New coaching staff has made UK football 'cool' to recruits

Lexington (Ky.) Herald-LeaderJune 19, 2013 

Mark Stoops

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

— These are heady days for a program with a batch of high-profile commitments and a No. 1 national ranking, Kentucky football not being accustomed to such recruiting success.

As is the case in such incidents of unexpected euphoria, however, paranoia creeps.

To secure a commitment from a player or four actually listed on Rivals' Top 250 list is one thing. To make sure a commitment sticks to his guns come February could be something else entirely, especially when you are Kentucky.

It was before such an excited but edgy fan base that UK's new offensive coordinator Neal Brown spoke Tuesday at a meeting of the Louisville Quarterback Club.

The former Boyle County star and Texas Tech offensive boss gave background info, pertinent updates and a mission statement.

"Coach Calipari made Kentucky cool," he said. "We've got to make Kentucky football cool."

Best of all, Brown offered a dash of reassurance.

"I think," he told a media trio, "(the commits) have created a real strong bond that regardless of what kind of year we have, I don't think that will be broken."

Before the gathering of football fanatics — which included UK and U of L enthusiasts — at the Wildwood Country Club, he elaborated, saying, "I think (the commits) understand the challenge we face this season. I don't think that will have an effect."

Translation: We are taking over a team that went 2-10 in 2012 that faces a brutal schedule in 2013. Patience, please.

"I think you'll see an improved football team this year," Brown told the club. "I don't think we'll be focused as much on wins and losses."

Such is the fans' fear, that another two-win season (or worse) will cause the commitments to start leaping from the fast-moving Big Blue Bandwagon.

Brown doesn't see that happening, and part of that belief comes from the very things that caused the prospects to commit in the first place.

UK is a great school with a great campus. Lexington is the second-largest city in the SEC behind Nashville. The fan base is passionate. The conference is the best in the country.

"Plus, we come in with kind of a blank canvas, if you will," Brown said.

New head coach Mark Stoops coordinated one of the best defenses in the nation last year at Florida State. At Troy and then Texas Tech, Brown coordinated one of the most productive offenses in the nation over the past five seasons.

Now mix in the planned renovations and updates to both Commonwealth Stadium and the various football facilities.

"It's a perfect storm," Brown said.

Even given all that, did he think the staff would recruit this well?

"I don't know that I thought it would be this soon," Brown admitted.

This is all new and different, certainly. Of the 18 commitments Kentucky has received thus far, most are from players who own a star status previous UK staffs would have rarely approached.

In fact, those with connections claim the best thing about this new Kentucky football staff is that it doesn't act like it's a Kentucky football staff.

"In recruiting you've always got to make people tell you no," Brown said Tuesday. "You never assume anything. You never know what the family history may be, where they lived, who you know, so I think you always make the recruit tell you no. That's the approach we have taken.

"We're going to go after the best players that we think fit our systems. If they tell us no, that's fine, we'll move on and find the next guy. I think a lot of recruiters make the mistake of assuming it may not be a good fit."

So far, this staff hasn't made that mistake, or many others.

Said Brown, "Our message has been everyone remembers their 'first.' ... And we want to be the first to build this program to a championship level."

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