Perhaps a bit quietly, Mark Stoops suddenly is the Southeastern Conference's second-longest tenured coach at a single school; Stoops is in his ninth season atop the University of Kentucky program.
During Wednesday's SEC coaches' teleconference, Stoops was asked about the change in perception regarding the Kentucky job – which has seen its profile elevated largely on the shoulders of Stoops' methodical rebuilding process.
“I guess I take that as a compliment,” Stoops said, “because when I got here I can guarantee you it was a bottom 10 (job in the nation).”
After just a dozen wins combined in his first three seasons, Stoops has amassed 39 wins since the start of the 2016 season.
The Wildcats' program has produced multiple first-round NFL Draft picks, won three consecutive bowl games, earned a school-record five-straight bowl berths and also posted a 10-win season.
“I've said it since day 1, if people want to say it's (now) a top-10 job, when I talked about taking it to national prominence when I walked in here, people laughed at me,” Stoops said. “We're on our way. It's not easy in this league in particular. I think you could see that. … When I walked in here we got beat by Vanderbilt by 30 points the year before. So you take it from 14 (out of 14 SEC schools) to the top, there's progression for taking those steps.
“We have no intention of slowing down.”
The Wildcats, behind Penn State-transfer Will Levis at quarterback and a veteran offensive line, believe this is the year they can challenge Georgia, and perhaps Florida, for supremacy in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division. Only Kentucky and Vanderbilt have yet to appear in the SEC title game from the Eastern Division.
They defeated Missouri, 35-28, last weekend to go 1-0 in SEC play and host Football Championship Subdivision team Chattanooga this week before traveling to South Carolina.