Kentucky’s Mark Stoops on being longest-tenured coach in SEC East: ‘That’s scary’

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The longest-tenured coach in the SEC East. That’s a title Kentucky’s Mark Stoops didn’t know he had.

“Is that right?” Stoops asked at his Monday press conference. “That’s scary. I don’t get shocked in here too often.”

Stoops is the old man in the East after Tennessee fired coach Butch Jones on Sunday. Stoops and Jones were both hired after the 2012 season, and both entered 2017 in their fifth year on the job.

Kentucky is 7-3 and 4-3 in the SEC. Tennessee is 4-6 and 0-6 in the SEC.

Expectations at Kentucky and Tennessee are different, but the coaches trended in opposite directions in Year 5. Stoops was awarded a one-year contract extension and a $250,000 bonus after leading Kentucky to its seventh win on Saturday. Jones was fired the next day.

“I can’t comment on what happened to Butch, but I can guarantee you that he didn’t relax,” Stoops said. “It’s alarming to see how things can change so quickly. We all know that. And that’s where we talk about that margin. It’s very small for a lot of us unless you’re, some of these programs have been recruiting at an elite level for 40 years.”

Despite Kentucky’s 7-3 record, it’s been a “what if” season for a lot of Wildcats fans. What if Kentucky had beaten Florida, what if Kentucky had beaten Ole Miss? Two games Kentucky lost by a combined four points, two games the Cats had a second-half lead in.

Stoops, at times, has sounded frustrated by what he’s described as negativity. But on Monday he too played the “what if” game.

“I understand it,” Stoops said. “Don’t think for a minute — you know it’s very easy and we as coaches, you never want to look back — but don’t think for a minute. There’s a human side of me that says ‘what if’ … I remember bad beats for 20 years. I’ll never forget bad beats.”

But the program is in a far better place than it was at the beginning of last season. After an 0-2 start in 2016 with a home loss to Southern Miss and a blowout loss at Florida, the Cats could’ve been headed in a spiral and Stoops’ job might’ve not been secure. Instead, Kentucky finished with seven wins in its last 10 games — the marquee victory coming at the end of the season against Louisville when Stoops’ squad was a four-touchdown underdog.

Kentucky, after not going to a…

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