Mark Stoops has the chance to become bowl-bound this week for the first time since he took over as coach at Kentucky in December of 2012. A win over Louisville on Saturday will seal the deal, giving the Wildcats six total wins — a far cry from the two they picked up in his first season at the helm of the program.
“(We’re) trying to play the best football that we can. I do talk about it just briefly and then we move on,” the coach said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference. “Our players know what’s out there and what’s at stake.”
But more so than just in terms of this particular season, perhaps Stoops himself has quite a bit at stake personally, in terms of his future as a head coach. Last month, Stoops was considered by some to be a potential candidate for the head coaching vacancy at Miami. Then, the Wildcats capped off a five-game losing streak with a loss to Vanderbilt — a game they were more than capable of winning — and Stoops began to fade out of the mix.
Stoops has said he’s happy in Lexington, Ky. and Kentucky’s athletic director doesn’t see him leaving, the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Kyle Tucker wrote. But for now, he’s left stuck between a rock and a hard place.
If Kentucky doesn’t become bowl eligible and continues to struggle in the coming years, Stoops likely won’t be a serious candidate for a bigger program. On the flip side, leaving Kentucky to build his name up elsewhere would mean leaving the highly respected SEC, as well as walking away from his $11-million base salary through five years.
So, Stoops remains … stuck.
An ideal situation in terms of him moving up on the coaching totem pole would be for his Wildcats to have a breakout season, win close to nine games and breeze into bowl eligibility. That would give him more wiggle room to potentially take over a more prominent program.
But at this moment, Stoops isn’t worried about the rumors or his future outside of Kentucky football. It’s about building up his program one day at a time and that starts again on Saturday against Louisville.
“What matters to me is how we go about our business starting on Monday, and I’ve seen really good preparation on Monday and Tuesday,” he said of practice this week. “I think there’s always a fine balance that you find to play energetic and passionate but also playing with composure and in a rivalry game. Also the importance of it without pressing too much.
“We’re building on some of the good things we’ve done the past couple weeks and (are) going out and trying to play with some confidence.”