Stoops Prepares For Debut As Kentucky's Coach
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Mark Stoops' preparation for his Kentucky debut has included sweating the small stuff .
Checking on travel plans. Reviewing the Wildcats' game-day dress code.
Stoops has thoroughly combed through every detail to ensure all the pieces are in place for Saturday night's game against Western Kentucky - the coaching opportunity he has been preparing for his entire career.
Still, the expanded responsibility didn't come naturally for the former defensive coordinator, who only had to focus on his unit at Arizona and Florida State. But nearly nine months into the Wildcats' job, Stoops has embraced all the demands that come with the position and looks forward to seeing how attention to every detail pays off on the field.
"The big thing for me is thinking through all the details, from the simple things to the big things," Stoops said of the routine. "I feel like the coaches have done a great job preparing our team, I feel like the players have worked really hard and I've got a lot of help around me, a lot of good people to work out all the simple things.
"That's the only thing that's really different, just looking at the big picture and making sure everything's covered."
Stoops' priority against WKU is ensuring nothing's left up to chance in Nashville, Tenn. The Hilltoppers went 7-6 and reached their first bowl game last season, helped by an overtime win over the Wildcats last year in Lexington.
On the sideline opposite of Stoops will be WKU counterpart Bobby Petrino, the former Arkansas and Louisville coach who had been mentioned as a candidate for the Wildcats job that quickly went to the youngest son from a family of coaches. Petrino took the Hilltoppers' position eight days after Stoops' Dec. 2 introduction at Kentucky.
The coaches don't know each other but Stoops is well aware of Petrino's offensive success. Stoops' defensive credentials are also well-known after he built the Seminoles into the nation's No. 2 outfit last season.
"We'll have a lot to prepare for," Stoops said, hoping to avoid Kentucky's second straight loss to WKU.
Kentucky players seem just as detailed as their coach.
The Wildcats have been in game-prep mode for more than a week, resulting in Wednesday's workout that offensive coordinator Neal Brown called "crisp." But then, precision is key with Brown installing a new up-tempo, pass-oriented "Air Raid" offense that either Jalen Whitlow or Maxwell Smith will run, perhaps both.
"It doesn't matter who's back there at quarterback or running back, we've got to be correct if we're going to go as fast as we can and hopefully run more plays than they do," Wildcats center Zack West said.
Stoops hopes a 4-3 defense run by D.J. Eliot executes just as well if the Wildcats are to start off strong. The head coach has said for the most part he'll leave personnel decisions to his assistants unless an obvious change is needed.
Still, Brown said Stoops will stick his head in the door of offensive meetings to keep up on things as part of his quality control.
"I'll ask where does he see our weaknesses and what gives him problems," Brown said. "There's been a lot of those questions, and that's been a big benefit to me."
How far Kentucky has come under Stoops will be determined on the field, where it's all about the details. The coach is a little antsy about his first game.
"I mean, I'm human and it will be exciting for me," Stoops said on Monday. "It will mean something to me.
"But then it's getting right back at the task at hand and getting your team ready to win."