By LARRY VAUGHT
8:31 AM PST, December 17, 2012
Bringing former Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown to Kentucky to run the offense for new coach Mark Stoops certainly seems to have pleased UK¿fans, but the move has been just as popular with former players.
“I can’t think of anything that has gone over bigger,” said former UK¿quarterback Freddie Maggard of Lawrenceburg, who lettered at UK from 1989-91.
Four other former lettermen — Jason Todd (1992) of Stanford, Derek Abney (2000-2003) of Charleston, S.C., Dave Hopewell (1976-78) of Harrodsburg and Andy Murray ((1986-89) of Florence — all agreed on that as well as the overall excitement about Kentucky football since the hiring of Stoops.
Question:¿What is your reaction to UK spending the money to bring a creative, innovative offense mind like Neal Brown to the program?
Murray: “I am thrilled to see us participating in the financial arms race, and really believe we can compete with a creative offense. Hal Mumme could score with anyone and would have taken us to another level if he believed in defense. He also had a few quirky thoughts on his special teams approach and simply believed that he did not have the talent to defend some of the guys that were returning kicks in our conference. When you add his offensive scheme to a program that has a head coach with a defensive pedigree, it will be scary. You can look at what his brother did in OK with the same approach, and OK was at a low point in their program’s history from a talent standpoint. I think most everyone will agree, our team has more young talent on it today than the first two Mumme teams. The other key to this is approach is the fact that Brown’s system has done a better job of running the ball as you can see in their rushing yards per game at Texas Tech.”
Abney: “I have not heard the final numbers but it’s very encouraging. To get Neal, you would need to provide a substantial financial incentive. This is the last justifiable beef the BBN can have with Mitch Barnhart; financial support of the football team. This could be the beginning of a beautiful thing.”
Maggard: “My feeling this evening reflects reserved euphoria. I am dang proud of UK, but understand re-building a roster is both challenging and takes time. Neal Brown, in my opinion, is the best offensive coordinator in college football and now he's home in Lexington. But Neal will be more about business than homecoming pats on the back. I like that. College football is a mere Econ 101 text book case. Re-distributing funds to any entities major money maker is sound business and also is on par with the rest of the SEC. Mr. Barnhart has set the stage.”
Todd: “It is an exciting proposition to think we will have the defensive coordinator of the second ranked 2012 defense and the offensive coordinator of the second ranked 2012 passing offense teaming up at UK. I personally feel that this is the first step that UK has to take to see us get back to a competitive situation with our football program. It is great to think that we are in a situation to attract successful coaches to our program. I feel the next step is for the administration and the fans to do their part. By that I mean, the administration preparing and executing a plan to make the facilities and ‘extras’ for UK football to match the rest of the SEC. For the fans, I think that means they have to be willing to support the program with their attendance and the financial commitment that comes with that. Neal will bring an offensive style that we have seen before. It was exciting and successful and actually led to the last major financial expansion by UK when they expanded Commonwealth Stadium.”
Hopewell: “I'm certainly glad to see it. And again everyone knows how much I like offense. To bring in a coach who is has put together teams that have run offenses in the top 10 in the country at a couple of different schools is a step in the right direction.The added bonus that he is a Kentuckian and a former player, that is pretty sweet too.”
Question: What do you think this could mean to the UK football program?
Todd: “I think the immediate result will be excitement. Excitement for the players and for the fans. The players will all be excited to prove to the new coaching staff that they can play and win in the SEC. The fans will be excited to see the exciting offense and to see what Coach Stoops has in store for the defense. The long term impact will depend on how well our new coaches are able to attract the players they need to be successful in their system. All coaches will tell you that having the players is the key to success. And I feel that it is not just up to the coaches to get players. I think when recruits are in Lexington, they need to feel the excitement of the whole community around the football program. If the fan base is energized, a recruit will feel that excitement and make them more likely to consider us instead of some other school. But when the fan base is down, it can make a recruit think, why would I want to come and play in a place that the fans don’t care.”
Hopewell: “I believe players like to know they have a creative mind leading them. Neal brings that. Just watching some film on what he has done in different places looks like he knows what he wants to do anyway. Next is teaching players his system and developing them as players at this level so they know they'll have a better shot at getting to the next level in the NFL. When you do that it will help the program grow. Being able to sell the dream of getting better and going to up has got to help.”
Murray: “A new attitude with the kids. They will see the pedigree of this staff on day one, and it not be a walk in the park for them and probably won’t be a lot of fun at first. I also think our current kids will start to notice another gear that they did not realize they possessed when it comes to their everyday lives and level of play. These guys on our new staff have all been around success and know what it takes and it will be evident to our current roster immediately.”
Maggard: “Fan excitement and re-connecting the BBN. (My wife) Jen made (hotel) reservations for Nashville (and the season opening game against Western Kentucky) , I'd say 40,000 friends will do the same.”
Abney: “It’s all so early but it’s hard to argue there’s a better fit at offensive coordinator than Neal Brown. The BBN is absolutely intoxicated with the Air Raid offense, and for good reason. Results mean everything but the future looks bright on both sides of the ball. If I only had a couple years left ...”
Question: Does it excite you to also have Chad Scott (running backs) and John Schlarman (offensive line) coming back to UK with Brown?
Maggard: “Absolutely. Understanding past struggles and successes can only strengthen commitment. But to be totally honest, I don't care if they are from Mars as long as they can coach and recruit. I'm ready to win.”
Murray: “I had a chance to meet John a few times during his career and as a young coach and he is first class. As a player he was a worrier and literally went to a lot of practices on crutches and ankle boots. He will do a great job, and help coach Stoops create some that toughness that we have all been talking about.”
Abney: “I vividly remember both of them. John was a quality guy in all facets of the game/life and Chad was a quiet, confident competitor. I’m so excited these two are coming back to Lexington. I’m always cautiously optimistic but I have to say I’m more excited than I anticipated, and the coaching staff is a major reason for that.”
Hopewell: “Yes, I'm glad to see it. I know Neal has coached with both of them so they all know each other and how the other may react in different situations. That has to bring a lot of comfort to each of them. I know John better than I do Chad but I know both of them are ready for this level and communicate well with their players. John's father in law is Joe Federspiel, the former UK all-SEC linebacker and pro bowler. I know Joe is glad to have his daughter and grandkids close again, too.”
Todd: “Coaches always say that they love wherever they are working. But, I would think that it means a little more to you when it is just more than a paycheck. Having spent all or part of your playing days at a school would have to make it mean more than just any job. As a former player, I am excited to again have former players as part of the staff. Chad, John and Neal will all have experiences from their playing days that they will be able to pull from in their capacity as coaches that will benefit the program.”
Question: What about the overall staff Stoops is putting together from a coaching and recruiting standpoint?
Abney: “I’ve spoken to a coach who says this is a talented and young (equal) hungry) staff. And I couldn’t agree more. I think the second and third hires (after the defensive coordinator) was the receiver coach and cornerback coach who are known as much for their recruiting as their X’s and O’s. Two things that stick out so far are the financial commitment of the athletics director — announcement soon of upgraded facilities — and in addition to a conventional strength coach, another staff member directly responsible for diet and strength/conditioning. Those are two vital pieces to a BCS program, in my opinion.”
Murray: “I think the recruiting trail is not going to have as many rocks and pot holes as it has had in the past. We all know players make plays and any coach will tell you that they will take talent any day of the week over most. I cannot wait to see what this team looks like in two years.”
Maggard: “What is obvious from first pass is the staff is young and proven recruiters as well as coaches. But, geographical recruiting diversity only can boost in that effort. I see coaching with experience in Alabama, Florida, Texas, and what really is hopeful, strong junior college past recruiting success. That may be critical in the early development phase.”
Todd: “I think the most exciting part is the recruiting potential. I know coaches may have philosophy differences, but I feel the most important part is getting the right players for the system you want to be able to run. The ability to get the players they need is what will determine how successful we will be in the coming years.”
Hopewell: “Like I'd said before, I just wanted a staff put in place that really believes they can take us to the SEC Championship game on the 1st Saturday in December each year. It looks like that is what's happening. Now it's time to go to work and get it done.
“This coaching staff is still just one element of the equation though. The administration still has to put in place being able to get the other improvements to bring it all together. It's not just an all-star coaching staff. The administration having the political influence with the legislature to get bonding for things will be a major factor. UK will certainly be able to pay back any bonds they get with a winning football program so that shouldn't be a concern. I just never dreamed state politics would play into something like this for your land grant university. So if fans could call their legislators for support and even call the Governor's office for support that just might be of help.”
Question: Do you remember a time when there was more excitement over UK football, especially coming off a 2-10 season?
Hopewell: “For me personally only one time. I was a freshman at UK in 1975 and we went 2-8-1. I sure hated to go home that Christmas. I could feel the embarrassment for me from my entire family. But we as a team knew we were better than that and the next two years we went 9-3 and then 10-1 and won the last SEC Championship UK has ever won in football. That's still my dream for this team.
“But as a parent of players and as a fan, no I have never seen this much excitement. I do feel most fans are really happy about the way things have gone with this hire. It looks like coach Stoops has been given free rein on what he was wanting to do and I am really glad to see that.”
Todd: “The only thing I have to compare this to is the transition from Coach Curry to Coach Mumme between the 1996 and 1997 seasons. UK spent a lot of time and money getting out the word about the “air raid” offense that Mumme was bringing. Now we have the “air raid” part II and to go along with it, we have Coach Stoops and his background on the defensive side. As much as most fans will be excited about the offensive potential, I am just excited to see what Coach Stoops will be able to do with our defense. I would like nothing better than to have a defense that can stop people in the SEC. Regardless of the outcome, I will forever be a UK fan and avid supporter.”
Maggard: “I can't, and I've been a fanatic since birth. Maybe after coach Jerry Claiborne's first-second season, but today's instant communication and social media takes this to a level uncharted at UK.”
Murray: “Not since the afternoon of us beating Louisville and listening to the Air Raid sirens in Commonwealth Stadium.”
Abney: “Absolutely not. And the excitement seems entirely justifiable.”