By Glenn Osborne
There are a number of signs that show the times they are a-changing for the University of Kentucky football program, but it’s more than stadium renovations, new practice facilities and nationally ranked recruiting classes.
Recent decisions by UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart prove that when it comes to getting the program on solid footing, no expense will be spared. But for long-time observers of the much maligned football team, one thing is surprising. The Kentucky athletics department is willing to spend and spend big to hang on to its coaching staff.
With the Wildcats seemingly on the cusp of a bowl bid with a 5-3 record, head coach Mark Stoops saw his contact extended five years through 2020 and his salary escalating from $2.6 million in 2015 to $3.85 million in 2019-20. That’s serious money.
Ironically, that announcement came on Oct. 31, when rumors started flying that Michigan might be in the market for a football coach. Stoops’ surprisingly rapid success in Lexington, combined with his position in a prominent football coaching family and his Ohio background led to his name floating out as a possible candidate.
True or not, Barnhart didn’t hesitate to show his level of commitment and enthusiasm for the progress being made by lavishing the new deal on his second-year head coach. It would have made an even better story had Stoops managed to pull off that additional win and go to a bowl game, but that’s a different conversation.
Fast forward three months and we find that Michigan alum and former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh has been lured from San Francisco to Ann Arbor to lead the Wolverines. Almost immediately, Stoops’ childhood friend and high school football teammate Vince Marrow’s name emerged as a candidate to move north as recruiting coordinator, the same job he holds at UK (as well as tight ends coach).
Most observers predicted Marrow’s departure. Once again, Barnhart stepped up, checkbook in hand, and anted up the cash to hold on to his prized recruiter, the primary author of the No. 29 class in 2013 and the seventeenth-ranked class last year. Kentucky had never had a class ranked higher than No. 36 before Stoops’ arrival. This year’s class could be the highest ranked ever.
“Michigan, being a Midwest guy and being from Ohio, it was very tempting,” Marrow said. “But it was just my relationship here with the administration and our staff and even the kids that I have coming in this year and the kids that I have recruited the last two years played a big part of that. Really, like I tell parents, it was basically the community. I couldn’t really go anywhere without people saying things to me. Relationships played a big part to just be honest.”
Marrow was making $175,000 when he joined the UK staff and that was upped to $275,000 last year when he became recruiting coordinator. He was immediately bumped to $350,000 and he will see that increase to $400,000 in 2018, the final year of the deal.
New offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson makes $550,000 annually, for comparison, and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot is at $500,000, although his deal might be renegotiated.
While stadium renovations and state-of-the art practice facilities are nice, the proof of the level of commitment show in how much you’re winning to compensate your coaching staff (if you are sure you have the right people). And recent moves by Barnhart show he’s all in.
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Louisville junior pitcher Kyle Funkhouser received his second preseason All-America honor when he earned first team honors from Perfect Game. Last month, he was named a preseason first team Louisville Slugger All-American by Collegiate Baseball newspaper.
Funkhouser was 13-3 last year with a 1.94 earned run average and 122 strikeouts in 120 innings to gain recognition as a Louisville Slugger second-team All-America. Funkhouser, who is 18-4 in two seasons with the Cardinals, was also named first team All-America by ABCA, second team by NCBWA and third team All-American by Baseball America and Perfect Game.
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Western Kentucky Hilltopper basketball great and current NBA star Courtney Lee will have his No. 32 jersey retired at the Toppers’ game against UTEP on Jan. 22. Lee, WKU’s all-time leading scorer, will become the 10th person affiliated with the men’s basketball to have his jersey retired, joining E.A. Diddle, Clem Haskins, Tom Marshall, Jim McDaniels, John Oldham, Carlisle Towery, Bobby Rascoe, Darel Carrier and longtime radio play-by-play voice Wes Strader in the row of ceremonial jerseys hanging in the rafters of E.A. Diddle Arena.
Lee finished his career with 2,238 career points, equaling Jim McDaniels for the most in Hilltopper basketball history. Lee’s 17.6 point-per-game scoring average ranks seventh, and he was a senior All-American on WKU’s 2007-08 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 team while playing on four 20-win teams during his career.
“I am truly honored,” Lee said. “I enjoyed my time on The Hill and am grateful to have played in front of the fans in Bowling Green. I thank my teammates and the entire coaching staff, my academic advisor Ms. Dixie (Mahurin) and Danny Rumph and the Rumph family for helping to guide me in becoming the man I am today. I would also like to give credit to Jim Clark, President (Gary) Ransdell and Travis Hudson and everyone else that was a part of helping me reach this goal. This is a true blessing for my family and me.”
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Eastern Kentucky senior Eric Stutz recently became just the 13th player in school history to record 1,000 points and 500 rebounds. The mark fell in the Colonels’ recent 66-58 win over Tennessee Martin.
Stutz needed five points to reach the 1,000 plateau and he finished with 13.