The Question and Answer that Caused the "Controversy"
Q. You guys were in a storm a little bit as a team three weeks ago. Has there been an element within that locker room on the practice field across the board of sort of us against the world and a rallying in the mentality of this team from sort of what how bad things looked three weeks ago?
MARK STOOPS: I think part of that, part of that. I told them in the locker room, after the Southern Mississippi game, first thing I told them, I grabbed them up, I wanted to see the whites of their eyes, and I told them to stay the course. I said, every son of a gun outside of this room right here will be attacking you and me. So put your head down, do your job, and go to work. Because there's nowhere to run and there's nowhere to hide. You either man up and get better or you cave.
And we're still working, you know that, but nobody's been hesitant, it's about getting back and getting to work. We knew we had a good football team. We're not a great team, but we're a work in progress and we're getting better and better. And I love their attitude and I love the way they work and so we do need everybody back on board.
And I've said that -- I'll tell you this: It's very hard to get something turned when it's toxic and negative. And the criticism, we deserve it sometimes. And that's, you know that. I sat here and taken it and will. When you deserve to be criticized, you take it like a man and move on. But the toxic, negative stuff, very hard to turn a program when people turn that way, and turn on the kids and turn on the players. Coaches deserve to be criticized. That's our job, it's part of our job, but the players and getting toxic and negative and being all that, that's not going to help get this program to where we want it to go. I promise you.The press conference ended and the controversy began. Jen Smith Tweeted a paraphrased version of Stoops' toxic comment. "The toxic negative stuff where fans turn on the players makes it tough to turn a program around, Stoops said." Without the ability to understand context, those who love to bash Mark Stoops and Kentucky football heard exactly what they wanted to.
Sitting inside the press room, the hairs on the back of my neck where standing when he said, "I wanted to see the whites in their eyes." I froze, imagining the moment where Stoops rallied the troops to turn the season around. "Us against the world" is a mentality Kentucky fans appreciate. "Kentucky against all y'all" is a phrase from a t-shirt I saw multiple times outside of the stadium, but what if I told you the "y'all" was actually the "me?" Mark Stoops stated how he used the toxic environment created by negative fans to produce improved play. So far, it's worked. And yet, people are upset that he said it. It's dishonest to describe Stoops' statements about the toxicity amongst fans as inaccurate. On Friday's edition of KSR, one day before one of the biggest games of the season, there were at least three callers inquiring about a new head coach, dropping in the names of Jeff Brohm, Les Miles and even Mike Leach. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!?!? But that isn't the saddest side of humanity. That occurred too weeks earlier before the South Carolina game. I didn't realize I had that many "friends" until vicious rumors about Mark Stoops began to circulate around Lexington. Conservatively, 50 people asked me if they were true, before telling me their version of the twisted tale. One went so far as to call me on my way to the press conference to ask why Stoops wouldn't address the unfounded rumors after an SEC victory. Most of my friends are Kentucky football fans, yet I usually only hear from 2-3 on gamedays; the awfulness brought everyone out of the woodwork.
"That's not going to help get this program to where we want it to go. I promise you."Stoops' promise is true. To deny it would be dishonest, just ask Jordan Griffin's mother, Judy. The freshman cornerback from Georgia was the second-highest rated recruit Stoops signed in the 2016 class. On the even of National Signing Day, Stoops was taking calls from Jordan as coaches pleaded him on the other line. Stoops went to war to get Griffin to Kentucky. His mother doesn't believe that would be the case if she knew then what she knows now. But wait, it gets worse. Ms. Griffin's comments were validated by the responses to these Tweets. The worst of the worst:
- "Get over yourself.. It's not always hugs and kisses in life.. "They say the truth hurts"
- "You know what makes fans toxic? Losing a football game to southern Mississippi."
- "Stoops singling out the MINORITY of fans who are 'toxic' only sheds unwarranted attention on a loyal fan base."
- "After 60 years I think the "small fans" that's been there deserve better. Like you said its your first year."
- "Are you serious? Lmao go anywhere but Alabama its the same thing but let them lose its worse. grow up no safe spaces in life."
- "The fix is to...win."
If there's one thing I've learned from covering Mark Stoops over the last four years is that he tells it like it is. It's one of his best qualities. He told it like it was on Saturday. He said what had to be said. If you get angry about it, than you're part of the problem. You care more about the 140-character Tweet than the 287-word call-to-action that salvaged the season. If you want Kentucky to win, you cheer for them. You might get upset with a play-call, you'll curse when a player misses a tackle, you'll tell self-deprecating Kentucky football jokes, but if you're Tweeting players' mothers and being terrible on the coaches call-in show after a win...you're the worst type of person. You don't have to be a "Chester," just don't be a jerk. Mark Stoops' team is tirelessly working to turn this program around. Unfortunately, Mark Stoops' postgame statement was probably correct. If things do not change, negative fans will create a destructive self-fulfilling prophecy, followed with an, "I told you so."