March 27, 2020
“I just want to say I hope everyone’s doing good and staying safe. Obviously we’re in some unprecedented times and it’s been very unique to say the least on us and our football program, but more importantly throughout the country. Just hope everybody’s staying safe. We are constantly monitoring our players and checking on our players to make sure they’re good. So first and foremost, it’s about their health and well-being and all of you and everybody out there just trying to stay safe. We’re trying to do our part and do whatever we can.
“As far as the football program, just prior to spring break things were changing by the hour. Things were changing daily and by the hour and we had many different discussions about what to try to do and to plan to do with our players prior to them leaving for spring break, but we had a pretty good indication by the time that Thursday afternoon rolled around, and Friday, that our players would not be reporting back and that it would be very difficult for me as the head coach, responsible for so many people coming back from spring break to all get together in one room. When we put all of our whole team and our whole staff in there, there’s upwards of 120, 130, 140 people depending on who’s all in that meeting. And that’s an awful lot of people to put together, so I did not feel comfortable about that, again, just thinking back to prior to spring break. So we kind of anticipated that there would be some form of a break. We tried to prepare for that as best we could. Obviously things have changed quite a bit since then. Right now, it’s about us checking on our players and checking on their families to make sure that they are safe and doing the things necessary to stay safe. That’s definitely number one priority for us, is player safety and all their families. The next thing would be academics, making sure they come back and taking care of their business and doing what they’re supposed to do with their online courses. We have virtual tutor sessions that are set up through our people that handle academics and they’ve done a fantastic job in that area. Really, greatly appreciate them and our support staff and what they’re doing to help our players through this difficult time.
“Our university has been fantastic with Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart and making sure we give them the tools necessary to be successful, whether that’s sending them an iPad or a computer or things of that nature and even—Christian’s (Fiero) here with me today. Even Christian sending them some form of – what’s it called, Christian? – a box or whatever that they can get online. I didn’t even know they had things like that. Kids that didn’t have the ability to get online in their homes, we sent them some tools to help them do that. Academically, it’s super important for us to stay on top of it. We had the best fall we had in a long time around here (academically) and really pushed because during the fall we have a tendency to dip because players are so busy, but we had a really strong fall. But we did have some players that needed to have a strong spring and they were off to a really good start and so it’s really important for us to continue with that and give them tutors and give them the tools necessary to help them be successful. We’ve been very good the past couple years in the spring semester of really working hard and staying on top of it academically, so that’s very important for us right now.
“The next thing that we have to pay close attention to is strength training. As you know, we constant pride ourselves and talk a great deal about development. We are a developmental program. We want to recruit at a super high level, but developing is our players is really number one outside of academically and developing them off the field. When it comes to the physical part of the game, the strength and conditioning is very big to us and we take great pride in that. You’ve heard me talk about that many, many times, that our strength and conditioning staff do such a good job. And I feel like that’s where we make our gains. That’s where we gain on people, is outworking and developing our strength and our conditioning and becoming a big, strong, physical football team. So that’s imperative that we continue that while we’re not around these players right now. You’ve also heard me constantly talk about developing our players in leadership and being a player-led team. Well, this will be a great test for us, because our players are on their own. Much like back in the old days when I played, it was kind of on you to kind of do the development through the summer. As you know, things have changed and we constantly train our players so they really don’t have to think about much and they really don’t need much motivation because our strength and conditioning takes great care of that. You walk in that weight room and they have an attitude about them and a presence about them that kind of is very contagious. When our players walk in, they’ve been trained the right way. So right now, it’s an opportunity for our players to show the discipline they have, to work extremely hard on their own. It’s also really important for our strength and conditioning team – and I met with them at my house on Monday – and we are very active in putting things together to help show them. Players learn a different way. They don’t necessarily—if you script something out on a piece of paper and send it to them, I’m not sure that’s most beneficial for them. So we are doing things to demonstrate and to video and to send it to them to stay on top of that with the development piece. So it gets down to the discipline of our players, it gets down to the motivation of our players and it also gets down to the organization of us to provide them with as much as we can to help them through this difficult time and to continue to build their bodies and build their minds and develop in all areas of their life. That’s extremely important to us.
“The last piece would be setting up—the NCAA’s, I think, set to clear it today. We worked on it already and had some academic meeting and touched base with our players through Zoom, so we’ll continue to communicate much like we’re doing right now. We’ll continue to do this and work with our players and be prepared to have meetings online. This is our first week back, so this is the first week we’ve gone through this so I know there’s many questions and I could open it up here in a minute, but two weeks ago we were on spring break. This is the first full week we’ve gone through with this. This week was much about getting our players settled. They had to come back, move out of the dorms, then you have to get them to a safe environment, get them situated, get them online, get them access to their online classes, get organized with all that. Now we gotta continue to work and go back and continue to develop our bodies and then we’ll go from there. How long this will take, your guess is as good as mine. I’m just trying to do my part. There’s so many extremely intelligent people working on this worldwide that we’ll sit here and do our part as best we can in our community and in our school, and again it’s really comfortable for me to continue to lean on the leadership of Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart and all the people here making smart and wise decisions, our governor continuing to do great things and make great decisions for everybody in our community. We are just trying to do our part and do the best we can and continue to push this program from all different parts of the country to be honest with you. Our players are all over the place. We are trying to do the best that we can and give them as many tools as we can to be successful and to be organized and to be on top of it because we have no idea how long this is going to last, but one thing is for sure, we have no interest in going backwards. We want to continue to push this program and hopefully all of the things we’ve been working on for many years will come to the forefront here during this time of crisis.”
On if any student-athletes have been directly affected by COVID-19 …
“No, not that I’m aware of right now unless things have changed in the last 24 hours. I touch base with Gabe (Amponsah), our trainer, just about every day. I checked in with him yesterday and everything was clear. We had one scare, we had one player that was sick and did have the flu. He did do the things necessary to be quarantined and quarantine himself. Our trainers and our people did a fantastic job of isolating him and then also supporting him with food and things of that nature and medicine to help him until the results came back and fortunately, they came back negative. He had the flu, but he did not have COVID-19.”
On his thoughts of the 2020 college football season potentially being canceled …
“I am (concerned). But as you know, I also try to stay in my lane as best as possible. We are going to continue to work and prepare to play that opening game. That is where my mindset is. To say that it hasn’t crossed my mind, or that I don’t think about it, that’s a lie. You have to block it out and continue to push and work and do the best you can to be prepared. So that’s what I’m worried about is getting the team ready. I did touch base with Kirk (Herbstreit) yesterday on the phone and talked about, quite honestly, just personal things — checking on his family, him checking on ours and just talking, but no, I have no control of that as of you know. This is much bigger than the University of Kentucky, so we will do the things necessary and do what we are told, but as of right now we are preparing to play.”
On the student-athletes rehabbing from injuries …
“Yeah, that is a great question. They are able to have the ability to get 1-on-1 training sessions to get the rehab, so they are rehabbing. We are in constant communication with our trainers and doing the things necessary to continue with their rehab. You know also, I failed to mention, we’ve talked about the four or five steps that we are talking about right now, obviously recruiting never stops whether we are in the office or away from the office or wherever, so we are doing the best we can there as well. That would be another major point for us is to continue to build these relationships the best we can. It’s obviously changed, it’s changed for us but it’s changed for everybody because this is a time when we have had many, many players come on campus both for official visits, unofficial visits, spend time watching us in spring practice and really getting to know us and building that relationship, so that is affecting us but it is also affecting everybody. We are doing the best we can to Skype and to talk to players and communicate with families the best we can as well.”
On keeping momentum with recruits during this time …
“I think it is important. As I talk about the things and the steps in our program, you know, you hear me talk about all the time, it’s that we recruit and then we intentionally develop them once they get here. But as we get better and continue to build our program, you know a key piece in there to think about is that as we get better and we continue to build our program and we have had a good run, it’s a good start and we want to continue to build this program. But we want to make sure we are selecting the right players as well. We feel very good about where we are. Even a year ago, we started maybe a touch slow, you start thinking that you need to push the button or whatever, but by the end of it, by the time December was rolling around, November, December, I was having a really hard time not taking guys’ commitments, let’s put it that way. So, we can be more selective — the better we are getting, the better job our coaches do at recruiting and building off the positive things that happen in our program. We want to make sure we are selecting the right players. I think that is where you have to be careful because we want to make sure we know exactly what we are getting and making sure that it is a great fit for us here at the University of Kentucky with these players. We are different, we do things different and everybody does. We want to make sure we are selective in finding the right players that we feel can come in and be committed to the things that are important to us. It’s, again, unprecedented times, very unique and very different, so that’s a tricky question what you just asked and I’m not just skirting around it but yes, it is important to get the guys we know what we are getting and if we are comfortable with them. We have had that recently with a commitment, but that was somebody and some folks we are very comfortable with because we had spent time with them already. Some other players that may want to commit, we still need to make sure that we are doing more research on them, that is where it’s going to be trick with this class.”
On talk about coaches giving up salaries and talk about coaches making charitable contributions…
“It hasn’t been talked about out loud, but it certainly has crossed my mind. I think that’s a great question and a great point. Yes, absolutely, I’m prepared to give back. Chantel (Stoops) and I have been active in this community for a long time, and it’s really important for us to give back right now. But, it’s also important to give back to the university if need be. We haven’t talked about that. I think it’s probably too early for our administration to fully comprehend what’s going to happen the rest of this year … well, they probably have a good idea about what’s going to happen this year (fiscal year 2019-20 that goes through June) … but moving forward, nobody really knows. I think that’s a great question and a great point. Yes, I would be open to that personally – giving back, helping and helping this university to make sure we have the ability to put the resources into our players, which is most important to me, continuing to develop our players in all areas of their life. That does take a strong financial commitment, and it takes great support from our university that they have given us. We constantly want to do those things to help develop these players and help develop our program. It’s important. What we do on the field is important to Kentucky, to this state. We want to represent this state the right way. We want to continue to push this program in a positive direction, and we all should look at ways to do the best we can to help in that commitment and to help push this program and develop this program, and have it be something that the product we put on the field is something we are all extremely proud of.”
On if summer practice is delayed, could the season be delayed…
“I have no idea. I think all of you know my answer to that, it’s above my pay grade. Mark Stoops does not make those decisions, but I try to do the very best I can, in my lane, to help others the best I can. I’m going to do my part and that is being extremely committed to our players. As you know, with me, y’all can see, many times when I’m not communicating with y’all that much, when we are not having regularly scheduled media conferences, I’m buried in my own world doing the things necessary. I have a big operation that I’m in charge of. There’s a lot of moving pieces in a football department, and there is a lot of people that you affect directly, and I take that very seriously. There are people that need to support their families that have jobs, and their safety right now is … a lot of times in our world, it’s easy to be selfish because you need to be in some ways to develop your programs, but you need to step back right now, and you better think about all of the people that you’re responsible for. In our football building, the amount of people that this directly affects is a lot. I need to concentrate on that, and I need to concentrate on this community and help this community the best I can, to help, and to be a small piece of the help. But, it can be overwhelming, so I try to focus on the so many people that I am responsible for and make good decisions for them, because there are a lot of things you want to do because you want to continue to push the program and develop the program, but their safety and families’ safety is extremely important. I mean, Christian (Fiero, video coordinator) is sitting with me right now and he has a two-year-old baby at home right now, and you have to think about those things. So, you know, we can’t be selfish at this time. We’ve got to do the things that we are responsible to do, the things that our leaders are telling us to do, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
On the ripple effect of not having hands-on, face-to-face time over the spring …
“I think the discipline of doing what you are supposed to do when no one is watching. We have great structure in our program, you have to. To me, it falls back on the training we have given these players. We have to be extremely disciplined and motivated right now to do the things that are necessary of them. That is, to take care of their health and take care of academics and do as much strength training as they possibly can and get creative in finding ways to do that. Our strength and conditioning team is doing their part, but our players have to be disciplined and motivated to do the things necessary. I talk all the time in our program to our kids about accountability and dependability. Well, if they are accountable to the things they have to do right now and dependable to do what they are supposed to do, then things will fall into place. I think the teams across the country and players across the country that are doing those things and being accountable and being dependable and working extremely hard on staying motivated. Then, when they come back, they will be the teams that will be successful. That is a big piece of it and that is something I have been in constant communication with our staff about is being in touch with our players and just constantly following up with them to make sure they are doing the things necessary, which are staying safe, doing their part in social distancing and doing their part staying quarantined. But also, getting online and taking care of their academics and doing their tutor sessions which are online and virtual right now. And also staying motivated with their strength and conditioning right now as best they can. Our team will be creative and do things they can do at home. I believe we are working hard to get some restrictions lifted where we can send some things home to them and they can get some (exercise) bands and things of that nature and do some resistance training and do the best we can to help them stay in shape. That is how we have made gains here is by outworking people and doing the things we need to do in the offseason and staying hungry each and every day. I think that is an important piece right now for our program.”
On contacting the players and what he is allowed to do …
“We are expecting to get that cleared today. I would imagine there is something that is going to come down the pipe today. This is our first week, as I mentioned, because two weeks ago was our spring break and we wouldn’t have done anything on that. This week is our first week going through that, actually, prior to knowing what we were allowed to do we were already working on that and communicating with our players on Zoom. But it is a process getting acclimated to that. We hadn’t done that a lot, but we had some. Then I hear from our compliance office, and I hope I am not incriminating myself here right now, but then our compliance office let me know that the NCAA is talking about and putting something out there where we can communicate with them and have team meetings and position meetings with these guys a couple hours a day. We are waiting on that decision any moment. Meanwhile, we can communicate with them that way and talk about academics and motivate them to stay safe but to also take care of their academics and make sure they are getting some sort of a workout in every day.”
On prior to the spring getting cancelled, which players exceeding the staff’s expectations …
“That is a difficult question for me to answer or to single out any individual player. I think it was obvious as I mentioned to you all after one of the practices that I was proud of the work they did during the winter. I saw our players, once again, making gains in the strength and conditioning area. That is something that we want to continue to be big and strong and physical. That was evident in the practices. There is no doubt about it that the continuity and strength of our offensive line is there. Again, I think it is very evident that we have a deep backfield with some very competent players. I was very impressed with the receivers continuing to take some jumps. Josh Ali and Clevan Thomas were a couple of guys that stood out to me. Allen Dailey had some opportunity. Defensively, we had quite a few players come back with a lot of experience. I was pleased with that group overall just from the start. It was just the start and we have a long way to go. I do have a lot of confidence in this team and feel like it is a really, really good group. They have a lot of experience and have some really good continuity and feel we have some really good guys coming in with Terry (Wilson) not being able to go through spring, Beau Allen and Joey Gatewood stood out for guys that you look for the future. You look at some guys that were really impressive in the first four practices and that was good as you know and important for us. We needed to hit on some guys and feel really good about them. That is just a few.”
On how the players are handling things emotionally with practice cancelling and not knowing when they’ll be back….
“They are like much of the country. It’s an inconvenience but we’ve got to keep things in perspective. That’s my message to players when I talk to them individually about certain issues and certain things. I mentioned to a few of them, ‘You have any idea how big the world is?’ They think about it for a minute and I say, ‘There’s very few people in the world that are not affected right now. So, keep that in perspective and control the things you can control. Focus on all of the things I’ve been talking about and keep those things in order.’ Most of our guys are mature. I’ve had a brief conversation with them and they understand but they are kids. You have just to make sure they continue to stay disciplined and listen to the rules and regulations that we have out there right now. We’re all in the same boat. Everybody is inconvenienced but we’re also blessed. You’ve got to think about and pray and try to help the people that are in a situation less fortunate than you are right now, that’s the big thing. Even personally and as a family, I’m trying to control the great, big family that I have directly in our building but also really try to help this community and the people that are in need the best we can. We try to do that and encourage all our players to do that.”
On if he’s heard from NFL teams since Pro Day was cancelled and his advice to Lynn Bowden Jr. since he didn’t get to run in the NFL Combine…
“Yes, I talked to Lynn yesterday and just checked on him, making sure he’s staying focused and doing the work necessary and making sure he has the ability to work out somewhere. He sounded good and is doing a good job.
“I have heard from quite a few teams and they like our players. The good thing is guys like Logan (Stenberg), he did an awful lot. He was able to go to the Senior Bowl and that was big for him and the Combine. Lynn, I don’t think it will hurt him at all. I have heard from quite a few teams and the one common theme is that the film doesn’t lie. The kid is an incredible football player and incredible competitor. I’ve never worked in the NFL, and they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do, but maybe it will be good for them, to quit worrying about all of the other things and just look at the film and see who the best football players are because he’s certainly one of them.”
On the hiring of Frank Buffano and his relationship with him and his new role …
“Our relationship really didn’t go back to high school (Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown). I really didn’t know Frank in high school. We did go to the same school, he was behind me, but didn’t know each other well. I really didn’t know Frank until much later in life. Of course I knew his roots, his background and school and everything else but we weren’t friends back then. We connected much later but I’m really happy for him. I’m proud of Frank. Here’s the deal with us and hiring. I’m going to hire people that can help us win football games and can benefit our program. I’ve been given great resources and I really take pride in hiring the right people and I’ve had to make difficult decisions many times. But for this hire, it was very gratifying for me because here’s a guy that came to me in 2004, and wants to get in coaching. You know how many people tell me that? What, 100 a year minimum who approach me that are in outside business or doing something else and say they want to coach? Everyone wants to coach, and everyone wants a full-time role, but it comes with great sacrifice. Here’s a guy who came (to me) in 2004, needed to finish his undergraduate degree. I gave him the opportunity to come to Arizona and to work for it and work for his undergraduate degree. He worked in the equipment room. I remember calling him on Thursday nights, the night we got off early for family night and I would call him to come over for dinner and he would say ‘Can’t. I’ve got to work in the equipment room.’ There’s a guy who was much older. He had to work with 18, 19, 20-year-olds. I’m not even sure how old he was at the time, but much older. (He) worked in the equipment room and worked hard. He did that for years and got his undergraduate degree. He stayed with me as a graduate assistant, worked as a GA for several years and then we went our separate ways. I went to Florida State and he went to Youngstown State, coaching the secondary for a year or two and coaching the linebackers for a while.
“So, when I got this job, I knew he would be a fantastic ops (operations) guy. I know he wanted to coach but he did a fantastic job in operations. Any minute he had he was always watching film and was in there with the defensive staff, learning and paying attention. Long story short, he put in an enormous amount of work and an enormous amount of time to get this opportunity. I’m proud of him and I know the work ethic that he has, that’s for sure. He’ll do a great job and he understands very clearly what I want and what I expect out of coaching the secondary. He will work with Coach (Steve) Clinkscale closely. I have great confidence in Coach Clink in being able to handle the entire secondary but it’s also important, because it’s a big job, to have two. Frank will coach the safeties, work closely with Coach Clink and work with me. He knows what I expect from those guys, going all the way back to 2004. He’s also been able to be active the past couple of years and has done a great job behind the scenes in recruiting in Ohio because we had the opportunity to active him quite a bit with what Coach (John) Schlarman is going through. They gave us the ability to substitute in certain recruiting times and so Frank has done a great job and knows quite a few people in Ohio. He will assist with Coach (Vince) Marrow and we need another guy in Ohio. You know how hard it is and we all know Coach Marrow does a fantastic job but Frank is also very well connected and has helped us the past couple of years in Ohio by doing some things behind the scenes and laying the foundation for recruiting. He will be a great asset to us and I’m very proud to add Frank to the program in a different capacity because he’s worked very closely with me in operations since day one.”
Re: speculation that the early signing date in December might be eliminated for this year …
“Again, I have no idea. That’s all speculation. I don’t know where you heard that. I’ve never heard that. I’d be surprised if that changes. I would definitely anticipate some changes moving forward. But, changing the early signing period, I haven’t heard that, I would be surprised.”
My impression is that season tickets have been selling well. With the current situation, if you were a fan, how would you and your family evaluate decision to buy season tickets?
“It’s very hard for me to speak for other people. Personally, I would just take it one day at a time, like everybody in this country and the majority of the world has to do right now, is take it one day at a time and see where things are at. I would hate to speak for other people but I would like to say ‘thank you.’ It was very important, it was very nice, to see the support and the people continuing to increase on the season ticket sales. We need that. I mentioned it at my pre-spring press conference, how important that was to me and to our players and to our program. And again, we need that support. It makes a difference. When you walk into that stadium and you see it full, it affects recruiting, it affects our players, it affects everything. We need it and I continue to challenge people and encourage people to support it. Obviously, safety comes first, and financially I completely understand that. Because things have changed from the last time I talked to you and the last time I asked for that support, things have changed for a lot of people. Financially things have changed, and we certainly understand that and want what’s best for people. There’s great support in this community, there’s great support in the Big Blue Nation. That’s not going to change. The people that can come to the games, and can afford it, can make it happen, we can’t wait to see them there. ”
With everybody staying inside, not being able to do much, what’s keeping you entertained?
“It’s a difficult time. But again, tell me one person that’s not inconvenienced by this? It is what it is. It gives you a great opportunity to spend quality family time. I think that’s very, very important. We’ll continue first and foremost to support that. But then, it’s doing the things necessary that you can with the program, whether it be staying on top of staff and encouraging staff to do their part with their position group and the team. It’s also important to help the community as best you can, reach out and help people the best you can. I’m like most of us, going a bit stir crazy. It’s difficult, it’s a difficult time for a lot of people, and doing the best I can.”
“I also want to say thank you and appreciate the media folks. Please stay safe and, prayers are with you and your families and we’ll all get through this as best we can. Thank you and we’ll touch base again some time in the near future.”