Next offensive coordinator is make or break hire for Stoops

What will Kentucky’s offense look like next year?

For those who are wishing for the Hal Mumme era to return, it won’t happen under Mark Stoops. The Kentucky coach isn’t necessarily looking to return an Air Raid scheme to the playbook but is rather seeking an offensive coordinator who believes in balance and how to achieve that goal.

Under former coordinator Eddie Gran, the Wildcats primarily depended on the running game to set up the passing attack. Gran worked his magic last season when Lynn Bowden was called upon to lead the team after starting as quarterback Terry Wilson and backup Sawyer Smith went down with injuries.

Under Gran, Kentucky’s running game thrived, especially during Benny Snell’s three seasons with the Wildcats. In Wilson’s first season under center, Wilson and Snell led the Wildcats to a 10-win season, the school’s first double-digit winning season since 1977. They also ended a 31-game losing streak at Florida and a decades-long losing streak at Tennessee.

However, those moments are short-lived in the grand scheme of things.

Despite the success, Gran and his sidekick Darin Hinshaw, the quarterbacks coach during his tenure, came up short in developing  a potent passing game equal to the running game. The team’s running game, when at its best, was tough to stop and provided some memorable moments during the past five seasons. Gran was also a master at adapting to change in the run game, which is a big reason the Wildcats didn’t flame out when Wilson and Smith went down last season. He had Bowden to fall back on and it worked out well at the time for the Wildcats.

As he insisted on Sunday, Stoops is too involved with the defense to worry about offensive issues and wants a coordinator who will strive for balance on both sides of the ball. He also wants the next offensive coordinator to be in charge at all times.

“I know what an offense needs to look like, but I cannot spend my time in there and also be in there with the defense,” he said. “I have my input. I give some recommendations and I know when things are not looking right, that’s for sure. When things are not looking right I’m going to step in and try to be part of the solution. But I try to stay out of the way and not be part of the problem. That’s up to the guys that I hire.”

When he was hired eight years ago, athletics director Mitch Barnhart brought Stoops on board to take Kentucky’s defense to another level. That’s been the focus for Stoops since Day 1 and that remains a priority for the team’s top boss. In addition, Stoops is focused on head coach priorities.

“I work extremely hard working at culture and building their leadership, building their character, messaging and working on the defense. I wish I could just be left alone for two hours. Two, three hours in a defensive meeting without getting pulled out of there every 15 minutes for something.”

It’s easy to envision the kind of offense Stoops wants to see at Kentucky and changing the personnel who make those calls could be a game-changer. The next hire will be a fourth offensive coordinator Stoop has hired in his tenure and could make or break his career as coach of the Wildcats.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or Twitter @keithtaylor21.