LEXINGTON – Mark Stoops, who oversaw dramatic improvements as defensive coordinator at Florida State and Arizona, and has turned FSU into one of the nation’s top defenses, has been named head football coach at the University of Kentucky, UK director of athletics Mitch Barnhart announced Tuesday.
“New beginnings always provide a sense of excitement,” Barnhart said in a statement. “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. We welcome Mark, Chantel, Will and Zack to the Big Blue Nation.”
"I enjoyed my time this week with Coach Stoops,” said Dr. Eli Capilouto, president of the University of Kentucky. “I am impressed with his commitment to student-athletes, both in the classroom and on the field. I am also deeply impressed with the way Mitch Barnhart has conducted this important process. I am confident that Coach Stoops has the character and skill to build the winning program the Big Blue Nation wants and deserves."
Stoops has been defensive coordinator at FSU for three seasons, inheriting a unit ranked 108th in the NCAA in total defense and turning it into one of the nation’s best. Heading into Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game with a 10-2 record and No. 13/12 national ranking, the Seminoles are second in the nation in total defense, allowing 249.4 yards per game, and seventh nationally in scoring defense at 15.1 points per game. Playing well against the run and the pass, FSU is fourth in the country in both rushing defense and pass efficiency defense. FSU leads the ACC in seven defensive categories. Stoops also coaches the defensive backs under head coach Jimbo Fisher.
Eight Seminoles on defense earned 2012 All-ACC honors, including four first-team selections, highlighted by one of the nation’s top defensive end duos in Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine, who combined for 24 sacks and 31 tackles for loss. Werner is a finalist for the 2012 Bronko Nagurski Award as the National Defensive Player of the Year and is the national co-leader in sacks with 13. Stoops also coached cornerback Ronald Darby to ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Seminoles’ prowess is a continuation of the 2011 season, when Stoops’ troops led the nation in fewest yards allowed per carry (2.3), ranked fourth in the nation in total defense (275 yards per game), second in rushing defense (82.7 ypg), fourth in scoring defense (15.1 points per game), eighth in tackles for loss (8.6 per game) and quarterback sacks (3.1 per game). FSU led the ACC in eight defensive categories.
Stoops overhauled the Florida State defense in 2010, his first season as defensive coordinator. The Seminoles gave up 19.6 points per game, third-best in the ACC and 20th nationally. FSU ranked 42nd nationally in total defense that season; in contrast, the team was 108th nationally in total defense and 94th in scoring defense in 2009, the year before Stoops’ arrival. FSU improved its overall defense by more than 80 yards per game, primarily by limiting opponents to 75 fewer rushing yards per game. The Seminoles ranked third in the nation in quarterback sacks and were 21st in tackles for loss. In the secondary, Stoops coached Xavier Rhodes to ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and National Defensive Freshman of the Year accolades.
During Stoops’ three seasons, FSU has gone 10-4, 9-4 and 10-2, including wins over South Carolina in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl and Notre Dame in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl. The Seminoles’ 2012 bowl bid will be announced Sunday.
“I am thrilled to be named the head football coach at the University of Kentucky,” Stoops said in a news release from UK. “My family and I are excited and looking forward to becoming a part of the Big Blue Nation.
“First of all, I want to thank Jimbo Fisher and Florida State University for allowing me to be the defensive coordinator at Florida State. It has been three of the greatest years of my life. I am grateful for the support of all Seminole fans as we focus on the ACC Championship.
“I want to thank President 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.”
“I am extremely happy for Mark and his family,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He has done a tremendous job for us here as a defensive coordinator and he is a vital part of our staff. I always say you want the people who work for you to advance and reach their goals and aspirations and I couldn’t be happier. He has done a super job for us and this opportunity is well deserved. He is very well prepared and I think he will do one heck of a job for the University of Kentucky. I was very fortunate to have him on our staff and consider him a good friend.”
Stoops was defensive coordinator and DBs coach at Arizona from 2004-09, working for his brother, Mike, who was head coach of the Wildcats. During Mark’s time there, Arizona’s records improved steadily, going 3-8, 3-8, 6-6, 5-7, 8-5 and 8-5. The Wildcats advanced to the Las Vegas Bowl and Holiday Bowl during the last two years. Mark and Mike are also brothers of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, with Mark being the youngest of the three. Mike is currently the defensive coordinator on Bob’s staff at Oklahoma.
Stoops inherited an Arizona unit that was 109th in the nation in total defense and 107th in scoring defense in 2003, the year before he arrived. By the end of his term at Arizona, the Wildcats ranked in the nation’s top-25 in total defense his final two seasons and ranked as high as 33rd in scoring defense.
Prior to Arizona, Stoops coached the defensive backs three years at Miami (Fla.). The 2001 national champion Hurricanes led the nation in pass efficiency defense, scoring defense and turnover margin. That team also established a school record with 27 interceptions and 45 total takeaways.
Stoops’ 2002 secondary led the nation in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. Despite having to replace all four starters in the defensive backfield, the 2003 team led the nation in pass defense. In his three seasons, Miami went 35-3, including the 12-0 Rose Bowl title campaign, plus appearances in the Fiesta and Orange bowls. Ten Miami defensive backs who played at least one season under Stoops were eventually selected in the National Football League draft – seven in the first round.
Stoops got his first experience in leading a defense as co-defensive coordinator at Houston in the 2000 season. He coached the secondary at Wyoming from 1997-99 and the Cowboys notched three-straight winning seasons. A highlight of his time there was a school-record 24 interceptions in the ’97 season. His first full-time coaching job was in 1996 at South Florida, helping USF in the start-up of its program before the Bulls had their first kickoff in ’97.
Stoops has recruited and developed numerous outstanding defensive backs, many of whom went on to National Football League careers. Among the notables are Antoine Cason and Michael Johnson at Arizona, Miami’s Philip Buchanon, Kelly Jennings, Brandon Meriweather, Ed Reed, Antrel Rolle, Mike Rumph and Sean Taylor and Wyoming’s Brian Lee.
Stoops was raised in Youngstown, Ohio. Like his brothers, Mark played in the secondary at the University of Iowa for Hall of Fame coach Hayden Fry. He participated in four bowl games as a player. Fry hired Stoops as a graduate assistant coach at Iowa in the 1990 and ’91 seasons. The Hawkeyes won the 1990 Big Ten title and played in the Rose Bowl, duplicating feats Stoops also achieved as a player. Stoops went on to coach four years in high school before entering the collegiate ranks.
Stoops and his wife, Chantel, have two sons, Will and Zack.