RIVER RAT: Neal Brown talks UK football

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River Rat

By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor

In Friday’s issue we had part one of my interview with University of Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown, a Bardstown native, on what it’s like coming back to the Bluegrass State after an assistant coaching career that included stints as OC at Troy and Texas Tech, where his offense was regularly ranked among the most productive in the nation.

We touched on a number of topics, including the move back to Lexington, where Brown played collegiately, and being close to friends and family for a change, as well as recruiting and installing the “Air Raid” offensive system, and how the players are adjusting to the coaching change that saw Mark Stoops take over for Joker Phillips.

Here is part two of our conversation. Check back later this week for more of my conversation with Brown.


PZ: How has being at an SEC school made you adjust your recruiting pitch? That has to be a nice selling point.

NB: It’s probably as big a piece of ammo as we have. Another one is the renovation projects as far as stadium renovations, football facilities, those type of things. Basically, what we’ve done is we’re not selling, we’re telling the story of Coach Stoops’ success on defense, our success on offense, the renovations, and what the people, the fans and the city of Lexington has to offer.

PZ: Kentucky football has had such a tough time making those recruiting inroads in the past. It’s got to be pretty good feedback from fans for them to see what UK has done in such a short period of time on the recruiting trail.

NB: All you have to do is look at is Kentucky football is getting a lot of play on the nightly news. Kentucky football is getting a lot of play on sports talk radio right now. Kentucky football is getting a lot of coverage in the newspapers and on the Internet. Kentucky football, in June, is getting discussed, and it’s getting discussed big-time. I think that speaks to the level of excitement and the level of involvement that our fan base has.

PZ: How has the adjustment to the new coaching staff been for the guys who are already here on the roster?

NB: The guys we’re going to battle with are the guys who are already here. And they’ve been very receptive, worked extremely hard, on and off the field, learning what to do and how we want to do things. They’ve been very receptive. I think they’re a hungry group of guys. They want to have success here, and they want to get this thing turned around. It’s been very positive with them.

PZ: Where Kentucky historically runs into trouble against other SEC schools is the first-string guys match up pretty good. It’s the second-, third- and fourth-string where things get problematic. Have you guys been able to build a lot of depth in the last little bit?

NB: Our depth’s not where we want it to be, where it needs to be. We’re going to have to get through and get guys to step up to the level they need to play. Coach Stoops has put a huge amount of resources and a huge amount of importance in player development. … His saying is recruit and develop, and everybody on the staff recruits, and he’s putting a lot of time and resources into the development of our players.

PZ: Give me an idea of what a typical summertime week is like for you.

NB: This is actually our first kind of “down” week. We had camps — camps are a big part of public relations and being able to evaluate guys, those type of things. We just got done with that, we had good numbers and a lot of success. The next few weeks are a little bit down, I’m going to take some time off for some vacation. I’m doing a lot of speaking stuff this week, a lot of engagements throughout the state. And then, also, it’s an important time in recruiting. You’ve got to make sure that, within the rules, you’re corresponding (with recruits) as much as you can. We’ve still got guys coming on campus (for visits), and also starting preparations for fall practice and the guys we are going to play against next year.

PZ: How many text messages do you send and receive a week?

NB: Oh, man. That’s so many. My phone is so active. We have to turn in our phone, whatever the bill is, and it’s page after page after page of texts and phone calls. A lot more than I’d like, I’ll tell you that. But it’s good. Most of it recruiting stuff, for sure.

PZ: I’ve found that out as a sports reporter. You can’t get a hold of the younger athletes unless you text them first and let them know you’re going to be calling.

NB: We can’t even text the recruits — we’ve got to go through Twitter and Facebook. That’s probably the biggest thing that’s changed about recruiting in the last five years or so is the social media. You’ve got to be tuned in from a Twitter standpoint and a Facebook standpoint, and our media relations department and with football here we’ve done a really good job through those avenues. And also using videos and things that really speak to that audience of 14-18 year olds that we’re trying to hit.

PZ: What do you think, looking forward, is going to be the biggest challenge in the fall?

NB: The biggest challenge is the schedule we play. We play the No. 1 — according to one publication — hardest schedule in the country, so that’s going to be a difficult challenge. And we’re thin at some spots. We’re thin at receiver. Our numbers aren’t what we’d like for them to be. And we’re also thin at quality depth on the offensive line. We need some young guys to really step up. I think our quarterback, whoever it ends up being, I think we’ll be fine there. I like our running backs; I like our tight ends. We have good depth at both those positions. But young guys are going to have to get ready to play quickly.


Other news

Nelson County wrestler Andrew Ackley has qualified for the USA Wrestling — Kentucky National Team, and will be competing in the National Wrestling Championships at the University of North Dakota — Fargo July 12-20.

Because of the intense training and competition schedule involved, Ackley hasn’t had much time to take up a summer job and needs the help of local sponsors to aid in the trip. All donations are tax-deductible. Call 510-0589 for information on how to support Andrew’s efforts.


Three local youth soccer standouts have been chosen to represent Kentucky at the Region 2 U.S. Soccer Camp. Hayley Nelson (’00) and Haylee Koger (’99) are making their second appearance on the team, while Madie Sparks (’01-02) is making her first appearance.