In 1982, the University of Kentucky hired Jerry Claiborne as its head football coach. When you ask fans of that era about Claiborne, you hear almost 100% praise of his tenure at Kentucky. He was a decent man, ran an honest program, and the Cats had some successful years in there. I wasn’t really alive for much of his tenure so I can’t make any legitimate statements about that time for UK football. But a stat rolled in front of me while researching another topic that I had to double and triple check to make sure was right and sure enough, it was.
Never in the tenure of Jerry Claiborne did he enter any game with a winning record at Kentucky. Not once in 90 career games.
So it got me thinking. Could that be the case for other UK football coaches? The findings:
Bill Curry came into ONE game in his career with a winning record. That would have been the second game of his tenure, when he had a 1-0 record. UK proceeded to lose five out of their next six games and Curry never made it above .500 again.
Hal Mumme was the most “successful” UK coach in recent history in regards to this stat. He actually came into 22 different games with a winning record at UK. He had a winning record going into four games in 1997 and then starting 1998 with a 7-3 record allowed Mumme to stay above .500 for much of 1998 and 1999, when the Cats also started 5-2. In 2000, the Cats went 2-9 and Mumme fell away from ever getting back over the .500 mark.
Guy Morris never went into a game with an above .500 record in his 23 career games.
Rich Brooks never went into a game with an above .500 record in his 86 career games.
Joker Phillips started his tenure 3-0, and stayed above water for 8 total games in his time at Kentucky.
We’ll get to Mark Stoops in a second but just look at the total games our coaches have come into with a losing record, .500 record, or winning record since Jerry Claiborne was hired in 1982:
Came Into Game With a Losing Record: 312 (83.2% of total games)
Came Into Game With a .500 Record: 32 (8.5% of total games)
Came Into Game With a Winning Record: 31 (8.2% of total games)
Why is all of this interesting? Because Mark Stoops enters the 2021 season with a record of 49-50. He started his tenure off with a loss to Western Kentucky and finished 2-10 in his opening season so he has been fighting an uphill battle ever since. A couple times during Stoops’ run, he has almost gotten back to a winning record:
2019: Florida (entered game 38-39, lost 29-21)
2020: Auburn (entered game 44-44, lost 29-13)
2020: Missouri (entered game 46-46, lost 20-10)
Now, Stoops is very likely to get his record evened to 50-50 after beating LA-Monroe in Game 1, which then brings Missouri to town with a chance to get above water for the first time in his tenure. Considering Stoops was 12 games under .500 after three seasons here and now has a legit chance to get back above .500 is a great accomplishment.
You’d have to think if UK has the kind of season that many are hoping for and think will happen, that Mark Stoops will be well above .500 at the conclusion of the year. The most any coach since Claiborne has been over .500 is four games, which Mumme accomplished in 1999. Joker Phillips got three games over .500 at the beginning of his tenure. That’s it. Mark Stoops could easily become the most successful UK coach in 40 years with a solid season. And let’s hope so, because this stat is just ugly.