Dear Coach Stoops,
It’s safe to say the Tax Slayer Bowl didn’t go as planned. I am understandably disappointed, but I am not at all dejected. I think Kentucky Football is in fine hands with you at the helm. What you and your staff did this season was nothing short of remarkable, and our future looks very bright.
Sure, we had that disastrous beginning to the season, losing first to the University of Southern Mississippi after having completely dominated them in the 1st half, and then getting demolished at Florida a week later. There was a sizable portion of the BBN that was asking for your head on a platter. There were also the ridiculous fans who called in to your weekly show to let you know who they thought would be a better coach for the Cats.
Through all that, Coach, you just put your head down and continued to work. You didn’t flinch, and you didn’t let your team flinch. You regrouped the troops, and somehow, magically, a new Wildcat team took the field in the second half of the New Mexico State game. That was followed up with a 3rd straight win over South Carolina the next week.
Three more SEC wins would follow, and bowl eligibility became a possibility again after many had written off the Cats weeks earlier. Of course, nothing ever comes easy for any UK Football team, and losses to Georgia and Tennessee had some fans crying their tired refrain of “same old Kentucky Football.” You told your players to drown out the toxic talk, and to keep pushing forward. And push forward, they did.
After sealing eligibility for a post-season bowl game with the win over Austin Peay, the Commonwealth breathed a collective sigh of relief. This one event was very important because it got the Cats over a hurdle that they had stumbled against the previous 2 seasons. These young kittens finally knew that they could win. You helped them understand that Kentucky Football can be different. You insisted the culture in Lexington change.
Still the naysayers persisted. “Who cares about 4 SEC wins? The SEC is down. All those teams were terrible, anyway!” How did you respond, Coach? You didn’t flinch. You didn’t let your team flinch. You responded as a winner would respond — you went out and beat “somebody.”
Yes, Coach. You responded with an exclamation point when you took your Cats into Papa John’s Stadium to face the then-#11 Louisville Cardinals, and you beat them. The 28-point favorites. The team with the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson. The hated in state rival. The team that said they could “name their score” against your Cats. A team that, earlier in the season had been in serious talk about making the playoffs. A team that definitely fit the fan criteria of being “somebody.” You got your signature win.
For the entire month of December, Kentucky Football was relevant again. Recruits took notice of the program’s rise, and commitments were coming in faster than Boom Williams can run 90 yards for a touchdown. You got an invitation to the Tax Slayer Bowl. A New Year’s Eve bowl. You served notice to college football that Kentucky was on the rise. This was what was going to be known from this point forward as “Kentucky Football.”
But, as I said in my opening line, things didn’t go exactly as planned against Georgia Tech. The Big Blue Nation showed up by the thousands and did their best to help cheer the team on to victory. It was not to be, however. The last day of 2016 brought us a loss. Disappointing, but not at all disheartening.
So Coach, I’d like you to know that I believe in you. I feel confident in your plans for Kentucky Football’s future. I believe in your staff: Eddie Gran, Darin Hinshaw, D.J. Eliot, Vince Marrow, John Schlarman, Jimmy Brumbaugh, Matt House, Lamar Thomas, and Steve Clinkscale. I believe you will continue to recruit at a high level, and that you will continue to develop our beloved Wildcats into a true contender in the SEC.
I believe our future is bright and I believe you are the man to get the job done.
Thank you, Coach Stoops.
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