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December 19, 2012

Stoops settling in - but at a hectic pace - as UK coach

Mark Stoops knew things would change.

He didn't know how much.

"I don't know if there were any big surprises," Stoops said of his first two-and-a-half weeks as Kentucky's new coach, "but it definitely has been overwhelming at times."

In 18 days since being introduced at a news conference, Stoops has hired seven staff members, signed two junior-college players - including top talent Za'Darius Smith - started hitting the recruiting trail, evaluated the current roster and more.

The first two weeks "were a complete blur," Stoops said when he met the media Wednesday, and this week he has finally felt things start to settle down.

He knew the hectic schedule was going to come. Two of his brothers with head coaching experience of their own - Bob (at Oklahoma) and Mike (at Arizona) - had told him what to expect.

"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,'" Stoops said. "'Because your life certainly has changed.'"

Part of that was becoming the boss.

That meant piecing together a staff. He wanted to act quickly.

"Those first couple days, it was a lonely feeling in that office because there was so much to do and you needed some help," Stoops said.

He also wanted to be patient. No need to make a short-term decision that would be a long-term mistake. He wanted the right hires, even if he had to bide his time as they made decisions.

That was the case for both of his coordinators, Neal Brown (who left Texas Tech) and D.J. Eliot (who left Florida State).

Stoops said both had other offers, including head coaching possibilities, which made it "nerve-wracking" for him to sit and wait.

"Those guys put me through a little bit," Stoops said, noting that he encouraged them to explore their options to find the best fit.

He also filled five other positions - offensive line coach (John Schlarman), defensive line coach (Jimmy Brumbaugh), tight ends coach (Vince Marrow), safeties/special teams coach (Bradley Dale Peveto) and an offensive assistant in Chad Scott), whose role is to be determined - in those weeks.

He said he wanted to get seven staffers on board quickly because a maximum of seven coaches can be on the road recruiting. With a short time before the dead period kicked in, Stoops felt he was working from behind and wanted as many people available to make up ground as possible.

He also wanted a staff that could relate to players and had ambitions. To do that, he went young. The average age of the assistant coaching staff is 37.8, with a high of 49 (Peveto) and a low of 31 (Scott).

"That was part of it, was definitely some youth," Stoops said of going after up-and-coming assistants. "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."

Stoops has also seen his role change. He's spent the past nine years as a defensive coordinator, focusing on just one side of the ball. That won't be the case at Kentucky.

"It would be impossible for me to run the defense the way it needs to be run with me being a head coach," Stoops said. "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."

While he has a defensive background and will help out on that side "as time permits," he wants to find a balance in his involvement.

"I don't want to just work with the defense all the time," Stoops said. "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."

His role may change on the sideline, too. He's known for a fiery demeanor while coaching - "I believe you can will players to do things," he said - but may have to tone it down now that he's the leader.

"I think it's really important for the head coach to be a head coach and manage the game," Stoops said. "So I understand I have to keep the emotions in check."

He's not holding his emotions in check when it comes to the future for Kentucky football. As the new coach, he's embarked on a long list of meet-and-greets and events, and he's felt the buzz around this program.

"I expect great support," Stoops said. "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."


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