Turning down FSU to stay at Kentucky best career move Mark Stoops ever made



Smart man, that Mark Stoops.

It was just two years ago when the Florida State Seminoles reportedly made overtures to Stoops about possibly replacing Willie Taggart as FSU’s head coach.

Stoops, the head coach at undefeated and 11th-ranked Kentucky, did not pursue the job even though he had been Jimbo Fisher’s defensive coordinator when Fisher replaced Bobby Bowden and began the process of rebuilding the Seminoles back into a national championship contender.

Best career decision Mark Stoops has ever made.

Why would Stoops go to a place where he could be fired in two years just like Taggart was?

In fact, Stoops should never leave Kentucky for any other job.

Not even if LSU opens up.

Or Miami.

Or even if Southern Cal calls him about filling its marquee coaching vacancy.

If you ask me, Mark Stoops has the best coaching job in America at a place where he actually gets a one-year contract rollover anytime he wins seven games. You heard me, seven games! At programs like Florida, Florida State and Miami, you get fired for winning seven games a season, but at Kentucky you actually get a contract extension.

At LSU, Ed Orgeron won the national championship just two years ago and yet, incredibly, he will be lucky to keep his job after this season.

Meanwhile, Stoops, who has led Kentucky to its first 6-0 record since 1950 (some guy named Bear Bryant was coaching the Wildcats then) heading into Saturday’s showdown with No. 1-ranked Georgia, is a case study in the benefits of institutional backbone. Obviously, longtime Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart is a reader of Tolstoy, who once wrote: “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”

In today’s Instagram, instant-gratification world, it’s refreshing when a program actually exhibits prudence and patience when dealing with a coach. Yes, Barnhart heard grumbling when Stoops was 2-10, 5-7 and 5-7 during his first three seasons and didn’t have a winning conference record until Year 6, but he knew he had the right coach.

Of course, if Stoops were Kentucky’s basketball coach he would have been quickly jettisoned, but UK fans are much more forgiving when it comes to a football program that has been an SEC also-ran for much of its existence.

That said, I love when ADs go all Tammy Wynette and stand by their man. I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating: Perhaps the No. 1 piece of advice for up-and-coming young ADs should be a famous quote that late, great Duke AD Tom Butters once recited to me: “If you listen to the fans, you’ll soon find yourself sitting with them.”

Butters is the AD who stood by struggling young coach Mike Krzyzewski even though Krzyzewski was 38-47 in his first three seasons at Duke. Many boosters were angry and demanded that Butters get rid of Coach K.

After Butters retired to a golf community in Florida, I interviewed him once amid Coach K’s run of five national titles, 12 Final Fours and nearly 1,200 victories. Butters told me then, “You cannot let the alumni tell you who to fire. I knew our coach was the absolute right man for the job.”

Then he deadpanned: “I think in time my decision may still work out.”

Former Florida State AD Dave Hart told me a similar story when fans were demanding that he fire basketball coach Leonard Hamilton, who failed to make the NCAA Tournament during his first six years at FSU. Hamilton is now entering his 20th year in Tallahassee, is the ACC’s fifth all-time winningest coach and just led the Seminoles to a school-first ACC regular season championship.

When I asked Hart a couple of years ago if he would have stood by Hamilton in today’s toxic social media world, he replied: “Yes, I would have, except I might be the one to get fired instead. There’s no question, it’s harder now. Because of social media, there are more opinions than ever before, but you still have to make the decisions you feel are right.”

Imagine how the history of sports might have changed if the current trend of firing struggling coaches after a couple of years and doling out millions of dollars in buyout money had existed years ago.

Would the Dallas Cowboys have ever become “America’s Team” if they had fired the legendary Tom Landry, who compiled a 13-38-3 record during his first four years?

Would UCLA have ever become the most dominant force in the history of collegiate sports if some impulsive, impatient AD had decided John Wooden, who went 16 years before he won his first national championship, just couldn’t win the big one?

Would Pittsburgh Steelers legend Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls, survive today if he went 1-13, 5-9 and 6-8 in his first three years?

Stay at Kentucky, Mark Stoops.

You have the best coaching job in America.

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