Jun. 9—It’s become the unofficial mantra for the University of Kentucky football program in recent years: Recruit and develop.
For the past eight years under head coach Mark Stoops, the Wildcats have been wildly successful at bringing in lesser-known players and helping turn them into stars (See Josh Allen, Benny Snell or Jamin Davis, just to name a few). Simply put, the Cats have a knack for developing players on the gridiron.
Some of it has to do with necessity — what else could they do? — but lately, it’s become a source of pride for UK. With chips on their shoulders, players love proving their doubters wrong, and Lexington has become one of the premier places where unheralded student-athletes can receive that opportunity.
It’s a proven recipe for success for Stoops, which makes it no surprise that he uses the same approach with his coaching staff.
Last week, Stoops announced Chris Collins as the team’s new defensive backs coach.
The 32-year-old spent the last four years as safeties coach and recruiting coordinator at Georgia State, which reached bowl games in three of the last four seasons. Before that, he had stops at Appalachian State, Catawba and his alma mater, Western Carolina, where he was a four-year letter winner and two-year captain as a safety and outside linebacker from 2006-09.
Collins is obviously talented, based on his track record, but unless you’re well-versed in the position coaches of the Sun Belt Conference, you’d probably never heard of him before if you’re a Cats fan.
But that’s nothing new.
In fact, Stoops has made it a habit — just like on the football field — to bring in lesser-known, yet talented, pieces and help foster their growth.
Brad White was in a similar position four years ago, joining the Cats’ staff after six seasons as a linebackers coach with the Indianapolis Colts. White wanted to take another step forward in his career, and he got the opportunity to become a defensive coordinator under Stoops. Since then, the Cats’ defense has generally been a positive.
The same is expected out of Liam Coen, entering his first season as the Cats’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after three years with the Los Angeles Rams. He served as the Rams’ assistant wide receivers coach and assistant quarterbacks coach before signing on with UK.
Safeties coach Frank Buffano was hired in March 2020 after seven years as the team’s director of football operations, even though he hadn’t coached since 2012.
If nothing else, Stoops loves giving his assistant coaches chances.
Even wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight, who Stoops said has been suspended without pay since his arrest for speeding, possession of an open alcohol container and driving under the influence in Northern Kentucky on May 8, is still with the team, for now.
With his approach to hires, Stoops has also created a program that many see as a place to shine.
“I’m tremendously excited about the opportunity to be here at the University of Kentucky,” Collins told the media during a Zoom teleconference late last week. “Coach Stoops has done a phenomenal job of building this program and continuing to build the brand.”
And, according to Collins, UK is the perfect place for him to learn and grow.
“I’m extremely excited about being able to be a sponge, being able to soak up as much information — I’m a big ‘why’ guy,” Collins said. “I want to know the overall, not just the defensive backs, which is very important — the strengths, the weaknesses of the overall pieces and how they work, and it helps me do a better job of showing our players what their jobs are.
“I’m excited to join the fight to help elevate this defense.”
Certainly, he’ll get that opportunity.