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Mark Stoops' Route To Kentucky Greatness

As we're halfway through Week 2 of the college football season, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has the chance to become the program's winningest coach in its history with a win down in Gainesville this weekend.

With a win in Week 1 over Miami (Ohio), the same team Mark found his first career win against back in 2013, it coincidentally tied the school's record for most wins as a head coach while being against the same program that it all started out against for him.

If he doesn't leave Gainesville victorious this Saturday, it'll happen the following weekend against Youngstown State for sure, so as we prepare for Mark to take over the thrown, let's reflect on what else he's accomplished during his route to Kentucky greatness.

  • Six straight bowl games (school record)

  • Four straight bowl wins (school record)

  • 18 straight non-conference wins (leads FBS)

  • Two 10-win seasons (Only happened twice in the previous 40+ seasons)

  • 10th season at Kentucky (longest of any other UK coach)

  • 22 of his players have been drafted, 13 of those being from the defense

  • Top-50 recruiting class in all ten years. Highest ranked class in 2022, second highest in 2020

  • 33 coaching wins in the last four seasons (doesn't include Miami (OH) win), which currently ranks as the 16th most amongst Power 5 programs

  • First home win over Florida since 1986 (2021)

  • First win vs. Florida since 1986 (2018)

  • First win at Tennessee since 1984 (2020)

  • First New Year’s Day Bowl win since 1951 (2018 season)

  • First 10-win season since 1977 (2018)

  • First SEC Coach of the Year since 1983 (2018)

  • First final poll ranking since 1984 (2018)

  • First bowl win since 2008 (2018)

  • First bowl appearance since 2010 (2016)

  • Stoops is the second-longest tenured active head coach in the SEC, behind Alabama’s Nick Saban, and the 11th longest in the nation.

  • Has two seasons with a winning record against SEC competition (2021, 2018), a feat that hadn't been done since 1977

  • UK has recorded multiple wins against ranked teams in three of the past four seasons (three in 2018, two in 2020, two in 2021). Before 2018, the Cats had just one season with multiple wins against ranked foes in the previous 40 years (2007)

  • The Wildcats have the third-most wins among SEC East schools from 2016-present (48). Only Georgia (67) and Florida (49) have more

  • Kentucky has 11 players in school history who have rushed for at least 1,900 career yards. Four of those have come during Stoops’ tenure: Benny Snell Jr. (3,873), Chris Rodriguez Jr. (2,740), Stanley “Boom” Williams (2,511) and A.J. Rose (1,971)

  • UK has allowed 30 or fewer points in 45 of the past 52 games, including 32 of the last 38 games under Brad White (doesn't include 2022 season)

  • During Stoops’ tenure, the Wildcats have had nine different starting quarterbacks win a game in Jalen Whitlow, Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles, Drew Barker, Stephen Johnson, Luke Wright, Lynn Bowden Jr., Terry Wilson and Will Levis

  • Since 2016, UK is 20-8 (.714) in games decided by seven points or less

  • Since 2015, the Wildcats have gone 9-12 against ranked teams. Those wins were over No. 17 Iowa (2021), No. 10 Florida (2021), No. 23 NC State (2020), No. 18 Tennessee (2020), No. 12 Penn State (2018), No. 14 Mississippi State (2018), No. 25 Florida (2018), No. 11 Louisville (2016) and No. 25 Missouri (2015)

The list could definitely keep going on, but the decorative accomplishments would start to lead into some more minor records, but, there's no doubt that what he's done for this program has been literally program-changing for the school. To inherit what he did, for it to be his first ever head coaching gig, and to reach what he has in just a decade is truly unbelievable. The loyal Kentucky football fans that sat through decades (no, that's not an exaggeration) of misery and heartbreak have finally found the man they've always wanted to come through those doors. The bar that Kentucky football was at when Mark Stoops arrived here was not one that you could have convinced a superior coach to come to and turn this program around. The university couldn't just get a well-proven coach to come here and make things happen. All of this only could have been possible through one avenue - to find a unicorn who had the foundation established in him already that still hadn't had his 'big break' yet and wanted the chance to make a name for himself. While many couldn't have seen this coming, Mark Stoops was that guy. He fit the requirements to the tee. His rich history of a football background through his father and older brother showcased that he would likely fall in the same line, with expectation of doing great things as well. While he spent many years coaching position groups throughout college football, he had yet to get his chance at leading a program of his own. In 2013, that time finally came.

In his first season he finished 2-10, followed by back-to-back 5-7 years (2014, 2015), then with all gears finding their groove he finally hit a winning record. In 2016, Mark was finally getting some of his recruiting classes that he went out and hand picked himself along with his staff, and the program seemed to be reaching heights it hadn't hit in quite some time. In 2016 and 2017, the program went 7-6 (both seasons) and Mark was finally backing up the promises he made - turning this program around and through hard work and planned layers, building on each year and shocking the whole country, including its own fans.

Once players started to realize the new atmosphere in Lexington, more players came that wanted their chances to prove what they can do as well. Three and four-star athletes found a rising SEC school that they could come to and play immediately in while being the faces to help Stoops break history and change the culture they had been cursed by for decades and decades. Combined that together and you have a gritty staff and a roster that all wanted their chance to prove they could compete with the best of the best, in the top conference. Well, they did just that. In 2018, Kentucky made their national debut after knocking off Florida in week two down in The Swamp, snapping the longest losing streak of any program in the either sport.

It was the night that changed Kentucky football outside of the hiring day of their head coach.

They would then go to a bowl game and take down traditional powerhouse Penn State. From there, things finally launched. While most of the national media thought it was a fluke season, a section of the world started to give Kentucky their first-looks to see what was stewing up in the Bluegrass state.

Kentucky would go on to win 33 of their next 50 games and it would catapult Mark Stoops into the ranks of Kentucky greatness. For the first time since the mid-70's, the program had a preseason rank in the top twenty-five and had one of its best recruiting classes, again.

We're now to present day, where Kentucky is just twenty-four hours away from playing down in Gainesville looking to knock off Florida for the third time in the last five years. On top of that, if Kentucky does win, Mark Stoops would become the program's winningest coach against a conference opponent they've been destroyed by for a lifetime (literally) of the die-hard, biggest fans.

Time have truly chanced in Lexington and we owe it to four different things. Number one being Mark Stoops for believing he could make things happen at a program that was at the bottom of the barrel in its own conference, UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart for believing in a sort of unproven new head coach and sticking by his side after 12-24 start to his career that came close to a near firing moment. Thirdly, Vince Marrow, Associate Head Coach/Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator, for staying partnered up with Mark Stoops (specifically at Kentucky) through all the success and not leaving when great opportunities presented themselves. To want to double-down on what they've done here and take it to near-unbelievable heights on top of what they had already done. Kentucky fans will likely admit that they are forever indebted to these two. And lastly, the rest of his plug and use staff members he's had through the entire journey. From Matt House to Jon Sumrall, from Neal Brown to Eddie Gran, from Vince Marrow to Brad White and from John Schlarman to Liam Coen as well as every staff member who falls in between, each hire played a significant role and each addition to this program has helped shape it to where it sits now. Every hire, good or bad, made this thing into what it is now and it has finally become a place where already established coaches can come in and continue the success that's being dealt here and find some of their own at the same time.

Kentucky football is now like a fully function car, a luxury car just out of the wash bay, and all of its parts are working greatly and in each opportunity relying on each other to keep this thing running to further the miles on its engine. This road trip has been more fun than one could have ever imagined and it seems like Mark has no plans to leave anytime soon for a more established powerhouse of a school if he was to be offered. He turned down LSU’s offer this summer and has batted away his “involvements” of Michigan’s opening spot just a few years ago. He said after Kentucky’s first game this season that he is “excited to keep building this program.”

Well, here’s to you Mark Stoops as we’re happy to be along for the ride and will be all the way up until the day they build a statue of you outside the Kroger Field gates. Then, we will reflect back on what you accomplished once again but for now, we’re enjoying the present moment because what’s happening has never been done before in the world of Kentucky football.

I want all of you to enjoy this moment while it is here because it is truly special, but for the time being, let's feast on some Gator this weekend.


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