By Tim Letcher
SEC Digital Network
When Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart began searching for his new football coach, he knew that he was looking for someone to help the Wildcat defense. Barnhart appears to have made a solid choice by hiring former Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops as the new UK head man.
Mark Stoops, the youngest of the three brothers, played collegiately at Iowa, where he was a defensive back under legendary coach Hayden Fry. When Stoops' playing days were over, Fry hired him as a graduate assistant in 1990. During Stoops' first season on the staff, the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten title and played in the Rose Bowl.
After coaching high school for four years, Stoops returned to the college game, helping South Florida start its program in 1996, one year before they actually began playing in 1997. He left USF for Wyoming, where he coached defensive backs for three years. In those three years, the Cowboys were 22-13.
Stoops got his first experience in leading a defense as co-defensive coordinator at Houston during the 2000 season.
After only one season, Stoops left Houston for Miami, where he coached defensive backs for the 2001 national champions. That Hurricanes team led the nation in pass efficiency defense, scoring defense and turnover margin.
Stoops stayed at Miami for three years, helping the 'Canes to a 35-3 record. Stoops produced ten defensive backs that went on to the NFL, including seven first-round selections.
In 2004, Stoops again had the chance to run his own defense, this time under his brother Mike at Arizona. The year before Stoops' arrival, Arizona was 109th in the country in total defense and 107th in scoring defense. Stoops quickly changed all of that. In his first season, Arizona was 61st in total defense and 55th in scoring defense. By the time he left Tucson in 2009, the Wildcats were in the top 25 in the nation in total defense for two straight seasons.
In 2010, Jimbo Fisher hired Stoops to be the defensive coordinator at Florida State. The Seminoles defense, a once proud unit, had fallen on hard times, ranking 108th in the country in total defense and 94th in scoring defense in 2009.
Stoops once again engineered a turnaround. In his first season, Florida State ranked 42nd nationally in total defense and 20th in scoring defense. In 2011, the Seminoles were fourth nationally in both categories. In 2012, Florida State is second in the country in total defense and seventh in scoring defense.
Stoops will have his work cut out for him at Kentucky, where the Wildcats have consistently struggled on the defensive side of the ball. The good news for Stoops is that Kentucky's defense was a very young unit and, due to injuries, quite a few players got significant playing time in 2012. Kentucky was 60th in the country in total defense in 2012, and 86th in scoring defense.