In 2022 Mark Stoops will step on the sideline for his tenth season as the Wildcats’ head football coach. Before he surpasses Bear Bryant with more wins than any other Kentucky head coach, this summer KSR will reflect on the transformative decade under Stoops’ watch. Previous: 10 Most Influential People, Top 10 Plays
When Mark Stoops arrived in Lexington 10 years ago, the Kentucky football program was swagger-less. Not only did he have to improve the roster’s talent and teach his players how to win, he had to instill confidence within the program. Here are the moments where the Kentucky football program “arrived” in chronological order.
2014: Grove Street Party
For traditions to have staying power, they must be created organically. “Grove Street Party” did not become the unofficial anthem of the Kentucky football program because one person liked the song. It all happened in the middle of a dramatic comeback against South Carolina. The stadium erupted as the kickoff team bopped to the Waka Flocka song. Following the Wildcats’ 45-38 victory, Mark Stoops told Matt Jones on the KSR Postgame Show, “We’re Just Getting Started, Bro.”
It all came full circle when Waka Flocka led the Cats out of the tunnel before Kentucky defeated Florida in 2021.
2014: Ls Down
A hand signal that brought Scott Satterfield to tears at midfield following a 700-point loss to Kentucky all started with a feisty pregame at Don’t-Call-Me-Papa-John’s Cardinal Stadium. The redshirt freshmen didn’t have pads on, but that did not stop them from irritating Bobby Petrino. A pregame scuffle ensued and the teams had to be separated, but not before Petrino grabbed former Chief of Staff Dan Berezowitz by the collar.
Kentucky came out hot, but ultimately lost in heartbreaking fashion thanks to Devante Parker’s outstanding performance. Despite the loss, the scuffle injected new fire into the rivalry that boiled over in 2016. The Ls Down celebrations from that win made it a permanent addition to the instate feud.
2015: Sayonara, Spurrier
Steve Spurrier was not just a thorn in Kentucky’s side. He was the bully that beat up the BBN, then made a condescending jab to throw salt in a gaping wound. It took 18 tries for the Cats to finally defeat Spurrier in 2010. Stoops exposed a chink in the armor in 2014, but officially turned the tide on the Head Ball Coach the following year with a win in Columbia. One month after the deflating loss, Spurrier hung up his visor and entered early retirement.
Spurrier isn’t the only coach Mark Stoops has effectively sent a pink slip. Butch Jones, Jeremy Pruitt, Dan Mullen and Ed Orgeron’s days were numbered following losses to the Wildcats.
2016: The Kentucky Offensive Line Beats Up Alabama
The odds were stacked against the Wildcats when they traveled to Tuscaloosa to take on the top five Crimson Tide. Ultimately, the UK offense did not have enough firepower to keep up with Alabama, falling 34-6. Despite the loss, the mighty Crimson Tide did not leave the game unscathed.
“That’s probably one of the most physical games I’ve played since I was in college. I have to give Kentucky a lot of credit,” Alabama All-American defensive end Jonathan Allen said after the game.
Rotating nine players on the offensive line, this performance set the tone for John Schlarman’s offensive line, serving as the cornerstone for the development of the Big Blue Wall.
2018: Exorcising Florida Demons
The Florida Gators plagued the Kentucky football program. To reach new heights, the Wildcats had to end the 31-year losing streak. The ugly cloud that hung over the program was finally lifted thanks to a dominant performance on the ground, rushing for over 300 yards and averaging 7.4 yards per carry. It’s difficult to describe the emotions from the victory without revisiting the words I wrote upon my return home from Lexington.
2018: Crowd-Surfing a Walk-Off Win
Of all the moments Mark Stoops showed some swagger, this one takes the cake. Following Kentucky’s dramatic comeback win, the head coach crowd surfed to the sounds of Mo Bamba in the locker room.
The victory and its ensuing celebration set up a showdown against Georgia for the SEC East title at Kroger Field, a moment few ever thought they would see.
2019: Kentucky is the REAL Blue and White
James Franklin did not call off the dogs in a 22-6 Vanderbilt victory over Kentucky in Mark Stoops’ first season with the Wildcats. The UK coach never forgot that. Ahead of the highly-anticipated Citrus Bowl matchup, Franklin encouraged Penn State fans to travel to Orlando to show the world who is the real blue and white. With confetti falling at Camping World Stadium on New Year’s Day, Stoops echoed that sentiment while hosting the Citrus Bowl Trophy.
“Don’t EVER anyone question who the real blue and white is.”
This win wasn’t program-defining because of some postgame trash talk. UK’s stars, Benny Snell and Josh Allen, could have opted out of the bowl game. Instead, they played in the Citrus Bowl and were spectacular, reflecting the culture Stoops created at Kentucky and starting a new tradition. LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph is the only UK player under Stoops to opt out of the season before its conclusion.
2019: Lynn Bowden Ruins the Bud Foster Bowl
Leading into the 2019 Belk Bowl, ESPN producers prepared one tribute after another for Bud Foster, the longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator who was coaching in his final game. Those plans changed when a few Hokies picked the wrong dude to mess with.
After a skirmish of sorts at a bowl week activity between the teams, Lynn Bowden retaliated in pregame warm-ups, landing haymakers on a couple of Hokies. He then preceded to run all over Foster’s defense. Even though Virginia Tech knew Bowden was getting the ball, they could do absolutely nothing to stop him. Bowden rushed for 233 yards and two touchdowns, then threw the game-winning score with 15 seconds remaining.
2021: Finally, a Kentucky Win at Sold Out Kroger Field
The biggest moments of the first eight Mark Stoops seasons all seemed to happen away from Kroger Field. The BBN needed an opportunity for 70,000 fans to jubilantly celebrate a spectacular win. Thanks to a Josh Paschal blocked kick and 60 minutes of excellent defense, the Wildcats delivered a field-storming experience. The bar has been raised and another field storming might not happen in Lexington for a long, long time.
2021: Callin’ Baton Rouge
A week after defeating Florida, Kentucky absolutely dismantled LSU at Kroger Field. A little more than a year removed from the Tigers’ dominant run to a National Title, the shoe was on the other foot in Lexington. When Kentucky took a 35-7 lead over LSU in the fourth quarter, ‘Callin’ Baton Rouge’ played over the loud speakers at Kroger Field.
Unbelievable, unprecedented disrespect.
For years, the Wildcats were the SEC punching bag. Roles were reversed. Kentucky was the bully throwing condescending jabs, dancing on their once proud opponent’s grave.
2022: Two Top 100 Recruits in One Recruiting Class
Mark Stoops’ recruiting successes have been well-documented. The most recent win answers the question posed this week by an anonymous coach in Athlon Sports’ preview magazine, “Can they build a division-winning program?”
The only way to dethrone Georgia atop the SEC East is to improve talent across the board. You do that by recruiting against the best of the best and winning. The Wildcats did just that by securing signatures from Kiyaunta Goodwin and Barion Brown. A recruiting barrier has been broken. Now it’s Stoops’ job to turn the recruiting wins into an appearance in Atlanta.