Naivar parts ways with UK

Less than a few hours after Mark Stoops seemingly found his new offensive coordinator, the Kentucky head coach has to start a new search for a special teams coordinator.

On Thursday, UK officials confirmed that Craig Naivar is leaving Stoops’ staff and heading to Houston.

In an interview with the Cats’ Pause, Naivar said he was excited about the direction the program is going under Stoops but wanted to get back to Texas, a place where he’s coached most of his life, working as Texas State’s defensive coordinator for his three seasons before moving to Lexington.

“To get back in an area that I’m really, really familiar with can help recruiting wise and all that stuff, it was just an opportunity I couldn’t say no to,” the special teams coordinator and safeties coach told the Cats’ Pause.

Naivar was the primary recruiter on North Carolina defensive end Kengera Daniel and Georgia defensive end Tyrone Riley, both three-star recruits. Daniel signed his financial aid papers with UK on Wednesday and will enroll early.

Stoops will now have to hire his third special teams coordinator in as many seasons. His first special teams coordinator, Bradley Dale Peveto, left UK after one season to take the same job at Louisiana State.

Whoever gets the job will inherit an All-Southeastern Conference kicker in Austin MacGinnis, a veteran punter in Landon Foster and Stanley “Boom” Williams, recently named a Freshman All-American returner by the Sporting News.

 

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2015 tickets on sale to general public today

As of this morning, tickets for the 2015 Kentucky football season are now on sale to the general public at TheNewCWS.com.

Next season will be the first played at the newly renovated Commonwealth Stadium on newly installed turf and it will be the third season of the Mark Stoops era.

Fans who did not have season tickets last season, should click on the button that says “Buy New Season Tickets,” which will have an interactive tool to help them select the best available seats. The page includes 360-degree views from every section and shows nearby amenities.

Fans purchasing new season tickets will be eligible for a monthly payment plan with the first installment due upon sign-up. Online payment can be made using a credit or debit card. Fans may also order tickets over the phone by calling (800) 928-2287 or by visiting the ticket office in the Joe Craft Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Season ticket holders who have not yet selected seats can still do so by calling the ticket office at (800) 928-2287. Season ticket holders who have already reserved tickets for 2015 can also reserve additional season tickets by calling the ticket office. For more information about what’s next for current ticket holders, visit TheNewCWS.com.

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Where UK, SEC schools rank in assistant salaries

The USA Today Coaches’ head coaching salary database is always an interesting read, as is the assistant coach database, which was posted on Wednesday.

The data, which is compiled from contracts, shows the combined salary of Kentucky’s assistant coaching staff is 30th overall nationally at $2.72 million, which is good enough for 11th in the Southeastern Conference.

UK’s salary totals ranked ahead of only Mississippi State ($2.68 million) and Mississippi ($2.6 million). As a private school, Vanderbilt is not required to release its contract information.

The nation’s top three assistant coaching salary pools are from the SEC, with Louisiana State leading the way ($5.5 million), Alabama ($5.21 million) and Auburn ($4.65 million).

The staff at Louisville ranks 19th overall nationally, making $3.23 million, which is just behind the staff at Florida and just ahead of the staff at Arkansas.

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Timmons has surgery to remove bone spur

Ryan Timmons, Kentucky’s leading receiver this season, tweeted that he had ankle surgery on Tuesday. He later took the tweet down.

UK officials confirmed that the sophomore from Franklin County had surgery to remove a bone spur in his left ankle and that he should be fine.

Timmons played in all 12 games with eight starts and had 45 catches for 536 yards and two touchdowns. He did not have a catch in the Louisville game, but was targeted once on a 50-plus yard play that likely would’ve been a touchdown. The ball sailed up and over his head.

 

 

 

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Leaving UK ‘bittersweet’ for Neal Brown

Neal Brown’s voice cracks a little bit as he talks about leaving Kentucky again.

“I love Kentucky,” he says quietly. “I love the University of Kentucky.”

But the UK offensive coordinator has dreamed of being a head coach for the better part of his adult life and an offer from Troy was too good to pass up.

There are only roughly 120 Division I head coaching jobs in the country and when the call came from a place where Brown worked and grew as a coach for four seasons, he couldn’t say no, even though it means saying goodbye to a program he loves.

“It’s so bittersweet because of this place,” Brown told the Herald-Leader on Sunday before he boarded a plane for Alabama. “There’s unfinished business here.

“But I’m excited about the opportunity. My professional goal is to be a head coach in Division I and I’m very excited, excited it’s going to happen at Troy.”

He believes he can win again at Troy, where he will replace head coach Larry Blakeney, who is retiring after 24 seasons. The Trojans finished 3-9 this season. While a coach and coordinator there, Brown was a part of four straight Sun Belt Conference championships and three bowl invitations.

“They’ve hit a skid the last few years, but they play in a conference where they should and can be very competitive,” said Brown, 34.

It’s been a whirlwind few days for the former Kentucky and Boyle County player.

On Saturday, Brown was coaching the Cats in their final game of a 5-7 season, a 44-40 losing effort at Louisville. Late in the game, news started to leak out that he had been hired as the Trojans’ next head coach.

By Saturday night, everything was finalized and he made plans to board a plane on Sunday afternoon with his wife Brooke and their two daughters Adalyn and Anslee.

When Brown left Texas Tech to become offensive coordinator at Kentucky under Mark Stoops, he thought he was ready to be a head coach then.

“I had some opportunities that just didn’t work out,” he said.

He’s glad they didn’t.

If they had, he wouldn’t have had a chance to work for and with Stoops at Kentucky.

“I’ve been really grateful the past two years getting to sit and watch Mark, a first-time head coach,” Brown said. “Watch him grow, watch how he’s handled the media, watched how he’s handled the fund raising, how he’s gone about recruiting, how he’s delegated. … I’m much better prepared now than I was two years ago to be a head coach.”

Brown called Stoops “a good friend who has been great through this whole Troy process.”

In a statement from UK on Sunday afternoon, Stoops said he was excited for Brown.

“I am very happy for Neal to earn a head coaching job and believe Troy has made an outstanding hire,” Stoops said. “Congratulations to Neal and his family and I appreciate his hard work at Kentucky.”

 ‘A really good foundation’

In Brown’s two-year tenure as offensive coordinator, the Cats have gone 7-17, but the offensive coordinator thinks he is leaving the program on a solid footing.

“There’s a really good foundation,” Brown said. “We’ve taken our lumps and played a lot of young kids, the last two years and I really feel like that will pay off next year and the year after.”

A majority of Brown’s staff at Kentucky coached under him at previous stops, including wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord and running backs coach Chad Scott, who both came with Brown from Texas Tech. Offensive line coach John Schlarman was with him at Troy.

It sounds unlikely that any of those coaches will follow him to Troy, which likely would mean a step down in pay.

Brown has discussed his successor a little bit with Stoops and he expects the UK head coach will take his time to get the best fit, likely an outside hire.

“The thing about Mark is he has a lot of contacts, he knows a lot of people in the business,” Brown said. “It’s an attractive job. It’s an SEC coordinator job; there are only 14 of them. We’ve had a lot of success recruiting and a lot of young talent.

“We’ve taken our lumps the last few years, but there’s a lot of young talent here that can be successful, with a lot of football already under their belts. The new facilities are going to be attractive as well. This is a job that will get a lot of good offensive coaches interested.”

Growing the program

A fixture on social media, once joking with reporters that he reads their tweets to fall asleep at night, Brown has seen various rumors and reports that there was friction between Stoops, a defensive guy by trade, and the offensive coordinator.

Brown said that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I don’t know how that started, but Mark has been nothing but great to me and he has let us do our job,” Brown said. “He understands. He was very understanding of what our limitations were.”

Those limitations included playing a lot of young players in key positions.

“We’ve had to play true freshmen or true sophomores or red-shirt freshmen in really vital roles, and it’s hard, and the season wears on them for sure,” he said.

Brown heard and read the fan groans about his play calling, about how he was running a phony Air Raid, about how this offense was nothing like what he was known for at Texas Tech, which had one of the highest octane offenses in the country.

It was a different set of circumstances with a different set of players, Brown said on Sunday.

“We did what we needed to do to be competitive,” he said of his time at Kentucky. “I think eventually a year or two down the road, we could’ve been a throw-first team, but we didn’t have the pieces of the puzzle that we needed to do that week in and week out.”

Brown firmly believes that Stoops will continue to grow the program and turn it back into a yearly bowl contender, maybe even more. He’s still a little bit sad that he’ll have to watch that growth from somewhere else.

“Mark’s been great,” Brown said. “I really believe in the process that he’s installed here. He’s done a great job evaluating talent; he’s done a great job getting buy-in from the kids; he’s done a great job getting the facilities that Kentucky needs to be successful.”

 

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Reports: Neal Brown headed for Troy

Neal Brown returned home to Kentucky, but it likely will be a short stay.

The Cats’ offensive coordinator has accepted the head coaching position at Troy and will be named as early as Monday, the Herald-Leader has confirmed.

One source is reporting the deal, which Brown would not confirm, as being for five years and worth $3.5 million.

When asked directly if he’d deny the report, Brown, 34, said: “No, I just said I’m not speaking about it. It’s not my place. Today’s about these kids and the progress we made and how close we were.”

Also, when asked if this is his last game at Kentucky, Brown said: “I think it’s a little too early. I don’t want to speak on Troy’s search. I’ll say this: I love Kentucky. I’m proud of those kids in there. I’m proud to have the opportunity to coach in this game.”

Brown, who grew up in and played for Kentucky, coached his last game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, falling in a thriller 44-40. He has been at UK for two seasons under Mark Stoops.

He was an assistant coach and coordinator at Troy for four seasons, helping the Trojans win at least a share of four straight Sun Belt Conference championships and earn three bowl invitations.

While at Troy, Brown’s offense was third in the nation in total offense, fourth in passing offense and 16th in scoring offense.

He left Troy and was offensive coordinator for three seasons at Texas Tech before accepting the Kentucky job.

If the reports are true, Brown will replace retiring coach Larry Blakeney, whom he worked under as an assistant.

When asked about the reports, UK’s Stoops said he wouldn’t comment on Troy’s search, but that he thought questions would be answered in the next day or so.

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What are Kentucky players thankful for?

Brought on by offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s comment that he’s “thankful for another opportunity. We’re glad we’re not going to end it on the (Tennessee) game,” several of his offensive players were asked the question: What are you thankful for?

Here are some select responses:

  • Wide receiver Javess Blue: “I’m thankful for a year here, strength, health, family, the whole BBN (Big Blue Nation). It’s hard being away from home, but I accept it and everyone here accepts me. It’s like I never left home.”
  • Quarterback Patrick Towles: “I’m thankful for my offensive line. I’m thankful for my family, thankful for my teammates, my God. This team hopefully is going to be thankful for a sixth win and a bowl berth here come Sunday.”
  • Wide receiver Demarco Robinson: “I’m just thankful to have the opportunity to go out and participate in this rivalry that could possibly send us to a bowl game. And after this, hopefully I’ll be thankful for winning this rivalry and going to a bowl game.”
  • Offensive lineman Jordan Swindle: “All that God’s blessed me with. I can’t even put into words how much I’m blessed. My parents, my girlfriend, my family, everything like that. It’s awesome.”
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Cats’ Thanksgiving plans

Kentucky will have an early practice on Thursday in preparation for its big rivalry game at Louisville, followed by a team Thanksgiving feast.

“Then they’ll have the evening if they’re close by to be able to go home and see some family or go with some friends,” Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said on Wednesday.

He also told the players his house was a Thanksgiving option for them as well, but that suggestion may put him in the dog house with Chantel Stoops.

“We’re going to have a dinner right afterwards here for the whole group and then I told them my house was open,” he said. “So I may get anywhere from two to 100, who knows?”

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Stoops, Eliot discuss Louisville

MARK STOOPS
“So far so good. It’s been a good week of practice so far. The guys are very energetic, worked hard, enthusiastic, so it’s been good. It’s been good. Excited about the opportunity here this week.”

On today’s rivalry history: “We just watched a few clips from years past, so it was good. It was fun just to get updated on a few things.”

On if they get fired up: “I hope so. I don’t know. It’s good just to educate them and change it up a bit. They get tired of listening to me a bit, I think.”

On value of educating on rivalry: “I just, it’s a rivalry. We want to embrace that rivalry. We want kids to be a part of that and know when they come play at Kentucky that Louisville is a big game for us.”

On what he’s learned about rivalry: “It’s a rivalry. It’s not much different from place to place. Teams don’t like each other and the state’s divided and that’s the way it is, but it’s like that a lot of places.”

On holiday plans for team: “The guys, we’ll have a practice (on Thanksgiving). We’ll go earlier tomorrow and then we’ll have Thanksgiving dinner together and then they’ll have the evening if they’re close by to be able to go home and see some family or go with some friends.”

On losing Neal Brown potentially: “We have good coaches, so you know, I’d hate to lose any of the guys. I think we have a good staff that work extremely hard. But with that, you’d rather have people coming after them for moving on then any other reason. So we’ll see what happens.”

On if players will come to his house for Thanksgiving: “I don’t know. That’s the problem with these guys. We’re going to have a dinner right afterwards here for the whole group and then I told them my house was open. So I may get anywhere from two to 100, who knows?” I don’t know.”

On if Troy asked for permission to talk to Neal Brown: “I’d rather not comment on any of that on what their search is, that wouldn’t be right to them.”

On Reggie Bonnafon: “Well, obviously playing very mature for a freshman. Like I said earlier in the week, I think he’s poised. I think he’s making good decisions. I think they do a nice job of protecting him, a young guy, because they have good players around him. But when he needs to make a play, he’s made them. He’s made them through drop-back passing, through boots and play action. He’s made them by making good decisions, pulling it down and running when he has to.”

On using “every tool in the tool box” to try to stop Bonnafon: “Well, yeah. We’ve got to improve and play better than we’ve been and play much better on third down as well.”

On if they’ve been aggressive enough on defense the last few games: “We’ve tried everything in the weeks, all season. We’ve tried everything from pressures, to zero pressures to zone blitzes to regular zone, so we’ve tried it all.”

On if he’s settled on something: “I think you’ve got to constantly mix it up. You look at them, they do a really nice job. They’ve run it a bunch on third down and had great success. They hurt Notre Dame running the ball on third and long. So that’s keeping you off balance. We’re all trying to do that, both sides, us with pressuring and playing zone, them with running and screens and also drop-back pass, so it’s about execution and it’s about making plays. If you just want to look back to the last game, we had guys in position to make plays. Whether he escapes a sack or you’re rolled right up into a coverage and they still convert it on you, it comes down to making plays.”

On the staff pitching this to players as a ‘playoff’ game: “I haven’t said anything about a playoff, but I said it’s pretty self-explanatory: If we win, we’re going to play another game. I’ve told them: They deserve it. They’ve worked hard. They’ve done a lot of good things and worked hard for a solid year leading up into this season and did some good things. So I’d like the opportunity for them.”

On how much fundamental improvement can be made in a late-season bye: “It’s about point of emphasis and having time to emphasize things and doing some things better. So I think you can always do that.”

On if he saw anything, during self-scouting last week, that could be done better schematically on special teams: “Well, once again, we all – you’ve heard me talk about it all year – we all take responsibility for the bad that’s happened, starting with myself to assistant coaches, on down to the players. So we always look at things and see what we can do better.”

On not many interceptions lately: “Again, it’s a combination of teams being smart, protecting the football, playing with a lead, and we’ve got to do a better job of creating turnovers.”

D.J. ELIOT
On the key to containing Reggie Bonnafon: “Well, you got to keep him in the pocket on pass plays. That’s the thing is, you get guys covered and you got a mobile quarterback and all of the sudden he pulls it down and takes off running. Now they got a new set of downs. On pass plays, you have to keep a mobile quarterback in the pocket, and that’s always a challenge.”

On if playing Missouri’s QB is a comparable situation: “Yeah. It’s comparable because they’re both athletic guys, guys that make a lot of plays with their feet, not just with their arm. That’s always a challenge, and we’ve got that one this week.”

On how DeVante Parker compares to some of the receivers they’ve seen: “He’s really good. Fortunately for us in this league, we see a lot of good receivers and big receivers. But he’ll be one of the best that we’ll go against. He’s got size, he’s got speed, he’s got great hands, he gets open. So it’ll be quite a challenge.”

On if Parker reminds him of anyone else they’ve faced: “Well, we’ve played — like I said, in this league, I could name a handful of guys. He’s got his own skill set that a lot of people don’t have in the fact that he’s not only big but he’s got speed too. He’s got speed and he’s a veteran player.”

On Louisville going with an unbalanced line against Notre Dame and how to defend against that: “The first part on those kind of things when they’re unusual is, you have to get lined up. They get people where they’re not used to seeing something and they don’t get lined up. So that’s the first step. And then on any heavy set, you’ve got to be physical and stout in the run game. You can’t give them those extra yards that they get in those type of sets.”

On if they’ve been getting enough pressure on defense the past few games: “We’ve gotten pressure, but we haven’t always gotten sacks. There was a handful of situations in the last game where the defensive linemen won their one-on-one with the offensive lineman and then the quarterback made them miss. So the emphasis for us has been more on getting that guy on the ground than it has been on our pass rush.”

On not letting the pass rush get deeper than the quarterback: “That’s something that you harp on as a pass rusher with everybody that you play. But that’s obviously critical with this guy because once you get behind him, then you’re playing with 10 guys. So they’ve got to be aware of their pass rush lane and they got to be aware of where the quarterback sets up and make sure they turn the corner powering so they don’t get pushed by.”

On if there are different approaches to U of L’s different running backs: “Well, they’re all big, which, for us fortunately in this league we’ve had our opportunity to play against backs like that. I don’t see much of a difference in the style. I don’t see much of a difference in the game plan. So we’re gonna have to play good against all of them.”

On Stoops stressing the importance of being physical and how much of that is a mindset: “Well, physical mindset, that’s the first part. There were times earlier in the season I thought we had a physical mindset and went out and played physical. And then, this league is — like Coach Stoops said — such a physical league that you’ve got to make sure that you’re ready to play every week, not only physically but mentally.”

On if he’s learned anything about the UK-U of L rivalry as the coaches have educated the players: “One thing that I’ve learned is, this is as big a rivalry as anywhere I’ve been. The players want to win, the fans want to win. It’s something that is special and it’s something that you really look forward to, to get an in-state rival.”

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Report: Brown interviewed for Troy job

One report on footballscoop.com is saying that Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown interviewed at Troy for the soon to be vacant head coaching job there and that the Trojans likely will name their head coach as early as Sunday.

UK Coach Mark Stoops, who said he’d “rather not comment on any of that or what their search is,” when asked if Troy sought permission to speak to Brown.

Brown, a Kentucky native, was an assistant coach and coordinator at Troy for four seasons, helping the Trojans win at least a share of four straight Sun Belt conference championships and three bowl invites.

While at Troy, Brown’s offense was third in the nation in total offense, fourth in passing offense and 16th in scoring offense.

When asked about potentially losing Brown, Stoops said: “We have good coaches, so you know, I’d hate to lose any of the guys. I think we have a good staff that work extremely hard.

“But with that, you’d rather have people coming after them for moving on then any other reason. So we’ll see what happens.”

The footballscoop.com report discussed several candidates to replace Larry Blakeney, including Frank Wilson at Louisiana State, Shane Beamer at Virginia Tech, Eddie Gran at Cincinnati and Matt Luke at Ole Miss.

As of last week, no new contracts for Kentucky assistant coaches had been announced, but UK head coach Stoops indicated that they were in the works after he received a contract extension before the Missouri game.

“They’re in place,” he said of the assistant deals. “They’re there for us to work on after the season. So that hasn’t changed.”

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