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November 27, 2012
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
If universal approval is what Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart was looking for in finding Joker Phillips' successor, then he got it with Mark Stoops. The 45-year-old Florida State defensive coordinator will get his first shot as a college head coach with the Wildcats.
Rivals.com Southeastern regional analyst Kynon Codrington said the hire will settle recruits and add energy to the program.
"No one walks away from this and says, 'Why did Kentucky hire Mark Stoops?'" Codrington said. "As soon as the press conference is over and he is able to call the kids it will renew their initial decisions to choose Kentucky. I do not think one player will de-commit because of this hire."
In three seasons at Florida State, Stoops turned a defense that was among the worst in the nation to the No. 2 unit in the country.
"I am thrilled to be named the head coach at the University of Kentucky," Stoops said in a statement. "My family and I are excited to and looking forward to becoming a part of the Big Blue Nation."
The legions of fans are likely to welcome him with open arms. Prospective student-athletes figure to do the same.
T.J. Walker covers recruiting for CatsIllustrated.com and said that the best commits are already on the defensive side of the ball, and that will play well into the new strategy likely to be used by Stoops.
"The team was so young on defense this year and that partially explained why it wasn't that good," Walker said. "But the players are talented and the best guys on the commitment list are all on defense. There is a bigger question of if Stoops will honor the current scholarships more than the current offers because I think he will keep the guys that are committed."
Of the team's 14 current verbal pledges, six are defensive players, four are offensive lineman and one is a kicker, along with the two receivers and a quarterback.
Alvonte Bell is the highest-ranked player in the class. The 6-foot-6, 228-pound defensive end from Miramar (Fla.) Everglades was frequently mentioned as a player who might look elsewhere.
The Stoops connection at Florida State is likely to keep Bell in the class and help bring more players from the Sunshine State with him.
"Kentucky has been really trying to get into Florida in the past few years," Walker said. "They have done a pretty good job and I think Stoops will only add to that."
The current class, along with Bell, has commitments from Khalid Thomas of Tallahassee (Fla.) Godby, Ander Bodkin from Marianna (Fla.) High, Blake McClain representing Winter Park (Fla.) High, Ramsey Meyers of Orange Park (Fla.) Ridgeview, and Jalen Battle of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) University School.
In a text to Rivals.com, McLain seemed ebullient: "Hiring Stoops is crazy! What a great coach."
Thomas took to his Twitter account to express his excitement and commitment to the program, posting: "Mark Stoops is goin [sic] to be my coach."
Codrington had high praise for several of the players.
"I think Bell's best football is ahead of him and he can really shine in college," Codrington said. "McClain and Battle are two versatile players that I think can also really do good things on the next level."
Codrington also said that Stoops' reputation within the state could push the total of Florida prospects in each class upward by another four or five per year.
"Having Stoops is going to help tremendously," he said. "He is extremely personable and he connects well with players and their parents.
"There was a time that Tracy Howard was a very heavy lean to Florida State because of Stoops but when it was rumored that he was interviewing to go to Auburn, that made the Howard really reconsider. If that information had not come out, I believe that he would have been a Seminole. (Stoops) can make relationships that start with trust and he builds from there; kids want to play for him and more kids from Florida will go to Kentucky."
One question is how the team handles a dramatic switch from a history of offense-first coaches to the new brand of football expected to be played under Stoops.
A transition from Hal Mumme to Guy Morriss to Rich Brooks to Joker Phillips did not leave much room for defensive emphasis.
Walker said that the fans would rather see victories than points.
"It is pretty obvious that defense wins in the SEC and that is what everyone at Kentucky wants," he said. "If Stoops can hire a solid offensive coordinator that produces points and he does on defense what he does on defense, it will be a non-issue.
"Of the opening in the SEC, it is easy to argue that Kentucky was the worst job and for Kentucky to get a coach like Mark Stoops, everyone associated with the program has to be happy. The rest of the details can be figured out but for now this is a very good thing."