UK’s Heard leaving early for NFL

Kentucky running back Braylon Heard has opted to leave school early and declare for the 2015 NFL Draft, a school spokesman confirmed on Wednesday.

Heard, who transferred to UK from Nebraska, was the Cats’ second-leading rusher with 368 yards on 73 carries with four touchdowns. He played in 11 games, starting 10 for UK.

He also had 21 catches for 108 yards and two kick returns for 33 yards in his one-year career.

Two of the junior forward’s four touchdowns were in the Cats’ opener when he ran for 116 yards and two scores against Tennessee Martin.

Heard will finish his degree in community and leadership development while preparing for the NFL Draft, which is scheduled for April 30-May 2.

“I appreciate the hard work Braylon gave to the Kentucky program,” Coach Mark Stoops said in a release through UK. “He has been a model student-athlete and we wish him nothing but the best.”

In two seasons at Nebraska, Heard rushed 77 times for 452 yards and one touchdown.

This leaves the Cats with leading rusher Stanley “Boom” Williams (486 yards, five touchdowns), Jojo Kemp (323 yards, four touchdowns), Mikel Horton (305 yards, two touchdowns) and Josh Clemons (30 yards) in the backfield for next season.

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Q&A with new offensive coordinator Dawson

“Excited about this place obviously. I grew up in the south in Baton Rouge, want to beat those guys over there next time we play them in a few years, no doubt. Had an opportunity to play them at West Virginia the first year and almost beat them. Excited about being in this league. When this deal came up weeks ago when Coach Stoops contacted me — and I got contacted by a guy that I knew in a roundabout way was really close to Coach Stoops — he asked me if I would be interested in this job and extremely interested. It took about two or three days for me and Coach Stoops to sit down and it went fast. I was excited for it to go fast. So it’s been great; the process has been great. Sitting down with Mr. Barnhart when we got here, letting him give me the overview of the facility upgrades and everything they’re doing here increased my excitement even more. Awesome place; I’ve known about it obviously for my lifetime growing up in SEC country. Excited to get to know you guys and get to know our players a little more. I haven’t been around those guys a lot. Just really excited to be here, want to open it up for you guys if you’ve got questions or anything. Not going to sit here and talk for 20-30 minutes. If you guys have got questions, y’all go ahead.”

On how many of Hal Mumme’s stories about his beginnings on his staff were true: “All of it. It really was. When I took the job there, being in coaching as long as I have now, there was some red flags. My dad played there, so anytime you can have somebody affiliated with the university, somewhat close like that, there’s a red flag. But I had Coach Holgorsen on my side, too, because I played for him. He was talking to Hal on the other end and I don’t think Hal matched it up necessarily at the beginning, so he did give me some jobs that were questionable. I love the guy to death. I can never repay him for some of the things he’s done along the way for me. But he did at the beginning, he made it tough, which I think you should. You need to earn your stripes. You’ve gotta earn your place, especially in this profession, you need to go do things like that, it makes you more appreciative when you get to places like this.”

On if he talked to Mumme about the job and what he had to say about it: “I talked to him afterwards. It went so fast to be honest with you from my moment of just talking to Coach Stoops and him flying in and that process went really fast and we wanted to keep it on the down low for those couple of days. After the fact, I talked to him, I was really talking to him more — you wrote that article, right? You wrote the article — I was just more thanking him for the nice things he said about me because obviously there were some bad things he probably could’ve said, too. I talked to him after the fact, not before the fact.”

On Air Raid philosophy: “The game has changed; the blueprint of the offense really hasn’t, if you want to be completely honest. Are there some things we’re doing different now that we didn’t do before? Yes. But the blueprint of the offense and the mentality are still the same: We want to attack. But I do think defenses have changed over the years. They’re a lot more athletic, a lot more physical. The players are getting bigger and stronger. So I think even if you talk to Coach Mumme about it, he’d tell you the game has changed. With that being said, I think the ability to get physical — we made a concerted effort to get physical and be able to run the ball more efficient — not that we’re sitting there adding 100 more run plays into the offense. We still have those run plays, but it’s simply the fact that we’re calling them a little more, just turning and handing it a little more. So we’re allowing those offensive linemen to be more physical, some leverage on leverage stuff, and it’s weird because as probably as efficient as we’ve been throwing the football was when we made a concerted effort to be more physical in the run game. So you can be better throwing it if you run it a little better. So you have to evolve. The offensive football is going to continually to evolve, that’s jus the way it is.”

On if he called plays at West Virginia: “Well, this is the way it went down there. And I’ve been asked that question quite a number of times. The preparation through the week is extremely important, game planning. When we got to games and Coach (Dana) Holgorsen was the head coach, he was the final wherewithal in every decision we’d make. My job is this: Between every drive, when he clicked back on the offense (on the headset) I needed to have a plan for him. I’d have to say, look, ‘This is the information we’re getting. This is the way we need to attack.’ Before every play, I would give him a suggestion. I’ve been around Dana for a long time and there’s times that he went somewhere else — the percentages of those times, I don’t know, maybe 85 to 10 or 15 — I would say 85-90 percent of the time, we’re on the exact same page. He needed suggestions because as a head coach he was pulled in a lot of different areas throughout the course of a week and throughout the course of a particular game. And so my communication with the quarterback after every series was important, and then my communication with the two guys I had working right to left of me up in the box, because they were charting the plays and the coverages and what we were doing tendency-wise, and so when he clicked back over after every defensive possession, I would have a laid-out plan for him how we want to attack the defense that particular drive. And after every play I would lay out a plan for him. So that was me and his relationship there, which good, bad or indifferent, I don’t know what the answer would be. I would say that the six years prior to that it was all me, everywhere that I was before West Virginia, but at West Virginia, that four-year window that was our relationship.

On how attractive it was to get autonomy back: “Extremely important. It’s why I took the job. Working for coach Stoops, being a defensive head coach, obviously the dynamics of me and his relationship is going to be different than the dynamics of me and coach Holgorsen’s relationship. So being back on the field — I wasn’t in the press box really until West Virginia, so being back on the field, having that flow of the game was extremely important to me and really the reason why I took it.”

On his philosophy coaching QBs: “I think one thing, you gotta keep it simple enough to those guys are programmed the same way throughout the course of the year. The moment you sit there and start doing — there’s a tipping point in offense and defense and everybody tries to figure out exactly where that tipping point is, where you’re doing too much stuff, and so anytime you’re doing too much stuff and their brain gets cluttered with too much information, that’s when you become an average football player. So I think — I truly believe that having pre-snap and post-snap thought processes that are consistent with the blueprint of the offense, that really goes hand-in-hand week to week, and having things that change the window dressing and everything of the offense kind of makes it look more complicated to the outside eye, but keeping their programming consistent is extremely important. That way their thought process is on point every time and they can make clear, conscious decisions, good, bad or indifferent. But the biggest problem in playing quarterback is indecisiveness, not making the wrong decision. I want you to make a decision and we can live with the results and let’s move on to the next play.”

On how much of the Air Raid we’ll see: “I’m going to tell you you’re going to see the evolution of the Air Raid that I’m doing now. I would have to sit down with you and get your side of it. There were times throughout the course of years when we were throwing the ball probably 80 to 90 percent of the time. In my opinion if you want quarterbacks to stay on their own two feet and to stay healthy, good luck with that in today’s football, because those D-lineman are rushing pretty fast. And so we’re going to do some things that keep defense’s honest and keep ‘em off-balance. The biggest deal with what I talk about the evolution, and the term Air Raid gets thrown around so much, it’s kind of like when I’d say 15 years ago when the 49ers were coming about this “West Coast Offense.” You know, everybody was throwing around the term “West Coast Offense,” then that term got watered down to where it was hard to even tell what it was. So I kind of think the Air Raid offense has gotten to that point to where, what really is it, what was it? Football evolves to the point where you’re trying to attack a defense of where it is in today’s game, and I think when you’re trying to do that you better be physical to the point to where — the problems we had through the course of the years when we were just making a concerted effort to throw it the majority of the time was, when you’re going to grind out a win at the end of the game, good luck doing it doing that. You better be able to sit there and get pad on pad with a stacked box and grind out a couple first downs to run the clock out if you’re up by six or seven points. So I’m going to say the blueprint’s probably very similar, and there’s going to be times where if we feel good about the pass rush it might look extremely similar, and there’s going to be times where if we don’t feel good about it it might not look too similar. So, I don’t know if that answered your question or not.”

On what he knows about his personnel on Kentucky so far: “Not a lot to this point. Really it’s been, I’ve been on campus just a few days and I’m going back out today, and so I haven’t got an opportunity to evaluate the current players at all, and I want to keep an open mind about all of them. Everybody’s going to have a chance to compete. There’s obvious — experience is extremely important. Upperclassmen typically play better than lowerclassmen guys because they’ve had more experience, but we’re going to be wide open with that. I’m going to have a clear mind and I’m going to sit down whenever recruiting ends and I’m going to sit down and I’m going to watch some things, because there’s going to be a lot of carryover with terminology, carryover with the way we do things, and so I’ll have a plan for that when we get done here in a couple three weeks or so.”

On what his first conversations with Mark Stoops was like and what sold him on the job: “On the phone it was really gauging my interest. The first conversation we had was, ‘Are you really interested in this job?” And I said, ‘Yes. I’m 100 percent interested. Obviously there’s some things we need to talk about.’ Then after that conversation, I think we had a couple phone conversations that were my philosophy and stuff like that. It’s like a lot of these questions I’m being asked today about, ‘What are you going to do offensively?’ I think one thing that he was excited about was we were physical, we had to the ability to be physical. So that evolution fired him up, and so whenever we sat down in person for the first time, which was probably a two, two and a half hour sit-down, it was a lot of — I don’t know if it was a lot of strictly xs and os, but it was a lot of philosophy as far as how I meet with the quarterbacks, how I lay out a plan weekly with the quarterbacks, my overall approach to the whole unit, which I think is a little bit different as far as my mentality and how you motivate players, how you get those players to buy in. Just overall things like that: how you’re going to control that side of the ball, how you’re going to get them to buy in to you, how you’re going to get them to buy into this system. Then we left there — and there were some xs and os being talked about throughout the course of deals — so we left there and I think within a day or two it was a done deal. We both felt good about it after that sit-down, I can tell you.”

On which areas of the country he has recruiting connections and if he know where he will recruit for UK yet: “I don’t know where I’m going to be recruiting here, but the first question I’ve recruited Texas, across the board from Texas to Louisiana to Mississippi junior colleges, Florida. When I was at West Virginia it was more of Ohio and we still dipped down into Mississippi junior colleges. There’s a lot of carryover between my last job and this job as far as recruiting areas. I’m not saying we beat you guys a whole lot, but there was a lot of crossover. So, I don’t know what I’m going to do here. I’m going to spot recruit at the beginning. I got to get to know these players, and I got to get to know this class and next year’s class. It will probably be a lot more spot recruiting with some position coaches that are in place. As far as specific areas, I haven’t had those communications with Coach Stoops and the recruiting coordinator yet.”

On how clear Stoops was about wanting to run the ball in their meetings: “He didn’t strictly tell me, ‘Look, we better be able to run the ball,’ but in his questioning to me and the way we went from two years ago to this year with our philosophy at West Virginia, put it this way, it fired him up. Just having the ability to be physical. Everybody loves seeing the ball in the air, there’s no doubt about it, but the one thing I love more than doing that is seeing a W on the scoreboard at the end of the game. I think if we get those Ws on the scoreboard it don’t matter really how we got to that point. But the blueprint of the deal has staying consistent within our offense. Just the emphasis on certain things have changed a little bit.”

On how familiar he was with the offensive position coaches he inherited and if he had any prior relationships with those guys: “Some. I’ve know Tommy Mainord for a long time. Great guy. So I did have connections with him. The other guys, I just knew who they were. I didn’t necessarily have a previous relationship with them. But I did know Tommy for a little while. Jimmy Brumbaugh, the defensive line coach, I’ve known him for five or six or seven years. So in the coaching profession, you typically know people, who they are, but specific relationship with them are few and far between. But I did have a couple on the staff that I was fairly close with.”

On what he meant when he said he had a different philosophy in motivating players: “I just think you’ve got to have an overall — the level of having fun. I think that’s a term that gets thrown around a lot but my dad is a motivational speaker so he’s done a lot of speaking throughout the course of his life. So I think I bring an approach to it that I’m going to try to get you a little higher than you specifically think you can play. So, you’ve got to have a good mixture of loving them up and tearing them down.

The same thing I said awhile ago about the tipping point of doing too much on offense when you talked about it, I think it’s the same way when you’re motivating your players. Everybody is different. Everybody gets motivated differently. I wasn’t necessarily a guy that got extremely motivated by you beating me down every time. I was the kind of kid if you told me what to do I was going to technically try to do it as hard as I could do it. You’re going to have 10 percent of guys, or whatever, that need to be highly motivated. You need to stay on their tail. Then there’s going to be a percentage of them that probably are going to do their job regardless. Pinpointing which of those kids are which one of those kids is extremely important, but I don’t think you can motivate everybody the same exact way. Figure out where their button is and push it.

On what he most learned from his time with Dana Holgorsen aside from the scheme: “Aside from the scheme, if you look at what I was doing prior to West Virginia I think we fine-tuned weekly game plans as good as I’ve been around. So his mental approach to that and just the structure and layout to get to the final game-plan deal was as good as I’ve been around. So the weekly layout there and what we got to. I’m not saying it was exactly that year one, but we evolved in two ways. We did a good job with that and we did a good job with cutting things out rather than adding them in. Our overall package was extremely small at the end, and we got more efficient in ever area. So I don’t think you necessarily have to have a whole lot. Just figure out what you’re good at and do it.”

On if he’s had a chance to meet any of the players: “In passing, yesterday when I got to the complex, we had a team meeting. So in passing, I was getting introduced to – you could imagine how many players are walking by me. And it’s going to be the same thing with you guys. I’m not great with faces and names for a little while. I try hard. It’s going to take me a little while there. And obviously there are some guys I know exactly who they are, but there are some guys it’s going to take me a while. So I’m going to work hard at that. Same way in this room. If I could get a piece of tape across y’all’s forehead and you could write your name across it, that would be helpful.”

On what makes him believe he can help UK win in the SEC: “Because I think I can be successful anywhere. Maybe I’m naïve to the point, but I’ve taken over a couple programs that didn’t win any games the year before and we were close to winning national championships at both of those programs. So I believe that it’s the mental approach you have. I look at our kids (and) I don’t see – I see a bunch of kids who look the part. Now, I don’t know how they play on the field, but I’m sitting there watching them in the team meeting room walk down and introduce themselves to me, and my job is to get those guys to buy in. I think if you buy in wholeheartedly as a group, then I think you can accomplish anything. The last time I checked, everybody can put 11 players on the field, right? And it’s not like we didn’t play anybody in y’all’s league the past four years. We did. So, you know, I think you can be successful anywhere if you do it the right way.”

On changing players’ mindsets at other stops, to play faster: “I think you lay out a practice plan and you stick with it. The problem that a lot coaches make is they change too much. So our overall way we’re going to practice and lay it out has been consistent over the years, and that’s one thing that’s been consistent from offense from 15 years down, the way we practice and the way we install. I just think you gotta program kids a certain way, and you gotta hold them accountable to it. Attention to detail is huge. So the moment you let one little thing slip, then that becomes two. If you want them to get lined up fast, guess what you gotta stress: You gotta get their ass lined up fast, period.”

On recruiting against UK in recent years and if he noticed a perception change about the Cats: “No doubt. I think Coach Stoops over the past two years has done a phenomenal job of building a base of talent. Those kids are young. But overall, watching those guys recruit for the past two years, obviously social media is huge and their extent into social media and the way they target these kids has been off the chart. So I do think that’s going to continue. And I’m going to learn a lot from those guys with that, too. So I do think they’ve built a base, a foundation for this program, that’s going to continue to improve and continue getting better players.”

On if he knows former Kentucky OC Neal Brown and if they talked at all: “I do. I didn’t talk to him about players. I do know Neal, and I’ve known him for a number of years. We’re kind of from the same umbrella of coaches. So I just talked to him about the place. When this deal came up, he was one of the first guys – in my conversation with Coach Stoops the first time – he was one of the few guys that I talked to, because I knew that he would keep it under the radar. He was doing the same thing at the new place he was at. I just talked to him about the people. And he said, ‘You’re going to love it.’

“He said, ‘The people are off the charts.’ He talked about their foundation that they’ve set. He said, ‘It wasn’t necessarily the same Year 1, and I had to manipulate some things,’ but he said, ‘As the years go, I feel like you’ll be able to do whatever you want to do, because I think the level of talent is going to improve with those guys recruiting.’ So I talked to him about the people – not as much the players – and about the opportunity. So it wasn’t specifically pinpointed to, ‘What do you think about this quarterback or this running back?’ or whatever. It was, ‘Look, this is a great place. You’re going to love working for Coach Stoops. They got everything going in the right direction. Facility upgrades are off the chart.’ Stuff like that.”

On Stoops saying QB would be open like every position this spring: “Oh, yeah. We’re going to compete. You’re going to have to earn your stripes. You’re going to have to earn the job. So we’re going to give those guys opportunities to compete just like I’ve done everywhere I’ve been. And whoever is the most efficient guy and whoever is the best guy is going to get the job. That position is no different than every other position in my opinion.”

On the last three weeks of his life: “Pretty sporadic. I’ve not slept in the same place too many times in a row. I got a 2-month-old little daughter, pushing 3 months old now. When I was single, it was a lot easier to make these moves and transitions. But being married now, with the little one, being away from her has been tough. So we (WVU) played in our bowl game; the moment we got home from the charter – we flew into Pittsburgh and it was probably 10:30, 11 o’clock – me and my wife drove to Lexington. Basically, we had to make sure we had (health) insurance starting January 1 rather than February, because we got a little one, and we had to find a house. Both things we got done within about four hours. I promise you this: The whole family will be here a couple days after signing day. We’ll be ready to go. I’m not messing around with that.”

On if that’s all part of his up-tempo approach: “Yeah, exactly. Exactly.”

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QB Smith will transfer to San Diego State

Quarterback Maxwell Smith is parting ways with Kentucky and transferring to San Diego State, his father told the Herald-Leader on Friday night.

Smith graduated in December, which means he can play right away at his next destination per NCAA rules, Kentucky spokesman Tony Neely said.

The Granada Hills, Calif., native played in 21 games at Kentucky, starting in 11 of them, but had a series of injuries that sidelined him.

In a post on his Instagram account, Smith wished UK farewell, thanking coaches, teammates and fans, but didn’t say what his next plan will be.

“I enjoyed every minute that I spent in Lexington and wouldn’t change it for anything,” Smith wrote. “Although injuries kept me from being the QB I wanted to be for the University, I still enjoyed every moment I spent behind center.

“I’ll always be a Wildcat and want nothing but success for my brothers and coaches there, both past and present. Thank you BBN for being the best fans in the nation.”

Smith’s dad, Carl, confirmed his son’s plan to attend nearby San Diego State.

“He loves, loves, loves, loves Kentucky with all of his heart; he is sad,” Carl Smith texted on Friday. “He’s happy but sad.”

Smith, who passed for more than 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns in his UK career, was peripherally a part of the quarterback race leading up to last season as he tried to come back from off-season shoulder surgery, going up against red-shirt freshman Reese Phillips, true freshman Drew Barker and Patrick Towles, who eventually earned the starting spot.

Off the field, coaches and teammates said Smith served as a sort of student coach for Towles once he was named the starter in August.

“The way he’s handled it, the energy that he brings, the commitment that he brings to this football team, he’s wonderful that way,” Mark Stoops said of Smith early in the season. “He really helps us.”

Coaches made Smith Towles’ roommate on the road and the UK quarterback said that helped him tremendously.

“He’s all about answering my questions and giving advice and giving little wrinkles that he knows that nobody else knows, because he’s played the position,” Towles said.

In his UK media guide bio, Smith said his dream job was to become a head coach in the Southeastern Conference, which his then-offensive coordinator said he was on his way to becoming.

“It’s something he’s thinking about and he’s got the talent and he’s got the knack,” former UK coordinator Neal Brown said. “He knows how to handle people. He’s got good leadership skills. He’s got a good knowledge of the game.”

Smith, a 6-foot-4 quarterback from California, led Kentucky in passing yards for three straight seasons despite missing extended action with various injuries.

He played in eight games as a true freshman, setting a school record for most passing yards by a true freshman (283). Smith had a promising start to his sophomore year, throwing for 975 yards and eight touchdowns in three full games before being sidelined with an ankle injury after in his first series against South Carolina.

In 2013, he played in nine games with four starts and led UK in passing with 1,276 yards and nine touchdowns despite struggling with a shoulder injury.

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Still to be inducted into college football hall

Art Still, a dominant defensive end who led Kentucky to some of its greatest football heights, will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

“It’s humbling to be selected because I didn’t do it alone,” Still said in a release after the announcement on Friday by the National Football Foundation. “It’s a compliment to all the guys I played with and the coaches.”

The Camden, N.J., native played at Kentucky from 1974-77 under Coach Fran Curci and helped lead the Cats to a 19-4 record in his final two seasons, including a 9-3 record in his junior season, winning a share of the Southeastern Conference championship.

In Still’s senior season, UK went 10-1 and finished as the sixth-ranked team in the nation.

The four-year starter put up 327 tackles during his career. He had 22 tackles for loss in his senior season. Still also played a bit on the offensive end as a tight end in short-yardage situations.

The second overall pick of the 1978 NFL Draft, Still had a record-setting 12-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and set records with the Chiefs for most career sacks (73) and season (14.5 twice). He was second in team history in total tackles with 992.

Still’s official induction into the Hall of Fame will be on Dec. 8 in New York City during the National Football Foundation’s annual awards dinner.

Other Cats in the College Football Hall of Fame include tackle Bob Gain (1947-50), quarterback Vito “Babe” Parilli (1949-51), end Steve Meilinger (1951-53), Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant (1946-53), tackle Lou Michaels (1955-57) and Jerry Claiborne, who played at UK in 1946, ’48-49 and was head coach of the Cats from 1982-89.

Bernie Shively, who was athletic director at UK from 1938-67 and was head coach of the Cats in 1945, was inducted to the Hall of Fame in recognition of his playing days at Illinois.

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Details of Marrow’s new deal with UK

Kentucky released details of its new multi-year contract with Vince Marrow on Thursday and the Cats recruiting coordinator, who declined a job offer at Michigan to stay in Lexington, got a significant pay increase for his loyalty.

When Marrow arrived at UK to join new head coach Mark Stoops, he made $175,000 a year, which increased to $275,000 last season after he was named the Cats’ recruiting coordinator.

By the final year of his newest contract, Marrow will be making $400,000 a season.

The stepping stone deal pays Marrow $350,000 a year through June 30, 2016, then increases to $375,000 through 2017 and then $400,000 through 2018.

All other provisions, bonuses and incentives in Marrow’s original deal stayed intact.

Since 2002, Kentucky’s highest Rivals ranking before Stoops was No. 36 (in 2006). The average class ranking in the other 10 years was 60.5.

In the past two seasons with Marrow, UK’s classes were rated No. 29 in 2013 and No. 17 in 2014, the highest ever rating for a class since recruiting rankings have been utilized.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Marrow seemed confident his staying at Kentucky would give the Cats’ next recruiting class an even bigger bump.

“It’s just a situation of where I know with me staying here, a lot of them guys were very fired up to see that,” he said. “So we’ll see where we’re gonna finish out at. I feel pretty good where we’re finishing at, though. It’s gonna be pretty good.”

Marrow, a longtime friend of Mark Stoops from their playing days at Cardinal Mooney High School in Ohio, has been a big part of Kentucky’s Ohio invasion, helping the Cats land 21 recruits from there in Stoops’ first three classes.

Nine of those players have been four-star recruits.

It’s been hard to miss the UK impact in the state since Stoops’ arrival at Kentucky.

“ESPN noticed it, other major networks noticed it, the damage we doing in Ohio,” Marrow said. “But it’s always going to be a major part: just keeping that foothold there.”

Marrow is the highest paid assistant on staff behind new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson ($550,000) and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot ($500,000).

Negotiations are in the works for new deals for assistants, Stoops said shortly after his raise at the end of October.

  • The contract for offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson also was made public on Thursday and it contained no surprises. His deal, which he signed on Dec. 19, is through June 30, 2018, and pays the former West Virginia offensive coordinator $550,000 a season.
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Q&A with Vince Marrow

“I just wanted to say the community – actually, being a former professional athlete and a coach, you usually don’t like to see media, but I will say even you guys, in my short time here, it’s been a good relationship. And it was a lot of things about relationships that played a big part in this, of me staying.”

On how close he came to going to Michigan and what kept him here: “Michigan, being a Midwest guy, being from Ohio, it was very tempting. But it’s just my relationship here with the administration, with just our staff and even the kids I have coming in here, just the kids I recruited the last two years, played a big part in that. But really, like I tell parents, it was basically the community. I mean, the last three days, I couldn’t go anywhere without people saying something to me. We were in church and the guy doing the offering asked me, ‘What are you going to do?’ So that’s how deep it got. So relationships played a big part, just to be honest with you guys.”

On how much he’ll now sell to recruits that if he can turn down Michigan, recruits can turn down more name-brand programs: “My focus is on Kentucky, but to be quite honest, me staying here should speak volumes in that. I know a lot of our recruits were very fired up, because for some reason they just assumed that I was gone. I told people it wasn’t a slam dunk. A lot of people were saying it was a situation that it was just a slam dunk that I was going. Yes, it does show. It shows where our AD, Mitch, the route that he’s going, our administration, and it shows where the program is going. And I believe in that. I believe in that wholeheartedly. You look at the stadium renovations, just the type of support we’ve been getting that last two years here, that’s always a big part – played a big part in it.”

On if talk of the UK recruiting class falling apart if he left weighed on him, the responsibility of that: “I gotta admit, a lot of people – being here two years, I’ve got friends that I’ve established relationships with and, I must say, it was a very stressful situation at a point if I did leave. Now, Coach Stoops is a great leader. The class wasn’t going to fall apart. But I sure didn’t want to be a part of that. People were saying it was going to be devastation and all that. I mean, I don’t know that, but it did weigh on me. I mean, it’s a situation I wouldn’t wish on nobody. It was a couple – probably Saturday, Sunday I really didn’t get sleep, but I knew in my heart where I made my decision to go. It was mainly appreciative of people in the community here that reached out to me. You think coaches don’t – I’ll be on Twitter because I recruit on Twitter, and it was a lot of responses from people in the community that was hoping I would stay. It’s just like when you would build any other program: you see the progress. I think the parents and the kids see the progress, so we look pretty good, we’re looking good for 2015.

On how recruiting is going: “I can’t comment on that, but I can comment on just the direction we’re going. We’re gonna finish strong like we finished strong the last two years. We got a couple more slots we got to fill. It’s just a situation of where I know with me staying here, a lot of them guys were very fired up to see that. So we’ll see where we’re gonna finish out at. I feel pretty good where we’re finishing at, though. It’s gonna be pretty good.”

On what kind of response he’s getting from recruits this year vs. the first couple of years: “You know, 2013, coming off of the situation, you’re selling what hope is. Coach Stoops is selling hope. And we did a pretty good job with that. I think we finished like 26th. We only had like six weeks to go (recruit) because a lot of us was in bowl games and that situation. So we got here, we had six weeks to go. I made a — I think they thought I was joking around when I made a statement that we would do better in the ’14 class. Because, you know, when we caught people off guard that ’13 class, a lot of schools started negative recruiting us. And then we turned around and signed the ’14 class, which was a very strong class, and we kept it together from the beginning to the end. And now coming down to ’15, we got a couple guys that’s already signed that’s coming in early that are some real good players. And we’re coming down to the end to where the process now is, look at our rebuilding. We went 2-10, 5-7, could’ve easily been in a bowl game this year.”

On how significant it was for Stoops to keep the Ohio recruiting pipeline: “It had to be important because some other schools wanted that part of Ohio too. So, Ohio signs about 147-150 DI guys a year. I think we’ve been signing like anywhere eight of the top 20. We’ve been way up. You see like ESPN noticed it, other major networks noticed it, the damage we doing in Ohio. But it’s always going to be a major part: just keeping that foothold there. I think I heard people say Michigan is going to hurt us in recruiting in Ohio. Well, we live for the battles for that, so I think we’re going to do fine in Ohio still.”

On if he’s met with Shannon Dawson yet, how Dawson might help recruit and if offensive players are excited about his addition to the staff: “Yes, because we still try to keep the same type of offense. Shannon, I actually met him (when) I was working out over the holiday. Mark Hill was bringing him in, and I think they were going over his contract. So I met him. I talked to him when he got hired and texted him. But meeting him in person, he’s very a personable guy, go-getter. He recruited some Ohio too. We actually went to battle on a lot of the kids in Ohio, so he’s happy to be on this side now. He’s going to be a great addition. Sharp guy, and I think you’re going to see a lot of more things in our offense. Same thing that Neal had here but a little bit more to it.”

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Cats make Dawson hire official

Kentucky made it official on Friday afternoon and named Shannon Dawson as the Cats’ new offensive coordinator.

The former West Virginia coordinator agreed to a three-year deal worth $550,000, according to a UK spokesman, which was the same salary Neal Brown was making before he left to become head coach at Troy.

“He has done a great job in helping build programs to success on every level,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said in a release. “I’ve been impressed with the balance of West Virginia’s offense and how difficult they are to defend. I love the continuity he will bring to what we’ve been doing as we build on the progress we’ve made so far.

“In learning more about Shannon, I’ve found out what a strong leader he is and heard nothing but good things about him throughout our profession.”

Dawson is in his fourth season at West Virginia, including the last three as offensive coordinator. He will stay with the Mountaineers through Dec. 29 when they will face Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl.

He helped pilot a West Virginia team that runs an up-tempo attack that averaged 85 plays a game. The Mountaineers were 11th in the nation in total offense, averaging 502.1 yards a game. They are ninth in passing offense with 314.6 yards a game

They are averaging 33.2 points a game and set a new school record scoring at least 30 points in eight straight games.

“The opportunity to work with Coach Stoops is awesome and growing up in SEC country, I’ve always wanted to coach in the league,” Dawson said in the release. “I’ve recruited against Kentucky the last couple of years and have been impressed with how Coach Stoops is building a foundation and has the program going in the right direction. I look forward to helping him and his staff do that.

Shannon, 37, and his wife, Chelsea, have a daughter, Acelyn.

His hiring will be finalized pending the completion of a mandatory University background check, UK noted in the release.

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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

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

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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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