COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier hardly knows the coach who will stand across from him at Williams-Brice Stadium this weekend, but he respects the family name.
Bob Stoops, older brother of Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, was the Head Ball Coach’s right-hand man on the Florida sidelines for three seasons in the late 1990s. He worked as Spurrier’s defensive coordinator with the Gators, leaving an indelible impression before leaving to be Oklahoma’s head coach in 1999.
The two coaches stayed in touch over the years. Both families vacation at the same spot, owning condominiums on Crescent Beach, Fla. Over the past decade, Spurrier said he got to watch his former assistant’s kids grow up.
“He was there only three years, but he’s an appreciative guy,” Spurrier said. “… He’s appreciative that he got a chance to be a head coach at Oklahoma after three years as an assistant there. He and I have a lot in common. He plays a little golf. I play a little. We have just remained good friends. His wife (Carol) and (my wife) Jerri are very close, and so forth.”
When No. 13 South Carolina hosts Kentucky on Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium, it won’t be much of a reunion. The Wildcats are in their first season under Mark Stoops, who is seven years younger than Bob.
The most exposure Spurrier has had with Mark Stoops came New Year’s Eve 2010. Stoops was Florida State’s defensive coordinator, and the Seminoles held USC to 17 points in a Chick-fil-A Bowl loss. The Gamecocks had five turnovers that night, including three interceptions from former quarterback Stephen Garcia.
Mark Stoops faces a tougher task now. The first-year head coach is trying to do what many believe is impossible — build a winning football program in Lexington.
Spurrier is a believer.
“We know them a little bit,” Spurrier said. “He’s a good guy, really good guy, and good coach. It’s a tough job there at Kentucky, especially right now, but they supposedly have one of the best recruiting classes going into next year, so maybe they are heading in the right direction.”
Recruiting is a start — early on, Kentucky has a top 10 class for 2014 — but success is judged by what happens on the field. So far, things have not gone well. The Wildcats are 1-3 and the only SEC team giving up more points per game (23.3) than they’re scoring (21.8).
After Wednesday night’s practice, the frustration boiled over.
“Some guys looking for a rock to hide under,” Stoops said of his players. “It’s going to be a very tough game. I’m not sure we’re ready for it.”
He didn’t stop there.
Stoops looked over his shoulder, back toward the field, and said he hoped his team had started practice all over. He was disgusted, knowing there was a lot of work to do for his team to get ready for this weekend’s trip to Columbia.
“This is the most frustrated I’ve been, probably, because we’re right in the middle of a tough stretch, getting ready to play a tough game on the road in a hostile environment, and with that attitude we’re going to get rolled,” Mark Stoops said. “… As of right now, a 21-point spread ain’t enough because we ain’t even close to that right now.”
It’s unlikely Spurrier would run up the score against his friend’s little brother. Three-touchdown favorites, he’ll probably have a chance. Someday, Spurrier believes Stoops can build a winner at Kentucky. It’s just unlikely that day will come this week.