By LARRY VAUGHT
7:19 AM CST, January 20, 2013
LEXINGTON — The offense that Neal Brown will implement at Kentucky — and the one he successfully used at Troy and Texas Tech — is going to be different from what the Wildcats have used. However, the new offensive coordinator says it is his job to best utilize the talent UK has.
“You have to fit your style around the personnel you have,” said Brown, a former UK receiver. “You can’t be stubborn and say we are going to do exactly what we did at Texas Tech. We have different personnel here. You utilize what you have and use it to the best of your ability and their ability.
“But they (returning UK¿players) will fit in better than you think. They were a spread team in the spring (of 2012) and at the start of last year (before quarterback Maxwell Smith was injured). They did a lot of no-huddle. Some players will transition easier than you might think.”
The new UK¿offensive coordinator has had only one meeting with UK’s returning offensive players, but he anticipates no problems with players buying into his system and/or demands.
“They’ve had limited success the last two years and the kids are hungry to succeed,” Brown said. “They are not bad kids. They have done what they were supposed to do off the field. This is not a situation with a lot of issues off the field or in the classroom. To me, that means these are good kids and that will translate to them be very receptive to what we want to do.
“They want to win. Now they’ve got to pay the price to win. I think they are excited and some older guys are really excited about getting fresh starts. We want to evaluate what we have here and make wise decisions, but you don’t want to have preconceived notions. I want to give all those guys a new beginning. You will always have surprises where a guy that did not perform well or was in the doghouse (with the previous coaching staff) will change for the positive.”
Brown said in any new situation, there are two things that have to be done.
“You have to quickly evaluate what you have (talent-wise) on campus and quickly determine what you need to go get,” Brown said. “We are playing catch up in recruiting. It is an 18-month to two-year process. We are trying to do it in six weeks. With kids, coaches, parents and anybody else that factors in the recruiting decision, that’s not long. It’s hard. Doable, but hard.
“We need more numbers at wide receiver. The kids here have talent and are excited about what we do. They will show improvement. We just do not have many of them. We are a little thin in the O-line. We probably need a running back that is a make-you-miss type of player.”
Brown said familiarity plays a big role in recruiting when a new staff takes over. Coaches rely on relationships they already have after evaluating players that were already verbally committed to UK or were heavily involved with the previous staff.
“Then you go back to what you are familiar with. Either kids or schools or coaches you are familiar with,” Brown said. “With quick evaluations on talent and character, you go with what you are familiar with. You do not want to make rushed decisions on kids or unfamiliar places or coaches you do not know.”
Brown is most familiar with Texas because that’s where he primarily has recruited the last three years. He says Stoops has not yet assigned specific recruiting areas for each coach but he anticipates areas within a three- to five-hour drive of Lexington along with spots like Atlanta and Florida will be the hot spots for the Cats.
“I think we will definitely use our contacts in Texas. Is that a place we will zero in on and spend a ton time in the spring recruiting? Probably not,” Brown said. “We will probably go into major metro areas and spend some time and try to focus on a few kids in Texas that way. There are great coaches and great players in Texas. D.J. and I have contacts there and so do several more coaches. We will go to Texas to recruit, but that won’t be our main area.”
Brown said there is no set number of receivers he’ll play. At Troy, he played more because he had more players with similar skills.
“At Texas Tech, we played a few less,” Brown said. “But over the last five years we have been tops in the country with most guys with receptions. I like to have as many receivers involved as we can.”
Kentucky will go into spring practice with three quarterbacks — Smith, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles — getting an equal opportunity to win the starting job. However, Brown said if a clear No. 1 quarterback does not emerge by the end of spring practice, it is “not that big a deal” to him.
“I think what you want to do in the spring is see if anybody separates himself,” Brown said. “But the summer is a huge deal. Coaches are not allowed to be there with players. That’s where a lot of the quarterback’s leadership is developed. It’s always important to see how the quarterback handles that and manages the summer throwing schedule before they get back for fall practice. We are not able to watch, or even really hear about, what goes on. But you can tell when you get back who has done the work. If the quarterback or quarterbacks have done a good job of leading in the summer, it is real clear when you get back to camp how much they have grown. But it doesn’t hurt you if you don’t have a starter coming out of the spring.”
Brown likes to have versatile running backs in his offense.
“We want all-purpose guys. We will never recruit a running back that we feel cannot pick up a blitz courage-wise. We want guys that are good at running the football, trusting their reads and can also be a factor in the passing game. We like to throw to our backs. If you get a running back involved in the pass game, it makes the defense have to cover all five eligible receivers. But our backs have to have the courage and size to pick up the blitz,” Brown said.
The UK¿offensive coordinator also wants the tight end to be an active part of the passing game, something that has been missing at UK¿since the graduation of Jacob Tamme four years ago.
“You like a guy that can catch and block equally well, but those are hard to find. There are only three or four in the country every year,” Brown said. “We look for guys with size. You want a big guy first. You want a guy that can catch and run. We feel we can teach them to block if they have courage. We use our tight end quite a big. We stand ours up some and then also attach him (to the line). We’ll use the tight end in underneath routes on third down but will also use him vertically if we have a favorable matchup.”
Excitement no surprise
Brown has sensed the excitement UK¿football fans have after the hiring of new coach Mark Stoops and the staff he has assembled even thought UK¿is coming off a 2-10 season, its third straight losing year.
“I am not surprised by the excitement. I grew up here. I watched when coach (Hal) Mumme came in here with (assistants) Mike Leach and Tony Franklin and Sonny Dykes and Chris Hatcher and those guys. I watched the state become football crazy,” Brown said. “Then the support when (coach Rich) Brooks got it going really strong here was great and the support at the (Music City) bowl game was unbelievable. So I am not surprised at all by the excitement.
“This is a state that likes football and supports football at the high school level and always supports UK. Look at the attendance all these years and you can tell that. We need to maintain that excitement and need to maintain it year round. We need to do a good job getting fans involved at the spring game.”
Brown isn’t worried about a schedule that will include Sugar Bowl winner Louisville, Western Kentucky and new coach Bobby Petrino, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and other SEC rivals.
“All the pressure is internal. We get so focused on the next thing whether it is recruiting, spring practice or something else that you really don’t have time to think about the pressure aspect,” Brown said. “There was some adjustment for me schedule-wise when I went from Troy to the Big 12. There will be some adjustments in other areas here but one thing I will not have to adjust to is that you have to come to play every game. If you do not come to play, you will not only get beat, you will get embarrassed. That aspect from the Big 12 to the SEC will not change. That’s a life I have been living the last few years.”
Brown said having a three-year contract — defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot does also — shows the commitment UK¿athletics director Mitch Barnhart and the administration has to football.
“They are committed to building a program and not making it just a quick fix. That is what the presentation of a three-year contract meant to me. It shows a long term commitment to everyone connected to the program,” Brown said.
Those connections include two coaches — Chad Scott and John Schlarman — who played at UK¿and will be coaching under Brown. Scott coached running backs at Troy and Texas Tech under Brown and Schlarman was offensive line coach at Troy under Brown.
“Chad and I have been together the last six years. The great thing about Chad first of all is his character and his loyalty,” Brown said. “He is also a dynamic guy on the field. He’s able to relate well with players and relate quickly with players. He believes in the system we are teaching and installing. He is a great recruiter, too. He can relate to any type of kid in any situation. He does a great job building relationships.
“John played in this offense (under Mumme). He is a great teacher, too.¿His roots go back to high school coaching and teaching. At the heart of who he is is a great teacher. He does a good job walking that fine line between being hard on guys but also being somebody they want to play for. That is of great importance at that position. Players respect him because he was a quality player. He has instant trust and credibility when he walks into a room because he was a great player. He is not ever asking anybody to do anything he did not do and that carries a lot of weight.”
Brown’s former high school coach, Chuck Smith of Boyle County, coached linebackers for eight years at UK¿under Rich Brooks and then Joker Phillips. Brown admitted he “touched base” with Smith as he contemplated making the move to Kentucky.
“We stay in good contact a lot. But my main question for him was how he handled being at UK. We talked a lot about recruiting in the state. We did not get into personnel or anything like that. It was more about the coaching situation,” Brown said. “He was very positive. He is a guy that cares a lot about this program. He invested time first as a player here and then as a coach. There is no question this is his school and he wants to see it do well. He’s a guy that ever since I¿got into this profession that I have always looked up to and any time I have a career decision to make I¿always bounce it off him to get his thoughts.”
While the move to UK¿has put Brown and his wife much closer to family and friends in the Danville area, there has been another plus for Brown.
“The biggest thing for me is that so many former players have reached out, even guys I did not play with,” Brown said. “They are just reaching out and are excited and enthused by Kentucky football. They are the people who have invested a lot personally in the program. They are people I¿grew up watching play or knew about. That’s been very, very rewarding and is just another reason why I know this program can be so good.”
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