JULIA R. GOAD
November 27, 2012
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky has hired Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops as the Wildcats’ football coach.
Stoops replaces Joker Phillips, who was fired on Nov. 4. Phillips went 13-24 in three seasons at Kentucky and the Wildcats were 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference this year.
Kentucky made the announcement on Tuesday and the 45-year-old Stoops will be introduced here at a news conference on Sunday. No. 13 Florida State (10-2) plays Georgia Tech Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Stoops’ hiring concludes a quicker-than-expected coaching search by the university. After Saturday’s season-ending loss at Tennessee, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said he had no timetable to find a replacement for Phillips.
But it didn’t take long for Barnhart and the Wildcats to make a move. The decision makes Stoops a head coach for the first time in his career.
“I want to thank (Kentucky) President Eli Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity,” Stoops said in a statement. “I promise the faithful of the Big Blue Nation I will be focused and driven to create a positive, winning atmosphere for the program and an environment that all of Kentucky can be proud of.”
Stoops becomes the third brother in college football’s famed coaching family to lead his own program. Older brother Bob Stoops is the head coach at Oklahoma and Mike Stoops is the Sooners’ defensive coordinator. Before joining the Oklahoma staff this year, Mike was the head coach at Arizona.
Mark Stoops has been the Seminoles’ defensive coordinator the past three seasons. Florida State’s defense was ranked 108th when he took over and he has turned the Seminoles into one of the nation’s top defensive teams.
The Seminoles have the nation’s second-ranked defense, giving up 249.4 yards per game. Kentucky allowed 391 yards a contest this season.
“Our desire to get better defensively and continue to expand our recruiting base helped guide us to Mark,” Barnhart said. “He comes from a coaching family and has been in big games and big atmospheres throughout his career.”
Now Stoops’ challenge will be making Kentucky competitive in the conference that has won the last six BCS national championships.
The Wildcats are coming off their third straight losing season and second without a bowl appearance. Seven of their eight conference losses this season were by margins of at least two touchdowns, including a 40-0 blowout at home to Vanderbilt on Nov. 3 and a 37-17 season-ending loss at Tennessee on Saturday.
Stoops has a proven track record of rebuilding defenses, which represents a philosophical shift from the offense-minded Phillips.
Before joining Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher’s staff, Stoops resurrected an Arizona defense with similar issues that Kentucky experienced. Arizona was 109th in total defense before his arrival; the defense was ranked in the top 25 in his final two seasons and Arizona earned consecutive bowl bids.
Stoops leaves a Florida State program poised to claim a BCS bowl bid if it wins the ACC championship on Saturday. The Seminoles enter the ACC title game with the nation’s seventh-ranked scoring defense, allowing 15.1 points per game.
“I am extremely happy for Mark and his family,” Fisher said in a statement. “He has done a tremendous job for us here as a defensive coordinator and he is a vital part of our staff. … He has done a super job for us and this opportunity is well deserved.
“He is very well prepared and I think he will do one heck of a job for the University of Kentucky.”