JOE COX: Wrapping Up UK's Disappointing Football Campaign
“And here I sit so patiently, waiting to find out what price/You’ve got to pay to get out of going through all these things twice”
-- Bob Dylan, “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again”
At halftime last Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, UK led 24-7 over Louisville. The defense had been aggressive, Drew Barker had made some plays, and UK looked headed for a bowl game and the redemption of the 2015 season.
Then the second half happened. The offense couldn’t move, the defense was gashed again and again and again by the same play, and UK lost 38-24. No bowl. Losing season. Again.
I’m 35 years old. I find myself finishing another season by questioning my sanity. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I follow and support a program that gives me nothing approaching satisfaction? Why am I the college football version of Charlie Brown, running toward the football at full steam in September, only to end up picking myself off the ground again in November, with the ball again pulled away?
In 35 years, UK has made a bowl game 10 times. They have won eight or more games three times. Once, they even won nine games. But I turned four around the beginning of that season, so I don’t remember it. There have been good times. Tim Couch passed for a bajillion yards. In 2007, No. 1 LSU came to town and got turned back. Even in the era of bowl inflation, five bowl games in five years was pretty fun.
But the other times. Seven times in the 35 years, Kentucky won two or less games. No UK coach in my lifetime finished his Wildcat career with a winning record. UK ends 2015 as the third best football team in the state, by virtue of surviving an overtime win against EKU. UK has lost to Florida every year since I was six. With one exception, they’ve lost to Tennessee every year since I was four. UK hasn’t broken a .500 mark in the SEC in my life.
Three years ago, Mark Stoops seemed like an answer to what was wrong with UK football. He was a dynamic recruiter with a solid pedigree, who talked about changing the culture of UK football. In mid-2014, UK was 5-1 in his second season. Happy days were here—not here again, because I’m not sure I’ve seen them in the first place. But still.
And then the second half meltdown happened. And happened again in 2015. For a highly regarded coach, Mark Stoops does a lot of dumb things. Not football coach dumb, just regular putzy human beings dumb. The kinds of things that disturb, say, my wife or my mother (two wonderful women, but not exactly the Bill Walshes of their times).
And in a few months, we’ll repeat the process. Stoops will, Lord willing and the creek doesn’t rise, sign a highly-regarded recruiting class of talented young players. And he’ll talk about hard work and discipline and winning games at Kentucky.
But will he have a coach on his staff who knows special teams from a kumquat? Will he have further talented SEC players whose careers seem locked into reverse, like Patrick Towles or Ryan Timmons? Will there be any actual identity from this team? Any reason to think that Stoops will make me think more of Frank Beamer than of Jim Beam during the 2016 season?
I don’t know.
Perhaps my favorite fictional character ever, Andy Dufrene, said in The Shawshank Redemption that hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
Fixing Kentucky football is a task suited to the mind of a man who picked his way through a prison wall with a tiny rock hammer.
I hope he was right about hope. But some days, like last Saturday, I wonder.
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written four books involving UK sports, and the newest one "The Kentucky Wildcat Fans’ Bucket List" (with Ryan Clark), is on sale now. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org