“I think Mark Stoops is the best program builder in all of college football right now.”
— Tom Luginbill, ESPN National Recruiting Director and on-air game analyst
The Kentucky football program continues to stack an impressive set of milestones under the leadership of Mark Stoops.
On Jan. 1, when Kentucky took the field for the Vrbo Citrus Bowl, it made official a school-record six consecutive bowl games – all under Stoops – surpassing the mark of five straight bowls from 2006-10.
And, when the Wildcats rallied to defeat Iowa — UK’s 10th fourth-quarter comeback victory during the last six seasons — it also marked a school-record fourth-straight bowl win.
The victory over the Hawkeyes was UK’s 16th in a row vs. non-conference opponents, the longest active streak in the nation.
Kentucky finished the season with a 10-3 record, only the fourth time in school history (twice in the last four years under Stoops) that the Wildcats have reached double-digit victories. UK began the season with a 6-0 start for the first time since 1950, when the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant patrolled the sidelines in Lexington.
The 2021 campaign featured a 5-3 tally in the Southeastern Conference. UK finished in sole possession of second place in the SEC Eastern Division, the first time the Wildcats were solely in second since the league split into divisions in 1992.
More milestones loom in the near future. When the Wildcats begin the 2022 season, it will be Stoops’ 10th year at UK, longer than any coach in school history.
In addition, Stoops has 59 wins in the Blue and White, needing only two more triumphs to surpass the school standard of 60 set by Bryant.
As quickly as the achievements have come recently, Stoops’ success has been far from easy.
Inheriting a program that was 2-10 in 2012, the year before he arrived, Stoops’ rebuilding efforts took time. Two games into the 2016 season his record was 12-26, but the program took off from there and the coach has engineered a 47-27 (63.5%) mark since.
In addition to the numerous landmarks above, a partial accounting of Stoops’ achievements features:
• 33 wins in the last four seasons, ranking 16th among Power Five programs;
• Winning the season finale four years in a row for the first time since 1898-1901;
• Since 2016, a 20-8 record (71.4%) in games decided by seven points or less;
• First home win over Florida since 1986, also marking the first win over an Associated Press top 10-ranked opponent since 2010 (2021);
• 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 win vs. Florida since 1986 (2018)
• First bowl appearance since 2010 (2016)
In addition to the team accomplishments, several of Stoops’ players have won All-America accolades, along with honors such as the Bronko Nagurski Award, Chuck Bednarik Award, Paul Hornung Award, Ronnie Lott Trophy, Ray Guy Award, Danny Wuerffel Trophy, Jason Witten Man of the Year, Pop Warner Award, Academic All-America and National Good Works Team.
The bountiful crop of victories and honors are the fruit of the last six seasons, but the harvest didn’t come easily. Arriving in 2013, taking over a team that had gone 2-10 the season before, it took three years of plowing, planting and growing before the results came.
Stoops earned his first bowl game as head coach in 2016, when the Wildcats overcame an 0-2 start to go 7-3 down the stretch and advance to the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. UK duplicated seven wins in 2017, playing in the Franklin-American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
Led by linebacker Josh Allen, the National Defensive Player of the Year, and Benny Snell Jr., the school’s all-time leading rusher, the 2018 squad went 10-3. It was UK’s best season in 41 years, topped by a win over Penn State in the VRBO Citrus Bowl. It was only the third 10-win season in school history.
In addition, the 2018 campaign featured a win at Florida — the Wildcats’ first victory over the Gators in 32 years — resulting in UK being named the National Team of the Week by the Football Writers Association of America. The regular season concluded with a 56-10 win at in-state rival Louisville, the largest margin of victory in the history of the Governor’s Cup series.
UK was No. 11 in the final USA Today coaches’ poll and No. 12 in the final Associated Press tabulation, the school’s first appearance in the final rankings since 1984. The 2018 season also continued a remarkable trend — since Stoops took over as coach of the Cats in 2013, UK was the only school in the nation that tied or improved its win total in six straight seasons.
CollegeFootballNews.com listed Stoops as the best coaching performance of the season and he was named Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year by The Associated Press, Athlon Sports and the league coaches.
The 2019 season was one of the most unusual in school history. A succession of injuries decimated the quarterbacks and Stoops turned to wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. to man the QB position. Running the ball almost exclusively, UK went 6-2 down the stretch and closed the season with four straight wins, topped by a dramatic come-from-behind Belk Bowl win over Virginia Tech when Bowden threw the game-winning touchdown pass with only 15 seconds remaining.
How has Stoops accomplished all of this? The coach would tell you that there’s been nothing magical about the process.
True to his blue-collar roots in Youngstown, Ohio, the methodical advancement made by Stoops’ teams is a reflection of the coach’s rock-steady work ethic, tireless recruiting, and ability to adapt.
Stoops came to Kentucky from Florida State, where he was defensive coordinator from 2010-12. He inherited a unit a unit ranked 108th in the nation in total defense and turned it into one of the nation’s best. In the 2012 season, the Seminoles were second in the nation in total defense, allowing 254.1 yards per game, and sixth nationally in scoring defense at 14.7 points per game. Playing well against the run and the pass, FSU was third in the country in rushing defense and led the nation in pass defense. FSU led the ACC in seven defensive categories. Stoops also coached the defensive backs under head coach Jimbo Fisher.
Eight Seminoles on defense earned 2012 All-ACC honors, including four first-team selections, highlighted by one of the nation’s top defensive end duos in Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine, who combined for 24 sacks and 31 tackles for loss. Werner was a finalist for the 2012 Bronko Nagurski Award as the National Defensive Player of the Year and was among the national leaders in sacks with 13. Stoops also coached cornerback Ronald Darby to ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Seminoles’ prowess was a continuation of the 2011 season, when Stoops’ defenders led the nation in fewest yards allowed per carry (2.3), ranked fourth in the nation in total defense (275 yards per game), second in rushing defense (82.7 ypg), fourth in scoring defense (15.1 points per game), and eighth in tackles for loss (8.6 per game) and quarterback sacks (3.1 per game). FSU led the ACC in eight defensive categories.
Stoops overhauled the Florida State defense in 2010, his first season as defensive coordinator. The Seminoles gave up 19.6 points per game, third-best in the ACC and 20th nationally. FSU ranked 42nd nationally in total defense that season; in contrast, the team was 108th nationally in total defense and 94th in scoring defense in 2009, the year before Stoops’ arrival. FSU improved its overall defense by more than 80 yards per game, primarily by limiting opponents to 75 fewer rushing yards per game. The Seminoles ranked third in the nation in quarterback sacks and were 21st in tackles for loss. In the secondary, Stoops coached Xavier Rhodes to ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and National Defensive Freshman of the Year accolades.
During Stoops’ three seasons, FSU went 10-4, 9-4 and 12-2, including wins over South Carolina in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl, Notre Dame in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl and Northern Illinois in the 2013 Orange Bowl.
Stoops was defensive coordinator and DBs coach at Arizona from 2004-09, working for his brother, Mike, who was head coach of the Wildcats. During Mark’s time there, Arizona’s records improved steadily, going 3-8, 3-8, 6-6, 5-7, 8-5 and 8-5. The Wildcats advanced to the Las Vegas Bowl and Holiday Bowl during the last two years.
Stoops inherited an Arizona unit that was 109th in the nation in total defense and 107th in scoring defense in 2003, the year before he arrived. By the end of his term at Arizona, the Wildcats ranked in the nation’s top 25 in total defense his final two seasons and ranked as high as 33rd in scoring defense.
Mark and Mike are also brothers of Bob Stoops, who spent 18 years as the Oklahoma head coach and has been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. The eldest Stoops brother, Ron Jr., is retired after coaching at Youngstown State. Mark and Mike have reunited in Lexington, as Mike has joined the UK staff as inside linebackers coach.
Prior to Arizona, Mark Stoops coached the defensive backs three years at Miami (Fla.). The 2001 national champion Hurricanes led the nation in pass efficiency defense, scoring defense and turnover margin. That team also established a school record with 27 interceptions and 45 total takeaways.
Stoops’ 2002 secondary led the nation in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. Despite having to replace all four starters in the defensive backfield, the 2003 team led the nation in pass defense. In his three seasons, Miami went 35-3, including the 12-0 Rose Bowl title campaign, plus appearances in the Fiesta and Orange bowls. Ten Miami defensive backs who played at least one season under Stoops were eventually selected in the National Football League draft – seven in the first round.
Stoops got his first experience in leading a defense as co-defensive coordinator at Houston in the 2000 season. He coached the secondary at Wyoming from 1997-99 and the Cowboys notched three straight winning seasons. A highlight of his time there was a school-record 24 interceptions in the ’97 season. His first full-time coaching job was in 1996 at South Florida, helping USF in the start-up of its program before the Bulls had their first kickoff in ’97.
Stoops has recruited and developed numerous outstanding defensive backs, many of whom went on to National Football League careers. Among the notables are Mike Edwards, Brandin Echols, Lonnie Johnson Jr., Kelvin Joseph and Chris Westry at Kentucky, Antoine Cason and Michael Johnson at Arizona, Miami’s Philip Buchanon, Kelly Jennings, Brandon Meriweather, Ed Reed, Antrel Rolle, Mike Rumph and Sean Taylor and Wyoming’s Brian Lee.
Stoops was raised in Youngstown, Ohio. As did brothers Bob and Mike, Mark played in the secondary at the University of Iowa for Hall of Fame coach Hayden Fry. He participated in four bowl games as a player. Fry hired Stoops as a graduate assistant coach at Iowa in the 1990 and ’91 seasons. The Hawkeyes won the 1990 Big Ten title and played in the Rose Bowl, duplicating feats Stoops also achieved as a player. Stoops went on to coach four years in high school before entering the collegiate ranks.
Stoops has two sons, Will and Zack.
Stoops Coaching History
|1990||Iowa||Graduate Assistant||8-4||Rose Bowl|
|1991||Iowa||Graduate Assistant||10-1-1||Holiday Bowl|
|1992-95||Nordonia HS||Defensive Backs||–||–|
|1996||South Florida||Defensive Backs||0-0||–|
|2000||Houston||Co-Defensive Coordinator, Safeties||3-8||–|
|2001||Miami (Fla.)||Defensive Backs||12-0||Rose Bowl|
|2002||Miami (Fla.)||Defensive Backs||12-1||Fiesta Bowl|
|2003||Miami (Fla.)||Defensive Backs||11-2||Orange Bowl|
|2004||Arizona||Defensive Coordinator, DBs||3-8||–|
|2005||Arizona||Defensive Coordinator, DBs||3-8||–|
|2006||Arizona||Defensive Coordinator, DBs||6-6||–|
|2007||Arizona||Defensive Coordinator, DBs||5-7||–|
|2008||Arizona||Defensive Coordinator, DBs||8-5||Las Vegas Bowl|
|2009||Arizona||Defensive Coordinator, DBs||8-5||Holiday Bowl|
|2010||Florida State||Defensive Coordinator, DBs||10-4||Chick-fil-A Bowl|
|2011||Florida State||Defensive Coordinator, DBs||9-4||Champs Sports Bowl|
|2012||Florida State||Defensive Coordinator, DBs||12-2||Orange Bowl|
|2016||Kentucky||Head Coach||7-6||TaxSlayer Bowl|
|2017||Kentucky||Head Coach||7-6||Music City Bowl|
|2018||Kentucky||Head Coach||10-3||Citrus Bowl Champions|
|2019||Kentucky||Head Coach||8-5||Belk Bowl Champions|
|2020||Kentucky||Head Coach||5-6||TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Champions|
|2021||Kentucky||Head Coach||10-3||Vrbo Citrus Bowl Champions|