HOOVER, Ala. – When you think about sports at the University of Kentucky it’s easy to instantly focus on basketball. Rupp Arena. John Calipari. Ashley Judd.
It takes a while before you get to the football program. But new head coach Mark Stoops wants that to change.
“If we put out a good product on the field, something the whole state's proud of, they'll show up in droves,” said Stoops. “That's what we're trying to get to.”
Typically a football coach has to produce results before statements like Stoops’ about fan support can come to fruition. That wasn’t the case in April when 50,831 fans packed Commonwealth Stadium to watch Kentucky’s annual Blue/White Spring Game. The previous record crowd happened in 1987 when 20,325 fans showed up. Last year the Wildcats’ spring game was played in front of just 4,500.
But a huge crowd at this year’s spring game to usher in a new coaching era won’t be enough to placate the Wildcats’ fan base, at least not for long. Stoops’ football program is going to need wins, which have been hard to come by of late.
Kentucky only won twice last season and went through its Southeastern Conference schedule without a win. The Wildcats haven’t enjoyed a winning season in three years and haven’t posted a double-digit win total since 1977. The football program has only been to eight bowl games in the last 28 years.
That’s a far cry from the success Kentucky’s basketball team has enjoyed.
The Wildcats won an NCAA hoops title as recently as 2012 and before that was 1998. Under head coach John Calipari over the last four seasons Kentucky is 123-26 and the Wildcats haven’t’ endured a losing season since the 1988-89 campaign.
Kentucky is still a basketball school, and will be for a long time, likely always. Stoops hopes that, as well as an improved product on the field, his football program can evolve with the help of Calipari.
“I really appreciate everything Coach Cal does for us,” said Stoops. “He takes time. We bring recruits in. He visits with them. He's really embracing myself and the staff. So I love it. He's so charismatic. He's been so successful.“
Calipari can only help so much, though. For Stoops to close the gap at Kentucky, for him to make the football program just as powerful as the basketball program, winning is all that matters.