Mark Stoops knows the timing was awkward.
As the college football coaching carousel kicked into gear early with several high-profile firings in season and Kentucky climbing into the top 10 of the Associated Press top 25 after a 4-0 start to the 2022 season, Stoops’ name was beginning to be prominently linked to jobs like Nebraska and Auburn.
Stoops, Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart and university President Eli Capilouto began discussing a new contract extension, his second in less than a year, that would silence some of that speculation.
The deal was signed on Nov. 11. One day later, Kentucky suffered a shocking loss to Vanderbilt, snapping the Commodores’ 26-game SEC losing streak.
“It was agreed upon when things were really good,” Stoops said Monday. “Obviously, I feel bad for Mitch and Dr. Capilouto and not doing my part, truthfully. … I felt very bad after that loss and some of the parts of the season.”
People are also reading…
Kentucky chose not to announce Stoops’ new contract after the Vanderbilt loss. The deal was posted online to UK’s Office of Legal Counsel website along with the rest of the athletic department’s coaching contracts along with a news release dated Nov. 18, but that release was not actually sent to the media.
The Wildcats followed the loss to Vanderbilt with a loss to No. 1 Georgia. While the team’s performance improved against the Bulldogs, the result remained the same.
The next day, the Herald-Leader first reported the new contract. A day later, Stoops discussed it publicly for the first time.
“We’ve worked together so long that we have a great commitment to each other and a trust and a belief in each other,” Stoops said. “The stability was important. Early in the season there was a lot of noise. I just simply said I’m committed to this, I’m not going anywhere, I’m committed to this place. And vice versa.”
The contract extension will pay Stoops $9 million per year starting in February and runs through the 2030 season.
That salary will likely rank Stoops toward the back end of the top 10 college football coaching salaries by the time it kicks in. Kentucky’s on-field success does not compare with most of the other schools paying their coach at least $9 million per year, but few coaches have been more important to their program’s success considering Stoops built Kentucky from 2-10 the year before he was hired to two 10-win seasons in the last five years. UK had not recorded a 10-win season since 1977 when Stoops’ 2018 team accomplished the feat.
Earlier this fall, Stoops passed Paul “Bear” Bryant to become the program’s coaching wins leader.
Given the way Kentucky’s 2022 season has played out though, it is fair to wonder if some of the “noise” connecting Stoops to other job opportunities might have died down on its own had Kentucky waited to engage in contract negotiations until after the season.
Instead, Stoops and Barnhart, who was not present at Stoops’ normal Monday news conference, are now left in the awkward position of explaining why the coach of a 6-5 team that needs to beat rival Louisville on Saturday or win its bowl game to avoid its second losing season in three years was just made one of college football’s best-paid coaches.
“I can handle the criticism,” Stoops said. “I want expectations high. I … I’m a big boy. I can handle people wanting more. I want more too. Believe me, I wish I could take some of that contract I just got and give it to my players and give it to these (name, image and likeness) collectives that everybody does because I certainly would. I wish they’d let me do that. I promise you I’d donate back to the players.”
It is probably no coincidence that Stoops signed his new contract on the same day he appeared in a promotional video for a new NIL collective designed to help provide football players the type of endorsement deals that will be essential in Stoops and company maintaining their recent recruiting success while also convincing a group of exciting freshmen to stay at Kentucky amid future transfer interest from traditional powers. Stoops has been clear since the summer that the program needed to be more aggressive in the NIL market, and that video was accompanied by a letter from Barnhart promoting collectives for the first time.
Stoops signing the contract extension when he did provides another benefit to Kentucky.
Now, Stoops has tangible evidence he has no plans to leave when he goes on the road recruiting over the next month before signing day in December. The contract could boost his conversations with current players about their transfer portal options in the coming days, too.
“I’m committed to this place and have been,” Stoops said. “This is my home. This is a place I’ve helped build to this point. We have helped build it to this point. Do we want more? Yes. I think we want to continue to grow. Dr. Capilouto expects more, Mitch expects more, and I do.
“I want to continue to build, continue to have the continuity, and I want to improve. There’s a lot of people that would like to have the stability we have had, and there’s a lot of people that would much like us be driven to compete at higher levels as well.”
Louisville at Kentucky
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Records: Louisville 7-4 (4-4 ACC), Kentucky 6-5 (3-5 SEC)
Series: Kentucky leads 18-15 Last meeting: Kentucky won 52-21 on Nov. 27, 2021, at Louisville.