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Kentucky coach Mark Stoops wants focus put back on his team

Sportsnaut
UK head football coach Mark Stoops talked about his team's prospects for the upcoming season during a Media Day event at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. on Aug. 3, 2022.Uk Football01 Sam
Credit: Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

This time, it was football coach Mark Stoops behind the microphone in the brewing battle between Kentucky’s two most prominent coaches.

Stoops addressed reporters for the first time Saturday since basketball coach John Calipari said Kentucky was a “basketball school” and that his program deserved a replacement practice facility. The football program just had a $200 million facility built.

While he said he wanted to put the budding controversy to rest, Stoops had a few comments first in response to Calipari rattling off which schools in the SEC — Georgia, Alabama — were “football” schools.

“I don’t care about anyone’s program, I stay in my lane,” Stoops told reporters after football practice Saturday. “But when you start talking about mine, and the people I compete against, I’m going to defend my players. … Don’t demean and distract from what we’ve done to get to this point.”

The war of words began Thursday night, when Calipari made this comment to Kentucky Sports Radio:

“This is a basketball school; it’s always been that. … No disrespect. Our football team, I hope they win games, 10 games, and go to bowls,” he said. “At the end of the day, that makes my job easier and it makes the job of all of us easier. But this is a basketball school. And so, we need to keep moving in that direction and doing what we’re doing.”

Stoops said he appreciates Kentucky’s basketball history but wants people to look at the achievements of his program, which has won four straight bowl games.

“We understand history,” Stoops said. “That’s great. I embrace and love the history of our basketball program. I’m proud of it. I love it. I didn’t have that history. We understand we’re creating it. I also know people want to win now. I also know it’s my responsibility to get to the postseason and win it.”

Calipari and Stoops haven’t talked since the basketball coach made his comments. But Calipari tweeted Saturday afternoon that it’s time the two chat.

“I was told about comments Mark Stoops made in his press conference. I reached out to Mark Thursday & will try again,” Calipari wrote. “… I have supported Mark & the football team through good and bad. I will continue to support them & cheer them on”

And Calipari agreed with Stoops that it was time to put the focus back on his team.

“Now I’ll do what I’ve done for 30 years: Coach my team and block out the clutter,” Calipari wrote in a second tweet.

Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart waded into the controversy on Saturday, but his comments might not please Calipari. He said a practice facility for the basketball program isn’t in the works, and added this comment:

“We will be a grateful (athletic) department. We will not be entitled,” he said.

Stoops guided the Wildcats to a 10-3 season last year, his second 10-win campaign in the past four seasons. The football program is 33-17 during the stretch.

The bowl winning streak consists of wins over Penn State (Citrus), Virginia Tech (Belk), North Carolina State (Gator) and Iowa (Citrus) last season.

Calipari won the national championship in the 2011-12 season but the basketball program hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2019.

There was no tourney in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Wildcats missed with a shaky 9-16 record in 2021 and were ushered out of the first round by 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s last season.

Kentucky football will host Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 3 to open the season.

–Field Level Media