Football is a rigorous and carnal sport, so I like my head football coaches fiery and passionate. When the chips are down, I want a leader who’s pacing the sideline, red-faced and emotional, motivating players, yelling at assistants, and arguing with refs. Show me someone calm and collected, reticent and reserved, tight lipped and poker faced, and I’ll show you a coach who looks as if he doesn’t give a damn. Give me Woody Hayes over Jim Tressel any day of the week. I’ll take an animated Pete Carroll over a stoic Bill Belichick just for the difference in energy level alone. Marvin Lewis in this day and age? No thanks! Enthusiasm, spirit, and zeal are what counts in my book.
For this reason, I like Mark Stoops. The fifth-year UK head football coach has always worn his emotions on his sleeve while pacing the sidelines of both Commonwealth Stadium and Kroger Field. He’s been known to give the officials an earful when he thinks his team’s been shafted. I’ve seen him toss a few headphones as the clock winds down and his team fails to execute. In the closing seconds of the Georgia loss last year, I thought seriously that he’d blow a gasket. When he stormed onto the field, shouting at the opposing sidelines during the bowl game against Georgia Tech, I fully expected fisticuffs to follow.
The fraternity of recent Wildcat football coaches hasn’t really been rife with outwardly demonstrative characters. Joker Phillips often appeared comatose on the sidelines and unfortunately his team usually reflected his demeanor. I don’t remember Guy Morriss being much more animated either. Bill Curry was just one notch above the walking dead while Hal Mumme was more flakey than exuberant. Rich Brooks and Jerry Claiborne would occasionally let loose, but in a grandfatherly kind of way. Fran Curci reminded me of a mafia don—too cool to mess with on the field of play.
One of the biggest knocks against the current UK head coach is his lack of sideline management during urgent situations. Immediately after the heart-wrenching defeat against Florida last week, Stoops took a boatload of criticism for the eye-popping mistakes that cost his team the game. Even for someone like me, who has never coached a game outside of my Fantasy football league, those boo-boos were inexcusable. Give the guy credit, though, he owned up to them immediately. “There’s things that we all can do better, starting with myself,” Stoops said during his weekly press conference Monday. “That (loss) hurt (and) that we have to take responsibility for, that we have to do better (and) it starts with me.”
The interesting thing is that as temperamental as Stoops appears on the sidelines, he’s completely different when he’s away from the football field. I’ve seen him at charity events and social functions and he’s as relaxed as my newly permed hair. You won’t see him stomping around the neighborhood kicking yard signs and scaring toddlers. When he’s around friends and family, he appears to be just another normal dude. Heck, I’ve even seen him shooting hoops with his sons and cuddling his puppy.
So when it came time for me to ask him directly about how his emotions play into his coaching style, here’s what he said. “It’s an emotional game,” he acknowledged. “That’s for sure. But there’s also a lot of poise that it takes to execute in this game. Our players are the same way. I want them to have great emotion, but they have to play with discipline. As a coach there’s always that fine line that you have to go with your gut instincts on what those players need at that moment. That’s the way I’ve always been and probably how I’ll always be. But, certainly, you have to have the poise and the execution. That’s what’s most important.”
Take some poise, execution, and discipline, and mix in a heaping helping of passion, emotion, and fire—and you’ve got the ingredients for a winning football coach. Now toss in a generous serving of humility and a big dose of accountability just for good measure. That’s Mark Stoops, and that’s why I like him.
Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/
Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang/