Kentucky football has its new leader.
Mark Stoops, who helped orchestrate drastic improvements as defensive coordinator at Florida State the last three years, has been named the Wildcats' head coach.
"New beginnings always provide a sense of excitement," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement announcing the hiring Tuesday afternoon. "That's why today I'm excited for Mark Stoops and his family as they provide a new beginning for our football program, fans and players.
"Mark's passion has been evident in the way he coaches and in his love for the game of football. That passion carried over into our process and his desire to wear the Blue and White. Our desire to get better defensively and continue to expand our recruiting base helped guide us to Mark. He comes from a coaching family and has been in big games and big atmospheres throughout his career. That has prepared him for this opportunity to become head coach at Kentucky."
Kentucky, which dismissed Joker Phillips as head coach on Nov. 4 and closed its season with a 2-10 record last weekend, plans a formal press conference introducing Stoops on Sunday. A time for that event has yet to be determined. Stoops will be coaching with FSU on Saturday night in the ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech.
Stoops comes from a familiar coaching family that includes brothers Bob and Mike, who are the head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively, at Oklahoma. Mike Stoops was previously the head coach at Arizona, where Mark served as defensive coordinator from 2004-09.
The 45-year-old Stoops arrived at Florida State in 2010, inheriting a defensive unit that ranked 108th in the NCAA in total defense the previous year. The Seminoles improved to 42nd in his first year and made the giant leap to fourth in 2011. This season, FSU ranks second nationally in total defense at 249.4 yards per game. The Noles are allowing only 15.1 points per game.
By contrast, the Wildcats allowed 391 yards (57th nationally) and 31 points (86th) per game during the 2012 season.
The Kentucky job represents a significantly different challenge to Stoops than the one he faced at tradition-rich Florida State, but he's eager to tackle it.
"I am thrilled to be named the head football coach at the University of Kentucky," Stoops said in the UK press release. "My family and I are excited and looking forward to becoming a part of the Big Blue Nation.
"I want to thank (UK) President (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I promise the faithful of the Big Blue Nation I will be focused and driven to create a positive, winning atmosphere for the program and an environment that all of Kentucky can be proud of."
During his time at Arizona, Stoops helped the Wildcats improve from 109th in total defense to Top 25 status in his final two seasons. Prior to that position, he coached defensive backs for three years at Miami (Fla.). The 2001 Hurricanes led the nation in pass efficiency defense en route to the national championship. That squad set a school record with 27 interceptions and 45 total takeaways.
Stoops also served as co-defensive coordinator at Houston in 2000 and as secondary coach at Wyoming from 1997-99. His first full-time coaching job was in 1996 at South Florida, helping the start-up program before the Bulls had their first kickoff in 1997.
A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Stoops played as a defensive back at the University of Iowa under Hall of Fame coach Hayden Fry.
He and his wife, Chantel, have two sons, Will and Zack.
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