s then if you watched Coastal Carolina take down BYU on Saturday you saw his offense.  He’s young but has all the things Cats fans are clamoring for in coaching the quarterbacks this year. He has also been the wide receivers coach and coordinator for the kickoff unit on special teams his first two years. Don’t forget we don’t have a special teams coach on staff.

There are so many options out there you just never know where Stoops will look. Remember Gran also coached the running backs so we need a coach there as well and Hinshaw the quarterbacks. A lot of pieces to consider in completing this puzzle.