By LARRY VAUGHT
Sometimes Mark Stoops’ old-school mentality can frustrate Kentucky fans. Given his way, there’s no doubt he would rely on a running game, field position and defense to win games.
But that old-school mentality sometimes needs to be admired as well.
Not only has Stoops and his staff had to deal with COVID-19 issues this season, but he’s had to cope with the recent loss to offensive line coach John Schlarman to pancreatic cancer. Schlarman was beloved not only by players, but also coaches and UK fans.
Stoops — as well as his staff and players — have to be emotionally and physically worn out from the grind of everything plus a 10-game SEC schedule for the first time in school history. Yet given a chance to bail out on playing No. 1 Alabama last week when UK had a mild COVID outbreak, he didn’t flinch. The Cats played and got annihilated 63-3.
He won’t back down from playing No. 5 Florida this week, either, even though UK likely will be without most of the same players who had to miss last week’s game.
“It is what it is and I really don’t want to get into detail with that (about COVID-19 numbers). At this point it’s the same … you know, we want to play the game,” Stoops said Monday. “We’re not going to run and hide around here, we’re going to play if we can.
“Obviously, we are going to put our players’ safety first but we’re also not going to look for an excuse not to play. So we’ll be there (to play Florida).”
Stoops knows he’s paid well to handle the adversity UK has faced this year.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry about me and I’m not worried about that. But it is difficult for the players,” Stoops said.
He’s right. That’s not an excuse. Just a fact.
“The players, I do feel for them. They’ve had to deal with a lot, no question. I’ve been down coaches, down to two or three offensive coaches since the Tennessee game. We’re down players, we practice all week with certain players and then find out on Friday they can’t play. It’s difficult. It’s difficult on them. They’ve had to deal with a lot,” Stoops said.
“ John Schlarman was close to everybody on this team and I think our team did the best they could in responding to difficult times. I finally have somebody in there to help with the offensive line. Hopefully that will help those guys and give them some input. There is no replacing John Schlarman, that’s for sure, but I needed to have somebody in there to give them some eyes and help them through the practices and help them through the week. We’ve got coaches down for other issues that are out of our control.”
Stoops noted that nine SEC teams, including Kentucky, have three or fewer wins this season playing an all conference schedule. He called it a “blank show” this year rather than use the four-letter S-word.
“I don’t have coaches, you know. Whatever. I don’t even want to say it because I don’t want anyone attacking me for excuses. It sucks. You know? It’s very difficult. It’s very difficult to pick your players up each and every day but we’re going to try our best and we’re going to continue to fight,” Stoops said.
“Again, we will be there (at Florida) and we’ll play. There are issues we are dealing with but we’ll be there.”