LEXINGTON (AP) — New Kentucky coach Mark Stoops is finally able to stand still for a moment.
His thought process, however, remains at high speed.
Stoops says it’s been a “whirlwind” since he was hired on Dec. 2. Things slowed down enough for him on Wednesday to provide an update on how he’s putting the program together in his first few weeks and to announce the signings of junior college players Steven Borden and Za’Darius Smith, Stoops’ first commitments.
Still, Stoops described everything else as “a complete blur.”
But in quickly assembling a coaching staff and landing two highly regarded JUCO players, Stoops’ early days in his first head coaching job have been encouraging.
“I don’t know if there’s been any big surprises, but it’s definitely been overwhelming at times,” said Stoops, who said he was prepared for the demanding routine by his brother Bob, the Oklahoma head coach.
“I don’t think there’s any way around that for anybody, whether you’ve been head coach or not.”
The former Florida State defensive coordinator needed just four days to hire D.J. Eliot away from the Seminoles to be Kentucky’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Eliot will join the Wildcats after FSU’s appearance in the Orange Bowl against Northern Illinois.
Other spots were soon filled, including the hiring of former Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown. Stoops still must hire a wide receivers coach.
Stoops said he’ll only observe the defense as part of his general coaching responsibilities and leave much of the work to Eliot.
“It would be impossible for me to run the defense the way it needs to be run,” Stoops said. Eliot “knows what I want.”
Stoops’ first two recruits meanwhile provide what the coach thinks Kentucky needs.
Smith, a 6-foot-6, 255-pound defensive end from East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, is considered the nation’s best at his position by JCGridion.com and among that level’s top 15 defensive players by several scouting outlets. He had 47 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss as a sophomore.
Borden is a 6-3, 250-pound tight end from Kilgore (Texas) College who caught 11 passes for 181 yards and four touchdowns. Texas Tech was recruiting him before he showed interest in Kentucky. He is the son of Steve Borden, also know to pro wrestling fans as Sting.
Besides filling needs for the Wildcats, Stoops said their signings could send a message that Kentucky is a place for recruits to go.
“It’s great and part of what we’re selling, to set the tone for the new Kentucky football,” Stoops said of Smith’s commitment. “It was tremendous that he believed in us. For him to sign a letter of intent without even setting foot on our campus says a lot about what he believes in the people that are here and the staff that we’ve put together.”