Would Texas A&M Football Have Been Better Off with Mark Stoops?
This is a question I have seen posed several times since the whole fiasco between Texas A&M football and the current Kentucky head man. At its least bellicose, I’ve heard it stated that Elko and Stoops are “basically the same guy.” How much of this assessment is simply due to both being football coaches at traditional basketball powers who wear blue and white is something that should figured into the conversation, however, as this argument is routinely put forth by those who have proven to parse the college football landscape with roughly that level of analysis.
Digs aside, the fact remains that these are guys who have seen success at places where it is hard to succeed. Does that mean they’re the same? In fact, some have argued that Stoops is a more proven coach. Would he have been a better choice?
It feels extremely clear to me that the answer here is “no.” There are many reasons that Elko is a better choice than Stoops. Firstly, you have the offensive issue. On the one hand, Elko has been very hands-off with his offense, letting Kevin Johns run the show on that side of the ball—to great effect, more often than not! Stoops’s offenses at Kentucky, though, have routinely underachieved, and the rumor is that he exercises no small amount of control over their philosophy. For a program in Texas A&M football so recently coached by a head man who exercised domineering control over an offense that all too often failed to hold up its end of the bargain, this would be a retread.
Speaking of Jimbo and retreads, that’s another reason that Stoops would have been an inferior hire. Any guesses as to where the current Kentucky head man was directly before taking the coaching job for the Wildcats? That’s right—working directly under Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. The fact that so similar an issue plagues him as the one that did his former boss was extremely worrying.
Speaking of extremely worrying, did you know that Mark Stoops, in 11 years at Kentucky, has exactly two wins over SEC teams that finished with a winning conference record? Two wins in eleven years: 2017 South Carolina (5-3) and 2018 Florida (5-3). Now, Elko himself only has one (2023 NC State, 6-2), but he’s only been there for two years! In those two years, too, Elko has as many top-10 wins (1-1) as does Stoops at Kentucky going back to his first year (1-18)!
Speaking of Stoops’s first year at Kentucky, let’s talk about turnarounds. Stoops took over a Kentucky program that had just gone 2-10 and in his first year went… 2-10. His next year, he got them up to 5-7! Elko took over a Duke program that had just gone 3-9, and took them to 9-4. Now, it should be said that it’s easier than ever to immediately inject your program with talent with the portal, but Elko didn’t do a whole lot of that. He was 7-5 this past year as well, but that’s with facing two top-10 opponents (one of which he beat by 21 points) and losing his stud QB for an extended period of time.
Okay, I’m done with the “speaking of” thing.
All this to say… these two coaches are not the same. I’ve heard some people say that the only reason that Elko has been so embraced thus far is because of what happened with Stoops, and that Texas A&M football fans would have had the same reaction to Elko if his name had gotten out initially. A useful heuristic here is that the purveyors of such an opinion can reliably be slotted into a category of college football analysis that contains newborn infants and certain of the more intelligent breeds of rodents. They are just not to be taken seriously.