IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops met with the media on Friday in Nashville to preview Saturday’s game against his college alma mater in the Music City Bowl.
Stoops played defensive back at Iowa under Hayden Fry in the late 1980s. His two older brothers, Bob Stoops and Mike Stoops, were also Iowa defensive backs under Fry.
Here is a transcript from Mark Stoops’s press conference:
THE MODERATOR: Coach Stoops, if you wouldn’t mind joining us up onstage. We’ll hear a few comments from Coach Stoops, then we’ll open it up for questions from the media.
MARK STOOPS: Thank you very much. I’d first like to recognize Scott Ramsey. Thank you so much. The folks from TransPerfect, it’s been an amazing week. I really appreciate our players, the work that they’ve done, the relationship that we’ve had with the Music City Bowl for some time. It’s been a lot of fun. Our players have worked extremely hard this season. There’s always ups, there’s downs. Our players have persevered, fought and worked through that. I’d also like to acknowledge the Hawkeyes. Happens to be my alma mater. I have such great respect for Kirk Ferentz, the complete Hawkeye program. It’s a special place to myself being that I played there, my brothers played there. We have a long history with the Hawkeyes, and it will be an honor to go compete with them tomorrow. You know what kind of game it’s going to be: a tough, physical game once again. It’s going to be a close game. I think it will be a game that people really enjoy watching. I think there’s been a lot of discussion, a lot of things, there’s a lot of change in college football right now, but I can promise you, with these two teams, the pride that we have within our institutions, that we are looking forward to this opportunity, looking forward to competing, and looking forward to representing our places in representing the Music City Bowl, the long history that they have in college football and in the bowl season. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s been a great experience. Again, I think our players have handled themselves very well. We had good preparation back in Lexington prior to our little break. Got here. Guys have been doing a good job. We’re looking forward to it. With that I’ll open it up for questions.
QUESTION. I’m going to ask you more of a broad question than anything specific. With so much change in the last couple of years in college football, is there anything that really needs to be centered on or focused on in the next 6 to 12 months that you think needs to help stabilize what’s going on, otherwise it could be a runaway train?
MARK STOOPS: I believe it’s already a runaway train. I’m not sure I have the time or this is the platform to answer all those questions. I don’t think I have all the answers. I think there’s a lot of people that have worked really hard. We’re trying to make it better for our student-athletes. We’re trying to improve the game, help in many ways. But it’s in a different place. There’s no question. Right now for me, the best way to do it is just to adapt. It is what it is. We didn’t make these rules, but we better be as good as we can at them. I think the leadership of college football needs to get together and we need to find some solutions, some guardrails on some things. There’s a lot to unpack right there. There’s a lot to work through. It’s gotten pretty far away from us at this point. Hopefully we can reel it back in at some point.
Q. What do you want to see from your quarterbacks tomorrow? Is it important to keep the offense wide open just to let them show what they can do?
MARK STOOPS: Well, yeah, it’s very important. I mean, the first thing that you have to look for is just command, the guys that can operate the offense, move the football. It’s going to be a great challenge with the Hawkeyes. They do a great job defensively. I think you’re going to hear from Brad White, our defensive coordinator, who I think the world of, one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. Certainly you could look at Iowa, Phil Parker, the job he’s done, how good they are defensively. Two of the best defensive coaches in college football, in my opinion. It will be a challenge, but our quarterbacks have looked good. Both of us, we’re going to play a quarterback that’s inexperienced. We’ll see where it goes. I think both of us will tell you it’s very important to play well around them. We have some guys with experience that have played that need to step up and do the best job that they can to help the quarterback out.
Q. A lot is predicated on wins and losses. To hear your captains and seniors talk about this game meaning something to them, setting the tone for the next group, the next team. How much does that mean to hear, especially with the way things are with so many players sitting out games?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think it means a great deal to us, to see guys that are working extremely hard, that are injured. Guys like Jaquez, guys that have good reason to sit out but choose to play. It says a lot about them individually. It says a lot about our culture, our team, what we’re striving to do. As I mentioned, I think Coach Ferentz could come up here, any coach in the country, there’s a lot of close calls, what-ifs. Like to maybe have a few plays over, games, certain opportunities. But that’s life. That’s college, that’s football. I’m proud of the way our team persevered and pushed through and finished strong. We want to continue that. We won four bowl games in a row. That’s not easy. It will be a great challenge. I was thinking about that the other day, when you play a team like Iowa, it’s hard to beat ’em once, then you go back-to-back years and you know what a challenge that will be
Q. How much did it mean to you last year when you got the opportunity to coach on a sideline opposite of a place that has a special place in your heart? What will it mean to you to be able to do that one more time?
MARK STOOPS: I think it was definitely a little different last year for me. I acknowledged that, I think, going into it and playing them. It’s been a while as a head coach, playing the Hawks. It’s seeing those colors when you walk out there, definitely was different. I think at this point it’s different now. Let’s play the game. I know what a great challenge it is. Really more businesslike this year and wanting to prepare the team, put them in a good position to win. Q. Before this press conference started, you rolled out a name, image and likeness call to action, if you will.
MARK STOOPS: I did? Q. On your social media.
MARK STOOPS: News to me (smiling).
Q. What are the kind of the latest on y’all’s efforts? How involved can you be in it? Organizationally, are things where they kind of need to be for you to succeed in that landscape?
MARK STOOPS: I did review the video that you were talking about a day or two ago. Wasn’t sure when they were releasing it. Yeah, we’re in a good position. I think our administration has worked really hard with us to get ourselves in a position where we can be successful, I think, as I’ve mentioned before, so the foundation, the roots are in place. I think any coach that sits up here would say you need — I mean, it’s just the way it is, you need money in the collective. There’s no denying that. Everybody in our organization wants to support that collective, help our players. Again, we didn’t create those rules. Neither did the Hawks. It’s part of a much broader system that is in place right now that we all have to adapt and be able to adjust and be successful in that area. So, we need the money (smiling).
Q. You’ve had a strong tight end room all year. Now for various reasons you don’t. What kind of challenge does that present?
MARK STOOPS: It will be different. There’s guys that will step up. It will be nice to see Isaiah out there. We still have both Dingle brothers that have been very successful all year. We’ll have the pieces in place to execute.
Q. Obviously you played a lot of younger players throughout the season. How much have some of these guys viewed this almost like an audition to prove what they’re capable of doing?
MARK STOOPS: Once again, I think it’s important. It will be interesting to see. As you see, we played a lot of young guys, as you know. That gets difficult through the entire season. At the end there’s some people just kind of hanging on, whether it’s physically, mentally. Now we get a little break, a chance to have some time off, get their legs underneath them, decompress a little bit physically and mentally, then get back at it and refocus, get ready to have a really big game. Those players that have some experience through this year, I’d like to see them have a big game. Then there’s some others that have maybe redshirted throughout the year. With the attrition that comes with some of the bowl games for certain reasons, we’ve had players that are going through surgeries, different reasons that aren’t here. Happens to everybody. So, therefore , t puts some of your players in a position to maybe get on the field that haven’t had that opportunity throughout the year. Jordan Anthony is a guys that jumps out at you with great speed. Brandon White, another player that’s redshirted that may have some opportunities to create some plays. Hopefully they’ll do some things. There will be some others as well. Nik Hall is another one, Grant Bingham, guys you haven’t seen much, but you could see them in this game.
Q. The lead-up to the bowl game, what you have seen from your offensive line? How important is the battle in the trenches against a team like Iowa?
MARK STOOPS: Definitely something that, no question, will be a point of emphasis for us because you know how stout, you know how physical Iowa is. This year maybe we hadn’t been as physical or as consistent as we’ve been in the last three, four, five years. It’s an area where we must step up. We have to. We have to play well in that area or it won’t lead to too much success, so we better play good in the trenches. I have confidence in our guys. I feel like we’re healthy. They’ve worked hard. We’ve tried to make sure we put them in a position to be successful, simplify some things, make sure we don’t beat ourselves, number one. When you’re playing a team like this, expect somewhat of a defensive game, you better be making sure you’re putting your guys in a position, not going backwards in turnovers and sacks and things of that nature.”