Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops said he is focusing on his own team, not speculation tying him to the opening at Florida State.
Jon Hale, Louisville Courier Journal
LEXINGTON — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops insisted Monday his full focus remains on Saturday’s game against Tennessee even as his name is linked to Florida State’s open coaching job.
“It’s something that you don’t really want to address in season,” Stoops said. “I guess it’s better than the alternative. For us, for myself, it’s 100% concentration on Tennessee. That’s all I want, that’s all I want our team to focus on. That’s all you can do. I guess with success, you’re going to have some of that.”
Florida State fired coach Willie Taggart Sunday, and Stoops has been mentioned as a candidate for the Florida State job by many national and local media outlets, including the Tallahassee Democrat.
The ties are obvious.
Stoops served as Florida State’s defensive coordinator from 2010 to 2012, helping build the Seminole defense that would win a national championship in the 2013 season, Stoops’ first as Kentucky’s head coach. His recruiting ties to the Sunshine State date back to the early days of his coaching career at South Florida in 1996. He coached defensive backs at Miami from 2001 to 2003, helping the Hurricanes to national championship in 2001.
While Stoops’ 40-43 record at Kentucky cannot match some of the other high-profile candidates connected to the job, that record is largely skewed by a 2-10 debut season in which he was playing with a depleted roster inherited from the former staff. Stoops’ UK teams matched or exceeded the previous season’s win total in each of his first six seasons in Lexington, culminating in a 10-3 record in 2018.
The 2018 Citrus Bowl champion squad was just the third 10-win team in program history and the first UK team to record a winning record in Southeastern Conference play since 1977.
According to the terms of Stoops’ contract, he would owe UK a $1.75 million buyout if he left Lexington for another job before the end of the year.
More: How Mark Stoops’ contract is built to keep him at UK after hot start
That contract is also one of the most enticing reasons for Stoops to stay in Lexington though as it includes clauses guaranteeing an automatic one-year extension anytime Kentucky wins seven games and an addition one-year extension any time the team wins 10 games. Stoops’ latest contract includes a bonus clause worth $250,000 per win starting with win No. 9 in a season.
Stoops’ contract pays him $4.75 million this season, 19th-most of any head coach at a public university in the country and sixth-most of any Southeastern Conference coach. That salary increases by $250,000 per year through the life of the contract, including any addition extension years triggered by a seven or 10-win season.
Each time the extension clause is triggered, the buyout Kentucky would owe Stoops for firing him without cause also increases, providing unique job security. The buyout UK would owe for firing him without clause is worth 75% of his remaining contract at the time of the firing.
Stoops said he sees no reason to address the Florida State speculation with his team but he acknowledged the speculation on social media might necessitate conversations with recruits and their families.
“It’s just a little bit absurd by how fast things go,” Stoops said. “People like to get out in front of their skis really far in that world. So, that just needs to be address but nothing that we can’t handle. I think that’s a fair assessment with recruiting more so than anybody else, because I promise you the guys in our building they’re not going to worry about anything except getting ready for Tennessee. All the folks that think it will be a distraction, I can promise you it won’t.”
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When asked about Florida State at his normal Monday news conference, Stoops joked in his time at Kentucky he has learned from watching basketball coach John Calipari be linked to other jobs regularly.
“Every year he’s going to the NBA, right?” Stoops said. “You just dismiss it and concentrate on the things you can control. I’m not going to get into speculation.”
Jon Hale: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @JonHale_CJ. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/jonh.