Full transcript of Stoops news conference

OPENING STATEMENT: “Good to see everybody. Just wanted to touch base with you all before we broke for the holiday. It’s been a tremendous two and a half weeks, putting the staff together. You guys had a chance to visit with Neal (Brown) yesterday, so obviously you spent some time with him. Great group of staff members. Very happy with the way that’s all coming together. They’ve done a tremendous job recruiting, as you can see with the announcement we made today, the two junior college signees that we picked up today. Tremendous addition to the Wildcat family today. Just wanted to answer a few questions for you.”

ON WHAT THE FIRST FEW WEEKS OF BEING A HEAD COACH HAVE BEEN LIKE: “I was counting up the days because I figured I’d be asked that today. It’s been 18 days, I guess. Seems like a lot more than that. Quick two and a half weeks. It has been a tremendous whirlwind. Feel very good this week, being able to put your feet on the ground, settle in a little bit today and this week. Again, the staff came together very nicely. So yeah, it’s been a hectic two and a half weeks. The first two weeks were a complete blur, this week able to settle down a little bit.”

ON WHAT HE WAS LOOKING FOR IN PUTTING A STAFF TOGETHER AND IF AGE WAS A FACTOR IN THAT: “That was part of it, was definitely some youth. I felt like the mold that I wanted was some guys that really had a little chip on their shoulder, wanted to prove something. That fit very nicely with the coordinators and the rest of the staff. To start with, with the coordinators, to get two great, young, up-and-coming coordinators that have done it, that have been in big-time situations and called games …

“Starting with Neal, I really liked the style that Neal ran at Texas Tech. I know the problems that he presented for defenses. My brother has had to defend him. So, just very familiar with Neal and that whole system, going back to Mike Leach and our connection with Mike Leach and of course all the way back to Hal Mumme with that whole family of coaches. I worked with Sonny Dykes at Arizona. Coach Bill Bedenbaugh worked with me at Arizona. So that whole group was something I was very interested in. With Neal, with his connections to Kentucky, it was a great fit for us.

“With Coach Eliot, it was a tremendous hire for me. I was excited with the opportunity to bring coach Eliot. Obviously, I’m very familiar with him. He’s very familiar with me. Had to fend off some people. Both of those guys, a lot of our coaches were getting an awful lot of attention. It was important for me to be able to hire him here. He’s fired up and ready to go and done a tremendous job, full of energy and organization and work ethic, the whole deal. Again, I’m just very excited I was able to hire both of those guys.”

ON HIS THOUGHTS ABOUT CREATIVITY OF NEAL BROWN’S OFFENSE: “I think just being able to dress things up here and there, being creative in how you run the ball, being creative how you distribute the ball. You’ve got to be obviously very well-balanced, but you’ve got to be creative to move the ball. I know from being a defensive coordinator for all those years, somebody  that just wants to line up and run the same plays and not be creative in how they motion, shift – that’s what  I mean by being creative and dressing it up, finding some ways to move the ball.”

ON HOW THE ROSTER DICTATED PRIORITIES FOR JUCO SIGNINGS: “With Steven Borden, we were very excited to get Steven and to add Steve to our program. It was a need for us. We felt like we needed to go out and address the tight end situation and bring somebody in. As we started looking at junior college tight end, obviously Steven jumped right up at the front of the list because Coach Brown and those guys were recruiting (him) to Texas Tech. So, they were already familiar with him. Once Neal brought him to the table, we were able to watch film on him. I loved him and felt like there was a need, felt like he was a very versatile player. Very excited to bring Steven into the program.

“With Za’Darius, again there was a great need, but there was a relationship there. It was a unique situation to be able to land a player like Za’Darius in a short amount of time with two weeks of recruitment. He was out of official visits. Coach and I went and flew there to see his mother at Greenville when he was back on break. Again, he didn’t have a visit. He would’ve loved to come up and visit, but he’d already used up his five and so it was a very unique situation to go down and be able to land Za’Darius; the people that we beat. Za’Darius had an opportunity to play at a lot of good schools, so that was a tremendous get for us.

“Obviously the relationship that Za’Darius had with (defensive line) coach Jimmy Brumbaugh, Coach Eliot and myself I think helped. Coach Eliot and I were recruiting him to Florida State and of course Jimmy coached him. The relationships was the big thing. It’s very rare, but I could not be more excited because it was a great lead for us. Here’s a player that has tremendous physical gifts. He’s 6-5, maybe 6-6, 250 and a tremendous player, like I said, an every-down guy. He’ll be great against the run, great pass rusher, just an impact type of guy. For him to come in and address the situation at defensive end was very critical.”

ON HOW MUCH OF A TONE SETTER SMITH COULD BE IN RECRUITING: “It’s great. That was a part of what we were selling is, ‘Hey, set the tone; set the precedents for the new Kentucky football,’ so it was tremendous that he believed in us. That’s what I told him. Thank you to him and his mother for the tremendous confidence and faith that they have in us and this program to get this done, to sign the national letter of intent without ever even stepping foot on this campus says a lot about what he believes. He believes in the people that are here at Kentucky and the staff that we put together.”

ON TRYING TO EVALUATE CURRENT TALENT AND ADDRESS NEEDS: “It was challenging. Coaches that were here, the graduate assistants that were here broke down film and got anything. It could’ve been practice, could’ve been scrimmages, could’ve been games and they made cut ups of each particular person and each position, so then we went through as a staff and got a little feel for what we have and what we need. The coaching staff past and present, the new guys and the old guys working on that together and we really hammered that out.”

ON WHAT HE THINKS OF THE CURRENT ROSTER: “Like I said, in my initial presser was I believe we need to get bigger and stronger and I think we’re going to address that situation and get a little better physical presence. You know, we need to get in the weight room and gotta develop the guys we have and we need to get more recruits with more size. We need speed. You hear that all the time: size and speed, but it’s true. We need to get some more skill positions and get bigger up front. You know that. Every school will tell you the same thing. There isn’t a coach in America that wouldn’t want good big guys and get some fast, talented skill. We need it all, just like everybody. There’s an opportunity here. I believe some great players are out there and know there’s an opportunity.”

ON MOVING INTO THE HEAD-COACHING ROLE, THE SALESMAN AND FACE OF THE PROGRAM THING: “It’s new and it’s something I am comfortable with being around my brothers, coaching for my brother Mike and seeing him start that program and go out and do the things you’re talking about: greet people, shake hands and talk, I think helped prepare me for this situation. And of course watching Bob for all these years. I really keep a close eye on the way he does things because I just admire the way he handles himself. Obviously I’ve watched him for a long time. Being a part of it with Mike gives me a lot of experience that maybe not a lot of other first-year head coaches don’t have. And of course being in that situation at Florida State, being at such a high profile school and the great importance you have there. I think it prepares me, but I understand you’ve got some work to do in that area and that’s understandable. I’m doing the best I can.”

ON WHETHER ANYTHING ABOUT THE JOB HAS SURPRISED HIM: “I don’t know if there’s big surprises, but it definitely has been overwhelming at times. I don’t think there’s any way around that for anybody, whether you’ve been a head coach or not. Maybe it helps. I’m sure it probably does if you’ve been a head coach. But I know Bob (Stoops) even told me that before I took it, and Mike. They said, ‘The first couple days your head will be spinning and you’ll sit there and ask yourself what in the world you’ve done to yourself. Because your life certainly has changed.’ And it has. My wife has gotten a little bit mad at me from time to time because for the last two and a half weeks I haven’t even had much time to talk on the phone and check in on the boys. So that’s been difficult on the family. We understand that goes with the territory. My wife does a good job of keeping me grounded at times.”

ON HOW HE’LL HANDLE THE DEFENSE AS THE HEAD COACH, WHETHER DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR D.J. ELIOT WILL RUN THE WHOLE SHOW OR WHETHER STOOPS WILL BE INVOLVED: “Well I’ve learned real quick in these last two and half weeks, as I was just touching on, that I can tell that my role has changed drastically. And I think it’ll be – it would be impossible for me to run the defense the way it needs to be run with me being a head coach. So Coach Eliot will run that. I have 100 percent confidence in him and he knows what I want and the way we do things together. So it will be him running the defense. Of course, when the time permits, I will be in there probably watching more film with them than the offense.

“But I would like to spread it out. And I’d like to do that at practice as well. I don’t want to just work with the defense all the time. I want to be supportive. I want to be around the offense. I want to have fun with the whole team and show the commitment to both sides. But Coach Eliot will do that. I will, of course, be there to help him because he has not been a coordinator, so I will be there to help put things together and game plan certain problems that he may be having. Just the experience factor, I’ll help him in that area. But I have tremendous confidence in him.”

ON CREATING SEVERAL NEW POSITIONS – AMONG THE SUPPORT STAFF – FOR KENTUCKY FOOTBALL: “If you look around the country, it takes a bunch of us. Like I said in the original press conference as well, it takes a lot of people for us to be successful. I’m going to address all that at another time as well, when I’ve really put it all together. But I am putting some really talented people in positions to affect – the bottom line is to affect these players in a positive way. As I talked about that with Mr. Barnhart, we wouldn’t be wasteful. We wouldn’t be doing things just to do them, but they’re all positions that are of great need and the bottom line is they’re here to help these players.”

ON FEELING THE NEED TO HURRY AND ASSEMBLE THE FIRST SEVEN FULL-TIME ASSISTANTS AND NOW MAYBE BEING COMFORTABLE TO TAKE HIS TIME WITH THE LAST TWO: “I did. I did feel the need to get some help. As I was talking about, those first couple days, it was a lonely feeling in that office because there was so much to do and you needed some help. But a lot of people I talked to about being a head coach for the first time – even guys in conference, guys like (Texas A&M coach) Kevin Sumlin and just different people I spoke with about the opportunity to be a head coach – they all gave me great advice in saying, ‘Be very patient.’ Because you’re going to get a lot of pressure from people, from a lot of different angles, and we all want things done right now. But a lot of good advice I got from people about being patient and hiring the right guys and also being patient in selecting the right players in recruiting as well. So I’m trying to do that.”

ON WHETHER THERE’S ANY UK ROSTER UPDATES, ANY ACADEMIC ISSUES: “We’ll address that at another time. They’re coming in right now. It’s just starting to filter in right now. I was just in an academic meeting and I’m not totally caught up, so I’ll go back after this and continue to address that.”

ON WHETHER THERE ARE ANY INJURY UPDATES ON CURRENT PLAYERS: “Not at this time, no.”

ON HIRING THREE GUYS – OC NEAL BROWN, RB COACH CHAD SCOTT, OL COACH JOHN SCHLARMAN – WITH UK ROOTS AND HOW IMPORTANT THAT CONNECTION WAS: “Very – as long as they fit in with what we’re trying to do and with the whole staff and have the qualifications. It was important to me.  I’ll rely on those guys. That was important in my decision, but more importantly was (Brown) was a great offensive coordinator and they’re great offensive coaches.”

ON HOW HE’S HANDLING RECRUITS WHO COMMITTED TO UK’S PREVIOUS STAFF: “Been in communication with all of them. We’ve talked to some of them about possibly letting them go look at some other schools. It would probably be in their best interest to look at some other schools, just system-wise. Everybody completely understood that. I don’t think, either side, you want a player that you’re going to sign and then come in here and be unhappy if he doesn’t fit the system and then have to sit out for four or five years. That wouldn’t be the right thing to do to those players. So, yeah, we’ve addressed all those.”

ON WHETHER HE EXPECTS TO SIGN ANY MORE JUCO PLAYERS:  “Possibly. We’ll see. There are a few more needs. We’ll look at that and evaluate that as we go.”

ON SEEKING OUT KENTUCKY AND WHY: “My attorney knows the situation here and I reached out to them through my attorney, my representation. We started talking and just felt like it was a great opportunity. As we started talking, the more and more we talked, the more interest I had. So I just felt good from the start. I felt like, and everybody in this room can agree, that Kentucky is chomping at the bit to get back and be competitive in the SEC. I felt that and I felt there was a commitment by the administration. I know there’s a commitment by the fan base and I could tell from being here two-and-a-half weeks that there’s going to be a great commitment from our players to get this program back on track.”

ON WATCHING THE COACHING CAROUSEL SPIN AFTER HE’D TAKEN THIS JOB: “You know, it was funny. Our building is set up with two levels, and I don’t get down to the bottom floor much. I was strolling around down there, talking to some of the GAs and different people on the bottom floor. One of our GAs always keeps the job board. I glanced over at it and had a big laugh and said ‘Wow.’ It was really the first I had even acknowledged it, to be honest with you. You hear bits and pieces about what’s going on but there’s been so much to do in the last two-and-a-half weeks I haven’t read much of the newspapers or watched any TV, SportsCenter or anything. You hear a blurb here and there. But when I saw the job board from one of the defensive GAs’ wall, it’s amazing.”

ON D.J. ELIOT BEING BACK IN TALLAHASSEE AND FOR HOW LONG: “He’s going to be there through the bowl game. He stayed and finished recruiting for us and left to go down and help. We both helped and we’re going to do that. Florida State has been good to both of us and we care a great deal about that program and those players. He wants to go down there and finish it up right.”

ON WHETHER HE’S PLANS TO GO HOUSE SHOPPING: “The wife takes care of all that. I’m just getting a general feel for Lexington. I get out and start driving around here and there to get a feel for which direction is what. Yeah, she’s looking at houses and things like that. At least I’ll have a general idea of the neighborhoods and areas, but my wife handles all that. I pick the job, she picks the house.”

ON WHETHER HE’S HAD AN ‘OH, WOW, I’M THE BOSS’ MOMENT: “Yeah, I’d better not go into it. We were joking with some of the staff. I have had one. I caught myself. I said ‘Wait a minute, I am the boss.’”

ON NEAL BROWN SAYING HE WAS PATIENT AS HE LOOKED AT OTHER JOBS, BUT HOW HARD WAS IT? “It was definitely getting a little hairy. That was no fault of Neal’s, it’s just the situation that it was. I guess that was my first test as a head coach. I’ve obviously been an assistant my whole life and wanted to be supportive of Neal. I understand what he’s going through and we hadn’t named him yet or anything to the media, so we thought we’d ride it out and see where we were at. He was chomping at the bit to get here and be a part of the program. It got a little nerve-wracking, both with him and Coach Eliot. Those guys put me through a little bit.”

ON SENSING THE BUZZ ABOUT UK FOOTBALL: “I have. Tony and people keep me abreast of the situation. I’m glad to hear that. It seems like everybody I talk to is very excited about that. I had a chance to sit and visit with Tim Couch last night. Tim Couch said the same thing about how many people were excited. It’s great to hear. We’re going to need that. We’re going to need great support. We’re all in this together, and I need that. I mean it. The media, I need your support, too. That’s the way it is. I know you all can put spin on things anyway you want. I think it’s exciting to see everybody excited about football. It’s good. It’s been good.”

ON BROWN SAYING THEY EXPECTED TO ‘FLIP’ SOME RECRUITS AND WHETHER HE CONSIDERS THE TWO JUCOS ‘FLIPS’: “Well, no. We didn’t flip them but it was a classic battle, especially with Za’Darius. Myself and coach Brumbaugh got off a plane in Greenville, Alabama and were greeted at the plane by the mayor and Za’Darius so it was kind of interesting. I think the mayor is an Auburn guy too. It was a good, hard fight for these guys, in particular Za’Darius. Coach (Kevin) Sumlin was in I think the morning and I came in the afternoon to see (Smith’s) mom and Za’Darius. Coach (Sumlin) and I have a history so we can’t bad talk each other. That was tame.”

ON WHAT GETTING SMITH RIGHT AWAY MEANT TO THE STAFF: “There were some high-fives in the office this morning, oh yeah. We were excited, very much so. It does, it makes you feel very good about the future. Myself and the staff, we’ve been through those and we expect to win our fair share of recruiting battles but that first one with a player like him in such a short amount of time definitely energized us, yes.”

ON SMITH SIGNING WITHOUT A VISIT UNDERSCORES THAT RELATIONSHIPS ARE THE KEY: “Absolutely, I think in particular for junior college players because the bells and the whistles (matter less). These players need to know you’re going to help them and they’re going to have an opportunity. I think the relationship, system, all that is very important to junior college players. With Za’Darius it was easy because he knows coach Brumbaugh, he knows how he’s going to be coach. Coach Eliot was the D-line coach at Florida State, he saw what coach Eliot did for the last three years. And then I’m the defensive coordinator and he saw what we did at Florida State for the last three years so if you’re sitting there – if you’re Za’Darius, it looks like a pretty good situation for him here. You’ve got the D-line coach, the defensive coordinator and head coach all speaking the exact same language so that was good.”

ON WHETHER HE TALKED TO BORDEN’S DAD, STING: “Yeah, he came and had dinner with us and hung out for the day. It was fun to get to know him. Tremendous person and we had a good day and he liked what he saw here.”

ON WHETHER ANY WRESTLING MATCHES ARE SCHEDULED: “I asked him in the indoor (facility) if he wanted to throw around a little bit but he didn’t want any piece of me.”

ON BEING KNOWN FOR BEING FIERY ON THE SIDELINE: “Oh, come on now, I’ve changed. (laughs). I think it’s really important for the head coach to be a head coach and manage the game so I understand I have to keep the emotions in check. I think I’ve grown a lot in that area because, yeah, it’s a big part of who I am and how I coach but most of it is always in a positive way too. I believe you can will players to do things. I have great passion for what I do and how I coach and how we get it done, but I do think roles change a little bit as a head coach and how you handle those situations.”

ON WHETHER THERE ARE ANY FACILITIES UPGRADES THAT HE HAS AS HIGH PRIORITIES: “There are and I’ll really let Mitch address those and make sure he and I are on the same page. Again, I think everybody here wants to see some improvement in certain areas so I believe we’re working hard to get that done.”

ON HIS REACTION TO FOOTBALL FAN SUPPORT SINCE HIS HIRE: “I’m not surprised by that. This is the SEC and I know the fans of Kentucky want great football. That doesn’t surprise me one bit. I expected that. I expect great support. I believe in the fan base here, I see their passion and so we’re all in this thing together and working forward to it, embracing it. It’s a great relationship with the basketball (program). Coach Cal has been tremendous. I’ve had a few visits with him, I got an opportunity to watch them practice, sit in on one of his meetings and just get a chance to spend a little time with him. I’m looking forward to that relationship. How can you not embrace such a dynamic person and such a great program?”

About Jennifer Smith

Jen Smith has been a sports writer at the Herald-Leader since 2000, covering everything from high school sports to auto racing to various University of Kentucky sports. A native of Louisville and a graduate of the University of Kentucky (much to the dismay of her Louisville graduate mother and Indiana graduate father), Jen now resides in downtown Lexington with her husband and two young sons. You can follow her on Twitter @jenheraldleader or send her an email at jsmith3@herald-leader.com.
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