HOOVER, Ala. – Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops came to his fourth SEC Media Days armed with a message:
“I’m proud of the culture change,” he said. “It’s easy to change the climate within a program and I think it’s difficult to change a culture. A culture is very, very deep rooted and it has a long history.”
For the Wildcats, who’ve won just 30 percent of their SEC games all-time, that culture is losing. Stoops took over the program after a 2-10 season under Joker Phillips in 2012 and has gone 5-7 each of the last two years.
“We’re creating a positive winning culture within our program. The results will happen. I’m confident,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it, that our administration, our fans, our players, our coaches, everybody is on the same page to win and to do the things are necessary.”
About those fans: They’re frustrated after UK started 5-1 in 2014 and 4-1 last fall, and still failed to reach the program’s first bowl game since 2010 due to late-season slides.
“We’ve been close. We’re tired of being close,” Stoops said, but not before asking for some understanding about the speed bumps. “If anybody thought that you would walk into the Kentucky job three years ago and hit a steady climb, you’re crazy. There’s going to be ups and there’s going to be downs. The downs are very difficult. Our margin for error is very small and we can’t lose opportunities.
“That’s my job. I accept that, I embrace that, I don’t run from that, and we’re going to hit that head on.”
A few more highlights from Stoops’ time at SEC Media Days:
* With Patrick Towles transferring to Boston College and redshirt sophomore Drew Barker seizing the starting job this spring, Stoops is finally not having to discuss a heated quarterback competition in Hoover.
“I feel very confident about that,” the coach said. “He’ll get the keys to the car and I’m excited to watch him go, because I know it’s his time. … He’s really taken a giant step away from the field – and on the field. I believe he has the ability right now to be a leader without having to go out there and bang his chest and be a rah-rah guy.”
* Former 5-star recruit Matt Elam, now firmly in the starting lineup, is looking for a breakout junior season at nose guard. He’s battled weight for years now and, while still listed at 6-foot-7, 360 pounds (same as last year), Elam is apparently making progress.
“I don’t want to jinx him right now and tell you any weights or anything like that, but he’s looking a lot better and he’s been very serious in approaching that in the right way,” Stoops said. “He is a great kid. He wants to do well. He wants to play at a high level, I think he’s very capable of playing at a high level. We all have imperfections and he’s working extremely hard to get his under control and play the very best he can.”
Elam isn’t fighting the battle of the belt alone.
“We’ve worked hard together with a solid plan to help Matt really get in great shape,” Stoops said. “The kid works out and does everything right in our facility. He can go through every workout and he’s explosive, he runs well, he does a lot of good workouts, but he has to manage his weight to play at a high level. We’ve worked hard at that.”
* Kentucky is now “just days away from moving into the (new $45 million) football training facility,” Stoops said. “That’ll be a game-changer for us.” The Cats broke in a $126 million stadium renovation last fall and have now completely transformed their football complex.
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