(John Huang is a guest columnist for Bluegrass Sports Nation. He can be reached at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @Kyhuangs) There’s something about UK Football Media Day that brings out the eternal optimist in all of us. Every August–at the end of talking season–hope springs eternal as die-hard Wildcat fans dream of “this finally being the year.” Perhaps it’s because the Cats are still undefeated in August, maybe it’s the fact that everyone’s energized and healthy, or maybe it’s just because Kool-Aid tastes sweeter at Kroger Field, but there’s definitely a notable buzz around this particular team. Everyone seems confident, from the casual fan to the most grizzled journalist.
Mark Stoops hinted earlier this year about the difference between real and false confidence. Since the beginning of Spring Practice, the fifth-year UK head coach has spoken with an air of conviction that certainly appears legit. His time at the podium today exuded confidence as he fielded questions ranging from Coach Vince Marrow’s athleticism to senior wide receiver Blake Bone’s “line in the sand.” Everyone was in a good mood and all was sunshine and seashells and balloons until yours truly squeezed off the last question before the 30-minute clock expired.
When I asked him directly why his current team should inspire so much confidence in a hungry BBN, Coach Stoops replied with an answer that I still don’t quite know how to interpret. Was he irritated and annoyed that I picked at a lingering scab, or was he relieved that he’d be able to finally put to rest a question that long-suffering UK football fans simply won’t let die? All I wanted to know was this—the team is better, but so is every other team we’re playing—in order to make us all REAL BELIEVERS, just tell us how this year’s version is truly different from past “new-and-improved” versions.
“It’s general, you hear me talk about it all the time, but it’s building,” he answered. “It’s development. Things are not done overnight. I said that from day one, I say it now. It gets boring to hear, but that’s why, year four, that’s why we go through what we go through, because people, they think it’s a long time but it’s really not.”
OK, I get that part. I’m looking for whimsical fodder for my column but Coach Stoops is emphasizing that it’s the process that’s important—that building a solid foundation, brick by brick and year by year, will ultimately get results. I understand that, but he said it with such an exasperated look on his face that I thought he might just bite my head off. “To the fans and to media and to everybody that listens to my message, it gets old,” he continued. “So I get it. I’m not angry with anybody.”
Whew! And with that, the head man responsible for the current fortunes of the UK football program flashed a cryptic smirk and finished his Media Day press conference with a flourish worthy of the Gettysburg Address. “But for us, it’s about what? Just doing our job. It’s continue to do what we do. And that’s build, select, and develop. I mean we do that daily all day. And we’re trying our best to develop these guys in all areas of their life, we’re trying our best to recruit the very best football players we can, and we’re trying our best to have everybody have a winning attitude and a winning culture and stay the course. And I’ve said it from day one and I’ll say it now, we need everybody. This isn’t just about me or the quarterback or any one position, it’s about all of us.”
With those words ringing in my ears, Coach Stoops exited and the media feeding frenzy continued with 15-minute sessions with offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and defensive coordinator Matt House. Afterwards, it was outside on to the field where for the next 60 minutes, we all got our chance to scramble around for the perfect quote, unique sound bite, and “money shot” GIF that would vault us into the UK media hall of fame. More on that later, but suffice it to say that on this particular afternoon, rather than ESPN glory, all I got was a sunburned nose and a shoe full of artificial turf pellets. No one said this shtick would be easy, but really—what could be more fun than interviewing players, reconnecting with media colleagues, and eating a free catered lunch? Hope all of you enjoyed this quick glimpse behind the Media Day curtain as much as I did. Stay tuned. Can’t wait for the real season to begin!
John Huang is a guest columnist for Bluegrass Sports Nation. He can be reached at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @Kyhuangs