HOOVER, Ala. — Despite a 2-10 record in Mark Stoops’ initial season as UK’s football coach and prospects for 2014 that may be measured in baby steps rather than leaps and bounds, it appears that the key parties remain on board with the vision of Stoops and the Kentucky administration about the program.
“It’s going great,” UK senior defensive end Bud Dupree said this week at SEC Media Days, referring to the progress he’s seeing with the program. “I’ve seen some players who weren’t all in before are doing all they can now to be the best they can be. A lot of guys are faster, bigger and stronger. It all goes hand in hand.”
Dupree said the positive vibe extends beyond what he sees from his teammates on the playing field and in the weight room. Case in point: The $120 million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium, the $45 million practice facility and the contract extension Stoops signed in the off-season.
“It says a lot about our coach and our athletics director, Mitch Barnhart, who believes in our coach enough to go out and convince people to invest money in our program,” said Dupree, the lone Wildcat selected by the media to the preseason All-SEC team. “And Coach Stoops believes in what he has planned and what he is doing.
“They’re putting a lot of money into the program, and our goal this year is to thank them and to let them know that we really appreciate what they are doing to try to change things. We just have to go out and win games.”
Dupree said the on-field goal this season is a bowl berth, “whether it be a high bowl or low bowl.”
“We have the resources and we have the players,” Dupree said. “The big key is: Do WE believe it? That mindset of the players can’t be given by the coach. Even though my coach is telling me I’m the best and I can do it, if I don’t believe it, it’s not going to happen. But it is starting to get into people’s minds that we can be the best. People are buying in and making things better.”
UK senior offensive lineman Max Godby is one of a record 182 nominees for the Allstate and American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team for 2014.
The award is the top college football honor for recognizing outstanding community service achievements.
Texas A&M senior offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi pretty well covered all the bases at Media Days this week when asked about South Carolina — the Aggies’ season-opening opponent, Aug. 28 in Columbia.
“They are a great team,” Ogbuehi said of the Gamecocks. “They are physical and play hard, and they have a funny coach.”
Ogbuehl refers to South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who is one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever been around, but may be only the second funniest football coach in the Southeastern Conference.
Top honors could go to LSU head man Les Miles, who annually fields great teams, without treating football like the Cuban missile crisis.
The LSU coach opened his 30-minute press session this week by describing SEC Media Days as “1,200 credentials and a bunch of chaos.
At that point, when 999 out of 1,000 coaches will rattle on about personnel, hard work and human bonding, Miles talked instead — as he does here every year — about the Miles family summer vacation.
“I went to Austin (Texas), took my children with me, so we had six people on that campus,” Miles said. “It was miserable. I hated it.”
A little later, a reporter from the Austin newspaper asked Miles why he hated Austin so much.
Miles backtracked faster than Arkansas coach Bret Bielema when asked if he has ill will towards Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
“Oh, no, no, no,” Miles said. “It was just not a beach. There was no hotel where I walked out and jumped into the surf. But the great news is, as a family, we did some things we never would have done. For example, we rented bikes. It just happened to rain like hell. There were a bunch of hills. As a father, I’m watching my kids going down this hill. I promise you, some of the experiences I had there, I’ll not have again.”
“I’m glad you asked that question,” Miles added, laughing.
Miles then updated the 1,200 media members with details about the activities enjoyed recently by his children. And I’m referring, literally, to his kids, not his football players at LSU.
My favorite anecdote involved his 10-year-old daughter Macy.
“My Macy Miles is pitching in fast-pitch softball in Orlando, Fla., at the World Series,” Les Miles said. “Certainly there’s a lot of media there as well. She’s in a 10-under league. She has a 4-0 record as a pitcher, with a no-hitter...a very quality Smashers club she faced this morning.”
Mizzou proud of Michael Sam
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel had more serious matters to talk about this week. He was asked how much the story of former Missouri great Michael Sam transcended football. Sam is the former Missouri defensive end who announced he was gay shortly before the May NFL Draft and was then picked in the seventh round of the draft by the St. Louis Rams.
“I hope it’s all been in a positive way,” Pinkel said. “I think for the most part that’s how it’s been. I’m proud of our football program and our athletic department. We talk about respect all the time for people. So I thought that, and a number of things that we do internally with our athletic department and football gave us an opportunity to be able to handle something like that.”
The day after Sam came out, Pinkel appeared on ESPN’s morning Mike and Mike Show with Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic.
“I knew that interview was going to be different than any interview I’d ever done before,” Pinkel said. “It was going to be much bigger than football or Mizzou. The societal influence. And I’m very proud of everybody, how we handled it.
“I hope,” Pinkel added, ‘’that five years from now, you know, there’s no discussions about this, that we’ve moved on, that we respect people for what they are and what they do.”
Pinkel’s Tigers are moving into their third season in the SEC, after years as a member of the Big 12.
Part of that change has been a significant upgrade in Missouri’s football facilities, which Pinkel said is a necessity in the SEC.
“We have renovation going on right now, and the SEC has had a huge influence on that,” he said. “We talked about these things prior to joining the SEC. I always tell our alumni, if you drive by and you don’t see cranes up, then something is wrong. In this league, you better be building, making yourself better, all the time. If you’re not committed to investing, don’t get in this league, because it will swallow you up.”
Pinkel has been at Missouri 13 years, and his Tigers annually rank among the nation’s leaders in turnover margin, meaning they turn the ball over a lot less than their opponents.
“Our goal is to be in the top 10 in the nation in turnover margin every year,” Pinkel said. “There’s no stat that will have an impact on winning or losing more than that.”
Miles talks up LSU
LSU’s Miles talked matter-of-factly about some of the accomplishments of his Tigers during his nine years in Baton Rouge.
“Our program is graduating our guys at 70 percent,” Miles said. “We’ve put 16 juniors in the NFL the last two years. We’ve had 95 victories, with 60 drafted, which is second only to one other team not in our conference, and 13 first-rounders. So we’re a program that achieves.”
Miles’ 2014 team will be one of the youngest he’s had, especially at the so called skill positions. But the LSU coach assesses the hopes of his Tigers this way:
“I like us,” he said. “I like us in every game.”