Kentucky hires FSU assistant Mark Stoops as coach


Kentucky hires FSU assistant Mark Stoops as coach

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky has hired Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops as the Wildcats' football coach.

Stoops replaces Joker Phillips, who was fired on Nov. 4. Phillips went 13-24 in three seasons at Kentucky and the Wildcats were 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference this year.

Kentucky made the announcement on Tuesday and the 45-year-old Stoops will be introduced here at a news conference on Sunday. No. 13 Florida State (10-2) plays Georgia Tech Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

Terms of Stoops' contract with Kentucky were not released. His salary with the Seminoles was $550,000 a year. He should definitely receive a raise in his new position; Phillips' annual salary was $1.7 million.

Stoops' hiring concludes a quicker-than-expected coaching search by the university. After Saturday's season-ending loss at Tennessee, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said he had no timetable to find a replacement for Phillips.

But it didn't take long for Barnhart and the Wildcats to make a move. The decision makes Stoops a head coach for the first time in his career.

``I want to thank (Kentucky) President Eli Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity,'' Stoops said in a statement. ``I promise the faithful of the Big Blue Nation I will be focused and driven to create a positive, winning atmosphere for the program and an environment that all of Kentucky can be proud of.''

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said after the Seminoles' practice Tuesday that Stoops will coach Saturday's game but that he hadn't talked with him about coaching through a bowl appearance. Stoops did not talk to reporters after the workout.

Stoops becomes the third brother in college football's famed coaching family to lead his own program. Older brother Bob Stoops is the head coach at Oklahoma and Mike Stoops is the Sooners' defensive coordinator. Before joining the Oklahoma staff this year, Mike was the head coach at Arizona.

``He's earned it,'' Bob Stoops said of his brother. ``He's done really well everywhere he's been. I know he's really prepared for the job.''

Bob said his advice to Mark is to trust his instincts.

``When you get one of those positions, everybody wants to tell you what to do,'' the OU coach said. ``That's how it was for me. I didn't let anyone hurry me. I took it at my own pace, trusted my guy and my instincts on what I wanted to do, and fortunately it worked out.''

Mark Stoops has been the Seminoles' defensive coordinator the past three seasons. Florida State's defense was ranked 108th when he took over and he has turned the Seminoles into one of the nation's top defensive teams.

The Seminoles have the nation's second-ranked defense, giving up 249.4 yards per game. Kentucky allowed 391 yards a contest this season and ranked 11th in the 14-team conference.

``Our desire to get better defensively and continue to expand our recruiting base helped guide us to Mark,'' Barnhart said. ``He comes from a coaching family and has been in big games and big atmospheres throughout his career.''

Now Stoops' challenge will be making Kentucky competitive in the conference that has won the last six BCS national championships.

The Wildcats are coming off their third straight losing season and second without a bowl appearance. Seven of their eight conference losses this season were by margins of at least two touchdowns, including a 40-0 blowout at home to Vanderbilt on Nov. 3 and a 37-17 season-ending loss at Tennessee on Saturday.

Stoops has a proven track record of rebuilding defenses, which represents a philosophical shift from the offense-minded Phillips.

Before joining Fisher's staff, Stoops resurrected an Arizona defense with similar issues that Kentucky experienced. Arizona was 109th in total defense before his arrival; the defense was ranked in the top 25 in his final two seasons and Arizona earned consecutive bowl bids.

Stoops leaves a Florida State program poised to claim a BCS bowl bid if it wins the ACC championship on Saturday. The Seminoles enter the ACC title game with the nation's seventh-ranked scoring defense, allowing 15.1 points per game.

Fisher said it's a compliment to the defensive players at Florida State that Stoops ``got the shot because of how they played and how he coached them.''

``I'm very proud of him. Very happy for him,'' Fisher said after Florida State's practice Tuesday. ``He got an opportunity to go on and further his career and it's something he wants to do. ... We wanted Mark to stay here for a long time until he got what he wanted to do. Our players are very elated. They know that that's part of this business.''

Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner said the players are also happy for Stoops.

``Everybody knew he wanted a head coach job,'' Werner said. ``Everybody was happy for him. Nobody was like sad that he was leaving. ... He did everything he could. He turned a great defense into an even better defense.''

The search for Stoops' successor will begin next week and Fisher hinted that it could be an internal hire.

``There are possibilities of that all the time,'' he said. ``We have some great coaches underneath.''


AP Freelance Writer Bob Ferrante in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.

Quick Links

John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

USA Today Sports Images

John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

John Wall crossed one of the biggest hurdles of his months-long recovery from arthroscopic left knee surgery on Saturday by participating in his first full practice.

That means Wall went through 5-on-5 scrimmages with teammates that included contact. He is free of restrictions.

Now it is only a matter of days before Wall is ready to return to game action.

"John did everything, he did an entire practice which was great," head coach Scott Brooks said. "I thought he did a great job offensively and defensively."


Wall, who last played on Jan. 25 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, has missed the Wizards' last 24 games. He has been absent for 35 of their 72 total games this season.

In the months he has been out, Wall has slowly worked his way to this point. He still has to get a few more practices under his belt before the Wizards can outline a target date for his return.

Wall was aggressive in testing his knee by attacking the basket, according to Brooks. Wall was moving around well and even lost a few pounds during his time off.

"He looks great and that's not easy with time off," Brooks said. "He will be back in no time."


The Wizards have gone 14-10 since Wall went down, an impressive mark especially considering how tough their schedule shook out. Most of those games came against teams with winning records either holding playoff spots or fighting for them.

The shine, though, is wearing off. They have lost two straight games and seven of their last 11. Their offense has stalled in recent defeats and it's become more and more clear they could use Wall's presence.

"He gives us that edge," Wall said. "When you have him on the floor, you get a lot of easy shots. John creates a lot of attention when he drives to the basket... I think [his teammates] have always appreciated it, but when you don't have him around you definitely miss it."

While the Wizards continue to wait for Wall to return to games, just having him in practices helps. Brooks explained how guarding a player of Wall's caliber, a five-time All-Star, raises the intensity level of their scrimmages. If his teammates do not bring their best effort, Wall can very easily expose them.


There is also something intangible about Wall's presence. The media sees it once the doors open at practice. He is talkative and energetic on the court.

Some of his teammates even described him as "loud."

"Sometimes I tell him that he's a little too loud," guard Bradley Beal said. "But that's the energy that we've missed."

"He brings the juice. He brings the energy level up," Brooks said. "You miss his spirit. You miss the way he interacts with guys. He's fiery and competitive. He gets after guys. He cheers guys on. I like that. I like guys that show emotion and passion on the court."

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Following their seventh loss in 11 games and another lackluster performance in key areas, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks reverted back to a critique that characterized many defeats months ago. He called into question the effort of his team, more specifically their urgency. How they could overlook the stakes at this point of the season and with so much on the line had escaped him.

Brooks wasn't pleased following Washington's 108-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. He didn't like their three-point defense, their inability to force turnovers and their lack of zip on offense. But overall, it was the apparent lack of realization that time is running out in the regular season and off-nights cannot be afforded.

"We have to play with more spirit [and] we have to take some pride in our home court," Brooks said. "We’re building our habits going into the playoffs and these are moments where we need to take advantage because it’s playoff implications in every game."


Pride is something Brooks has referenced after the Wizards' worst defeats since he took over. This one didn't qualify, as they only lost by eight points and had opportunities late to write a different ending. But they were playing a team fighting for their own playoff position in the opposite conference and for the most part did not match their intensity.

The Nuggets, to put it plainly, are among the worst defensive teams in basketball. They were missing their leading scorer, Gary Harris. And they tightened their rotation to just eight players.

Yet the Wizards only managed 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers. Aside from their 33-point third quarter, the Wizards' offense was effectively stalled. 

"We can’t have guys that are not going to participate with hard cuts and hard setups and good screens. We need everybody. It’s not one person, it’s all," Brooks said.


The Wizards only forced 10 turnovers on the Nuggets and only three in the first half. That held back their offense in the sense they had few opportunities for fastbreak buckets.

"That’s where we get most of our offense from anyways, getting stops, getting out in transition," forward Otto Porter said.

The Wizards have lost two straight games. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Pacers both won on Friday night.

The Wizards are sixth place in the East and just 1 1/2 games out of fourth, but there is a huge difference in those spots. Sixth could mean meeting the Cavs in the first round and they have won three straight since Kevin Love returned from injury.


The Cavaliers could quickly become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Their record is deceiving due to Love's injury and they still boast LeBron James, the best player on the planet. No one can control a playoff series quite like he can.

An argument could be made the Wizards would be better off moving down than up, as the seventh spot would match them up with the injury-riddled Boston Celtics. The Wizards are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-seed Miami Heat.

The Wizards, though, would prefer to move up and they still have a chance to get into fourth, which would mean home court advantage.

John Wall will return at some point, likely soon. In the short-term, Brooks would like to some urgency and for his team to get back to the trademark ball movement that allowed them to go 10-3 in their first 13 games when Wall went down.

"We can get it back, but it’s not going to come back. We have to go get it. It’s time to do it; it’s time," Brooks said.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!